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Drax cancels plans to replace its coal generators with gas over carbon concerns

Image credit: DT

The Drax power plant in Yorkshire has reversed a decision to build a new gas-fired power plant to replace its coal units following strong opposition from environmental campaigners.

Last year, Drax said it would drop its remaining coal-fired generators from March 2021, and planned to replace them with gas, after 50 years in operation as it moves to lower its carbon emissions.

The plant has long been experimenting with ways to lower its carbon output and has already converted four of its six generating units to use sustainable biomass over the last decade. It even announced plans in 2019 to become the first ‘carbon negative’ company through extensive use of carbon capture and storage technologies.

In 2019 the company was given planning approval for the two gas burners, which would replace coal burning at the site, a decision that faced an unsuccessful legal challenge.

But following the new decision, Drax chief executive Will Gardiner said: “We are announcing today that we will not develop new gas-fired power at Drax. This builds on our decision to end commercial coal generation and the recent sale of our existing gas power stations.”

With coal being the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, the UK is already planning to close all power plants that use it by 2024 as part of its efforts to meet its climate target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

With regards to the gas units, Gardiner said: "The future of gas power generation fuel is getting shorter all the time."

He added that the firm’s plans to become a carbon-negative company by 2030 did not fit with its plans to use natural gas.

Drax’s latest announcement came during the firm’s 2020 results where it reported a £235m loss before tax, partly resulting from a £60m hit due to the coronavirus.

A report released today has warned that plans for a slew of new gas-fired power plants could waste up to £9bn in investment and push up bills for customers.

Some 17 new gas plants are planned to replace decommissioned coal power and nuclear reactors, despite government climate advisers calling for the phasing-out of conventional gas plants by 2035, the study by Carbon Tracker said.

The new gas plants would produce 24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, around 7 per cent of the UK’s total emissions in 2019, making it harder to drive down pollution to net-zero by 2050 in line with the country’s legal climate goals, the report said.

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