Press release: 7 October 2019

Government overrules planning authority over Drax gas plant

The UK government today overruled a recommendation by its planning authority, which had blocked a controversial new large-scale gas power plant on climate change grounds.

Environmental lawyers are considering their options after the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Andrea Leadsom, pushed through plans for Drax Power to install four new gas turbines at its Selby plant in North Yorkshire.

The Secretary of State’s decision overturned the UK Planning Inspectorate’s recommendation to refuse the plant completely due to its contribution to climate change – the first time the planning authority had refused a major project on those grounds.

The Inspectorate’s recommendation accepted and agreed with arguments from environmental lawyers ClientEarth, who had lodged an objection to the plant earlier this year during the approval process.

The Inspectorate ruled there was no need for the project given other existing consents and government projections and that the project’s climate impacts outweighed any benefits, recommending refusal on this basis.

An assessment from the lawyers shows that the project’s emissions a new gas plant would be responsible for as much as 75% of the emissions budget for the entire UK power sector, once fully operational.

ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “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.

“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.”

Last November, ClientEarth objected to Drax’s planning application to convert two coal-fired units for four combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT). Drax’s proposal is considered a nationally significant infrastructure project under the 2008 Planning Act. As such the plan must comply with the relevant national policy statements and the requirement in the Act that a project’s adverse impacts do not outweigh its benefits.

ClientEarth lawyers were then invited to provide an assessment of the climate impact of the proposal as part of Planning Inspectorate hearings discussing objections to the project.

Hunter Jones argued that, over its lifetime, the project could create additional greenhouse gas emissions 400% greater than the baseline scenario. This scenario tracks forecasts from the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of overall grid emissions intensity to 2050 and represents the mix of generation technologies that could provide the same quantity of electricity generation.

With the UK’s coal phase-out planned for 2025, the coal-fired units stand to be decommissioned if the proposed gas conversion does not take place. The proposed gas conversion therefore threatens to lock the UK into unnecessary high-carbon power. This was supported by analysis from energy policy experts Sandbag as well as the government’s own projections.

ClientEarth’s intervention came just weeks after the historic report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) detailed the drastic carbon emission reductions needed to ensure the planet keeps global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.


Notes to editors:

ClientEarth’s assessment of the proposed plant showed that:

  • Using the allocation to the power sector envisaged in the government’s Clean Growth Strategy – of 16 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide per year in 2028 – the proposed development’s emissions of up to 12 Mt of CO2 per year would represent approximately three-quarters of the emissions for the entire UK power sector, when the project becomes fully operational. The government’s carbon targets for the power sector reduce steadily over the rest of the project’s operating life, with the government envisaging UK power generation being 85% low carbon in 2032 and 99% low carbon in 2050.
  • Over its lifetime, the project could produce additional greenhouse gas emissions up to 400% greater than ClientEarth’s baseline scenario, which tracks BEIS’s forecasts of overall grid emissions intensity out to 2050. This comparison against the baseline scenario underscores the project’s inconsistency with the increasingly residual role of unabated fossil fuel generation on the UK grid.
About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.