Government overrules PINS to approve gas-fired power plant that 'undermines' its carbon reduction commitment

The energy secretary has given development consent to proposals to replace two coal-fired power units at the Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire with gas-fired units, overruling a recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to withhold permission.

Energy secretary Andrea Leadsom (pic: Getty)
Energy secretary Andrea Leadsom (pic: Getty)

The PINS recommendation had beenmade on grounds including that the approval would be contrary to "circumstances where decarbonisation is a key policy objective and government commitment"

In May last year, Drax Power submitted a development consent order (DCO) application to PINS to replace the two remaining coal-generating units at the plant near Selby with up to 3.6 gigawatts of gas-fired power generation and up to 200 megawatts of battery storage.

In its decision note, handed to the secretary of state in July, PINS recommended that the plans be refused development consent.

The note said that the energy suite of national policy statements (NPSs) "still stands strongly for the proposition that there is a need for additional energy infrastructure in general."

But it added that, "in circumstances where decarbonisation is a key policy objective and government commitment, where a substantial body of new fossil fuel generating capacity has been consented and developed since the NPS energy suite policy was designated, and where the proposed development would add a substantial volume of further fossil fuel generation capacity until 2050, the [examining authority] concludes that the applicant has not demonstrated that the proposed development on balance meets an identified need for gas generation capacity when assessed against the energy NPS's overarching policy objectives of security of supply, affordability and decarbonisation."

The report added that the scheme would "undermine the government’s commitment … to cut greenhouse gas emissions."

But, in a decision letter issued late last week, energy secretary Andrea Leadsom recommended that the plans be approved.

The letter said that, in assessing the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from the development and PINS’ conclusions in the matter, the secretary of state noted "that the government’s policy and legislative framework for delivering a net zero economy by 2050 does not preclude the development and operation of gas-fired generating stations in the intervening period."

Therefore, the letter added, "while the policy in the [energy] NPS says greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel generating stations are accepted to be a significant adverse impact, the NPSs also say that the secretary of state does not need to assess them against emissions reduction targets."

Leadsom’s decision letter adds that the NPS does not state that "greenhouse gas emissions are a reason to withhold the grant of consent for such projects."

"It is open to the secretary of state to depart from the NPS policies and give greater weight to greenhouse gas emissions in the context of the Drax application, but there is no compelling reason to do so in this instance," the letter concludes. 


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