Government overrules block on power station project

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gas turbines, Drax Power, Planning Inspectorate,
© Deborah Benbrook

Plans for Drax Power to install four new gas turbines in North Yorkshire have been given the go-ahead, as energy minister Andrea Leadsom overturns a decision by the UK’s Planning Inspectorate

Drax Power wants to build four combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) to replace its existing two coal-fired units ahead of the government’s proposed coal phase-out in 2025.

The application was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for consideration by Drax Power on 29 May 2018 and accepted for examination on 26 June 2018. Following an examination during which the public, statutory consultees and interested parties were given the opportunity to give evidence to the Examining Authority, a recommendation was made to the Secretary of State on 4 July 2019.

Environmentalists argued that emissions from the gas turbines would contribute to breaching climate targets.

ClientEarth, who were invited to produce a formal assessment to the Planning Inspectorate earlier this year, said that the combination of the project’s scale, high emissions intensity and long operating life make it a ‘significant’ threat to the UK’s carbon targets and could be responsible for as much as 75% of the emissions budget for the entire UK power sector.

The initial decision from the inspectorate took into account climate change fears for the first time.

The inspectors determined the gas turbines would undermine UK climate policies.

However, in a letter, Andrea Leadsom, secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), stated she took into consideration energy security and affordability, as well as carbon emissions.

Leadsom said some fossil fuels would be required to balance out intermittent power from renewables. She also noted that Drax Power would have substantial battery storage.

ClientEarth lawyer, Sam Hunter Jones, said: “We’re disappointed the secretary of state has overruled the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to recommend, quite rightly, that the UK does not need this large-scale gas plant when it has publicly committed to rapid decarbonisation.

“With the UK’s coal phase-out planned for 2025, the coal-fired units stand to be decommissioned if the proposed gas conversion does not take place. The proposed gas conversion, therefore, threatens to lock the UK into unnecessary high-carbon power.”

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