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Drax power station

Government hit with legal action over giant gas plant

Image credit: Dreamstime

An environmental non-profit has sued the government for approving plans to build a 3.6GW gas station in Yorkshire.

Drax plans to build a gas plant with four combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) at its site in Selby, North Yorkshire, which is already home to the largest power plant in the UK (biomass and coal). Drax argues that CCGT technology allows for more efficient electricity generation. The project, if followed through according to plan, will transform the site into Europe’s largest gas plant with 3.6GW capacity.

An infrastructure project of this size is required to fulfil certain criteria, including that any damage to the environment is outweighed by its benefits. The Planning Inspectorate had recommended rejecting the project – the first major project to be rejected for these reasons – stating that it would undermine efforts to cut carbon emissions under the 2008 Climate Change Act. An assessment submitted by ClientEarth found that the plant could be responsible for as much as 75 per cent of the national power sector’s carbon ‘budget’. ClientEarth also said that the government had already approved more than 15GW of gas plants while official forecasts estimate that the UK will only require 6GW of new gas generation up to 2035.

However, permission was given by energy minister Andrea Leadsom in October 2019, overturning the Planning Inspectorate’s decision.

Environmental non-profit ClientEarth has announced that it is taking legal action against the government. The High Court has consented to the legal action. A case is expected to be heard within the coming months.

In a statement, ClientEarth 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.”

A Drax spokesperson said that the company intended for the gas station to be just one part of its power portfolio, which it hoped would be overall carbon negative by 2030. She said that this ambition could be achieved by capturing and storing emissions associated with burning biomass.

ClientEarth, which takes environmentally motivated legal action, previously sued the government successfully three times over its repeated failure to tackle fatal levels of air pollution.

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