An environmental law charity has launched a High Court challenge against business secretary Andrea Leadsom’s decision to approve a new gas power plant in North Yorkshire.
Clientearth is challenging Leadsom’s decision on the grounds that construction of the plant, which would be the largest in Europe, goes against the Planning Inspectorate’s (PI) recommendation that it should be blocked on climate change grounds.
In October the business secretary approved the project, which would see Drax replace its coal-powered plant in Selby with four gas turbines with 3.6 gigawatts of capacity.
In a letter she said that the decision was based on energy security and affordability, as well as carbon emissions.
Leadsom wrote that the overarching national policy statement on energy infrastructure does not state that “greenhouse gas emissions are a reason to withhold the grant of consent for such projects”.
The decision was especially notable as it was one of just six occasions when a minister has gone against the recommendation of the PI when determining Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs).
In its recommendation, the PI said that Drax had “not made a convincing case for the need for more fossil fuel generating capacity”.
Citing the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) own research, the PI said that whilst only 6 gigawatts of new gas generation was needed to ensure energy security before 2035, consent had already been given to the development of 15 gigawatts worth.
Approving the Drax development would therefore take the amount of new gas generation to 18 gigawatts by 2035.
Thus, it concluded, “the UK does not need any new-build large gas power capacity to achieve energy security”.
In addition, the Committee on Climate Change, has warned there should be no more gas on the UK grid by the mid-2030s without carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The recommendation found that the new project had “no foreseeable barriers to carbon capture”.
A source close to Clientearth said there was no commitment to do anything apart from the usual ‘CCS Ready’ obligations.
The recommendation was widely seen as landmark, as it was the first time a major project had been refused consent on the grounds of climate change.
Clientearth’s in-house lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “In its planning application, Drax failed to explain how this emissions-intensive gas project squares with the UK’s carbon targets and its strategy for clean growth.
“And the government’s own energy forecasts show that the UK does not need a major roll out of new large-scale gas generation capacity.
“Leadsom 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.”
A Drax spokesperson said: “Drax’s ambition is to become carbon negative by 2030 using ground-breaking bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology 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.”
City A.M. has contacted BEIS for comment.