Plans to build a huge new UK gas power station are facing a challenge from an environmental law group that argues the project would breach the government’s recommendations on climate change.
Client Earth, which has repeatedly defeated the government in court over its air pollution strategy, has submitted an objection to the planning inspectorate over Drax Group’s proposed 3.6GW plant in North Yorkshire.
The intervention is the first by the lawyers against a gas project in the UK. Sam Hunter Jones, a lawyer at the group, said it had acted because the Drax scheme marked a tipping point in the amount of new gas planned by energy firms in the UK.
The UK has already given planning approval for 15GW-worth of large-scale gas plants, including at Egg borough, which is not far from the Drax site. Adding the Drax project would take the total to about 18GW, three times the 6GW of new gas the government estimates the country will need up to 2035.
Hunter Jones said: “The UK government claims to be a climate leader, yet if major energy projects such as this from Drax are granted planning consent, the UK will risk carbon lock-in that would seriously undermine its ability to meet its climate change commitments.”
The planning inspectorate is expected to make its recommendations to the government next spring, with ministers to decide later in the year.
ClientEarth believes it has grounds for success under national policy statements that planners have to consider, which say such a major project’s impact must not outweigh its benefits. The group’s written submission said approval risked making the UK’s future decarbonisation significantly more difficult and expensive.
Drax said future energy scenarios in the UK indicated the country would need more gas plants in the future to fill in the gaps around wind and solar power. The company also said that building the gas project would enable it to turn off its two remaining coal units in 2023, two years before the government’s coal phase-out deadline of 2025.
Andy Koss, Drax Power’s CEO, said: “Our Repower project will deliver cost-effective, high-efficiency, flexible gas power to the grid. By reusing some of our existing infrastructure, including the grid connection and cooling towers, the development will be cost-effective and very competitive.”