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  • Andrew Byrne

Climate groups cheer as Drax scrap plans for Europe's largest gas plant

Cooling tower at Drax power station / Photo source: Drax

In what is being hailed by climate groups as a “massive win for the UK and its net zero goals”, electricity generator Drax has announced that it is scrapping plans to build what would’ve been Europe’s largest gas plant at its site in North Yorkshire. Drax was granted approval by the Department of Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in 2019 to build two combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) to replace two coal-powered generating units.

BEIS’ decision ignored the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate to refuse permission for the 3.6GW (gigawatts) plant because it “would undermine the government’s commitment…to cut greenhouse emissions”. Climate groups and environmentalists have protested against BEIS’ decision ever since.

Climate Earth, the environmental law charity, launched a legal challenge against the government citing the Planning Inspectorate’s advice and adding that the plant would account for 75% of the country’s power emissions. The case was defeated in the High Court in May 2020 and again in the Court of Appeal in January.

Even after Court of Appeal ruling, protestations against the plant continued and hopes were raised by Drax’s muted response to the ruling. On February 25th, during the announcement of the company’s latest results, Drax confirmed that they would not develop new gas-fired power at Drax building on their decision to end commercial coal generation at their coal-fired power station and the recent sale of their existing gas power stations.

Drax has already committed to being carbon negative by 2030. There is sound financial logic to their change of heart over the proposed gas plants even though the decision will cost the company £13m. Foot Off the Gas, a report published by Carbon Tracker – the think tank researching the impact of climate change on financial markets – says that investing in plans to generate 14GW of new gas power could leave “investors with £9bn of stranded assets which may not generate an economic return”.

Had Drax gone ahead with building their 3.6 GW gas plant, the company would have been at risk of exposure on such a gargantuan scale. Instead, they will focus on plans to generate electricity by using sustainable biomass. Specifically in Drax’s case, this involves burning wood pellets to power their plants. Burning wood is considered renewable because the carbon emitted can be “recaptured” by the growth of new trees in managed woodlands.

Drax is now the largest user of biomass in the UK. Drax CEO Will Gardiner says that the company plan to buy Pinnacle Renewable Energy, the Canadian manufacturers of wood pellets “to develop bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) taking [Drax] even further in [their] decarbonisation”.


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