The Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt to stop the building of Europe’s ‘largest’ gas plant in the UK.
The legal challenge was brought by the environmental charity ClientEarth against the government’s decision to approve Drax’s plans to convert its coal-fired units in North Yorkshire to gas generation.
Although the examing authority Planning Inspectorate recommended that consent for the development of the plant should be withheld, the Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom decided to make, with ‘minor modifications’, an order granting development consent in October 2019.
According to the lawyers for ClientEarth, the plant could account for 75% of the UK’s power sector emissions when fully operational.
ClientEarth Lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “Decision-makers must now stop hiding behind planning policy to justify business-as-usual approvals of highly polluting projects.
“Crucially, and contrary to Drax’s position at the planning inquiry, the judgment confirms that decision-makers must consider a project’s carbon lock-in risk, that they can refuse permission on the basis of climate impacts, and that the public can raise these issues in planning inquiries.”
A Drax spokesperson said: “Drax’s world-leading ambition to be carbon-negative by 2030, using ground-breaking bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology, means we could remove up to 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, making a significant contribution to achieving the UK’s climate targets.
“Drax Power Station plays a vital role in the UK’s energy system, generating reliable electricity for millions of homes and businesses.”
He added the development depends on a number of Drax’s investment decisions and on securing capacity market agreement from the government.
A BEIS spokesperson said: “We welcome the Court of Appeal’s ruling issued today which supports the Secretary of State’s decision to grant consent for the Drax Re-Powering Project.
“As we transition to net zero emissions by 2050, our record levels of investment in renewables will meet a large part of the energy demand. However, natural gas will still provide a reliable source of energy while we develop and deploy low carbon alternatives that can replicate its role in the electricity system”.