Consent granted for Drax Power Station to become gas-powered

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A MODIFICATION of two of the coal-fired generating units of the Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire has been approved despite a landmark planning authority ruling.

The units, known as Units 5 and 6, will be altered as part of a plan for the Selby facility to become a gas-powered generating plant.

In her ruling the Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, overturned a Planning Inspectorate decision to refuse the project due to issues including air quality and emissions.

The Drax development consists of up to four new combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT), with each turbine powering a dedicated generator of up to 600MW in capacity.

The ruling was the first time the planning authority had refused a major project on the grounds of its contribution to climate change and the decision to overturn it has been met with controversy.

“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”, Sam Hunter Jones from law firm ClientEarth said.

“The UK has already greenlit more gas capacity than the government’s own forecasts estimate will be required through to 2035. Approving Drax’s plant takes this to three times the government’s estimates – risking either a carbon budget blowout, a huge stranded asset requiring propping up by the taxpayer, or a combination of the two.”

In their assessment for the Planning Inspectorate, ClientEarth stated that once fully operational the new gas plant would be responsible for as much as 75% of the emissions budget for the entire UK power sector.

The decision to approve the project was made following a six-month long examination on 4 September 2019 by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

In a letter explaining the reasoning behind her decision Ms Leadsom states that she took energy security and affordability as well as carbon emissions into account.

She recognised the need for some fossil fuels, especially to balance out intermittent power from renewables.

She also stated that even though several other gas generation projects had been approved already, they might not go ahead.

Ms Leadsom has so far not commented her decision further in the media.

As the 78th Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project to be examined and decided, the Drax Station development brings the total of energy projects to 52.

Within the industry combined cycle gas turbines are regarded as key to enabling a shift to a reliable but lower carbon energy infrastructure.

Drax Power must now secure a capacity market agreement to underpin the investment needed to develop the first combined cycle-generating unit.

If developed, 1.8GW of new capacity would be available from October 2023.

“This could help to displace less efficient and higher carbon emitting power stations, enabling further decarbonisation of the UK’s power system, while creating up to 800 jobs during construction”, the company stated.