Plans approved for major gas power station

| 7th October 2019
The four eastern cooling towers at the Drax biomass and coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire. Photo: Jonathan Brennan via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
The four eastern cooling towers at the Drax biomass and coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire. Photo: Jonathan Brennan via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Climate campaigners denounce approve of UK's biggest ever gas power project.

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The decision by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to allow Drax Plc’s planning application for the UK’s largest ever gas-fired power capacity will lock the UK into dirty energy production for at least another two decades, climate campaigners have said.

Drax Power Station is already the world’s biggest biomass plant, burning over 7 million tonnes of imported wood pellets, many of them sourced from the clearcutting of forests that lie at the heart of a global biodiversity hotspot in the southern USA. 

Read: 'You burn our trees to power your homes'

Drax now wants to replace its remaining two coal-fired units with far larger gas units. This will be the UK’s largest gas power capacity to date. For this project, Drax is asking for substantial new subsidies in addition to the £2.16 million a day it already receives for burning wood.

Public money

In April this year campaigners handed in a petition of over 96,000 signatures and an open letter signed by 92 organisations internationally to the then Secretary of State for BEIS, Greg Clark, asking him to reject Drax’s proposal. Drax was also targeted by protesters in July this year. 

Frances Howe from Biofuelwatch said: “We are disappointed by the Secretary of State’s decision. Drax already burns more wood than any other power station in the world, and now it will return to its former position as the UK’s largest fossil fuel burner, too.

"The public money Drax will require for this project needs to be spent on renewable power from wind, waves or sun.”

Ash Hewitson from Reclaim the Power said: “The Government has shown that it listens more to dirty polluting energy companies than the communities it claims to represent.

"Thousands of people have said that they do not want new gas infrastructure, including by taking to the streets and taking direct action at power stations. Today’s decision has no social license.”

Environmental injustice

Drax Power Station calls itself the ‘world’s largest decarbonisation project’; but in reality it is fuelling environmental injustice, accelerating the climate crisis, and driving forest destruction.

Last year, Drax burned over 14 million tonnes of wood from biodiverse forests in the Southern US and the Baltic States. Drax also burned 2 million tonnes of coal, and is expanding into another dirty energy source – gas.

But Drax isn’t just a disaster for the climate. Communities have suffered deeply from Drax’s burning, from the siting of wood pellet mills in US towns already at the sharp end of environmental injustice, to the entire villages destroyed and poisoned from coal mining in Russia.

Drax is representative of a centralised energy model and a wider extractivist system that pushes up energy bills for the poorest, rips control from communities, and values forest destruction over forest protection.

Drax’s plans for large-scale Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) continue a corporate, colonial mindset of people and rights as expendable in the pursuit of endless profit and growth.

Get involved

Mark Knowles from a regional Green Party branch – who initiated the petition against the project – added: “This is a step in the wrong direction on climate change.

If the government was serious about meeting its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement and staying within 1.5 degrees of global warming, it would have rejected Drax’s application.”

Activists will hold a demonstration outside the Department for BEIS on 9 October at 12.30 to highlight Drax’s contributions to environmental injustice through biomass, coal and gas. Demonstrators will hear from those who have suffered from Drax and call out its crimes with chants, signs and singing. 

Construction

A spokesperson for Drax said in a statement: "Drax’s planning application to develop the latest in high efficiency gas turbine technology has been approved.

"The project could enable Drax to deliver more reliable and flexible, high efficiency electricity generation at its power station in North Yorkshire – helping the UK to transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

"Drax must secure a capacity market agreement to underpin the investment needed to develop the first combined cycle generating unit.

"If developed, 1.8GW of new capacity would be available at Drax from October 2023. This could help to displace less efficient and higher carbon emitting power stations, enabling further decarbonisation of the UK’s power system, whilst creating up to 800 jobs during construction."

This Author 

Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on press releases from Biofuel Watch. 

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