A legal challenge has been launched at the High Court by ClientEarth against the UK Government’s decision to approve what would be the largest new gas power plant in Europe.
Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom gave the go-ahead for Drax to convert its coal-fired units in North Yorkshire to gas generation last October, on the grounds gas would emit less carbon than coal and some fossil fuel capacity would be needed to provide backup for intermittent renewables.
The approval was granted despite the Planning Inspectorate saying the project should be blocked as it would undermine the UK’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
If Drax were to install 3.6GW of gas capacity at its plant in Selby, ClientEarth – which previously won a legal challenge against the government over air pollution – claims it would be responsible for as much as 75% of the UK’s power sector emissions once fully operational.
Sam Hunter Jones, in-house lawyer for ClientEarth, said: “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.
“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.”
Drax previously said the project could enable it to deliver “more reliable and flexible, high efficiency” electricity generation at the power station and contribute towards the UK’s transition to net zero emissions by 2050.
A spokesperson added: “Drax’s ambition is to become carbon negative by 2030 using ground-breaking bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology (BECCS) to remove millions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, making a significant contribution to the UK’s climate targets. Drax’s carbon negative ambition 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.”