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Legal challenge launched over Leadsom’s approval of a gas power station

Words: Laura Edgar
Drax-CCGT-1-unit-1800MW-battery-200MW / Drax Power

Environmental law charity Client Earth is taking the UK Government to the High Court following the energy secretary's approval of plans to modify coal-fired generating units to gas-powered ones at Drax Power Station, Selby.

An inspector recommended that the secretary of state refuse consent for the development due to its "failure to deliver carbon reduction objectives", but energy secretary Andrea Leadsom went against this advice.

Considered under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime, Drax Power Limited said the project would enable Drax to deliver “more reliable and flexible, high-efficiency” electricity generation and help the UK to transition to net zero-carbon emissions by 2050.

Client Earth said Leadsom's decision "undermines the UK’s path to reducing carbon emissions and building a more sustainable energy sector".

The environmental law charity highlights that the Climate Change Committee, the government's advisor on the climate, has warned there should be no more gas on the UK grid by the mid-2030s without carbon capture and storage.

According to the government’s latest forecasts, the UK will need just 6 gigawatts (GW) of new gas generation to 2035 and, Clint Earth explained, they have already approved 15GW worth of large-scale gas plants.

The approval of Drax Power Limited's application takes total planned gas capacity to 18GW, which is three times the government’s estimates, Client Earth said.

ClientEarth’s climate lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “The secretary of state has ignored the recommendations of her own planning authority, and her decision is at odds with the government’s own climate change plans to decarbonise in a cost-effective manner.”

“Only this month David Attenborough warned governments to take more action to tackle global heating, pointing to the Australian bushfires as proof humanity’s moment of crisis has come.

“With scientists also ringing the alarm bells for decades, we shouldn’t need to take the government to court over its decision to allow what would be Europe’s biggest gas plant.”

In a statement on its website, a spokesperson for Drax Power Limited stated that the firm's ambition is to become carbon negative by 2030 "using ground-breaking bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology (BECCS)", which it says could be achieved "with new, high efficiency gas power capacity as part of our portfolio of flexible generating assets.  

“Drax Power Station plays a vital role both as a major employer in the North and in producing the reliable, flexible renewable power millions of homes and businesses rely on.

“We are exploring a range of options using different, flexible technologies, including this high efficiency gas project. It could support the continued decarbonisation of the energy system, helping the UK on its path to net zero by 2050, in line with the government’s policies.”

Read more:

Consent awarded to redevelop Yorkshire power station

Image credit | Draz Power Limited