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Drax CCGT Project Wins First Court Battle

May 23, 2020

By Paul Homewood


h/t Peter Lucey



The UK government’s approval of a large new gas-fired power plant has been ruled legal by the high court. A legal challenge was brought after ministers overruled climate change objections from planning authorities.

The plant, which is being developed by Drax in North Yorkshire, would be the biggest gas power station in Europe, and could account for 75% of the UK’s power sector emissions when fully operational, according to lawyers for ClientEarth, which brought the judicial review.

The planning inspectorate recommended that ministers refuse permission for the 3.6GW gas plant because it “would undermine the government’s commitment, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, to cut greenhouse emissions” by having “significant adverse effects”.

It was the first big project rejected by planners because of the climate crisis. However, Andrea Leadsom, who was secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy at the time of the planning application, rejected the advice and gave the go-ahead in October.

The government’s actions to tackle the climate emergency are under particular scrutiny at the moment as the UK will host a UN summit in early 2021. At the meeting, nations will need to dramatically increase their pledges to cut carbon emissions to avoid a disastrous 3-4C rise in global temperatures. For the summit to be successful, experts say, the host nation needs to take a leadership role at home.

Sam Hunter Jones, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “We’re very dissatisfied by today’s judgment, rejecting our arguments against the lawfulness of the government’s decision and of its approach to assessing the project’s carbon lock-in risk. We will consider an appeal.”

A Drax spokeswoman said: “Drax power station plays a vital role in the UK’s energy system, generating reliable, flexible electricity for millions of homes and businesses. The development of new high-efficiency gas power would support the UK’s decarbonising energy system.”

She said the company’s ambition was to remove, not add, carbon to the atmosphere by 2030. It would do this by burning wood or plants and then capturing and storing the emissions. The gas plant is capable of having carbon capture technology fitted in the future, the company says.

John Sauven, the head of Greenpeace UK, said: “Building new gas-fired power stations when the UK has a net zero carbon target is hardly showing climate leadership. It also makes little economic sense. The costs are already higher than for renewable options like wind and solar. Investing money to increase pollution may still be legal but it’s no longer defensible.”

ClientEarth argued that the combination of the project’s large scale, level of emissions and long operating life made it a significant threat to the UK’s carbon targets. The group has previously inflicted three defeats on ministers over their failure to tackle air pollution.

The planning inspectorate concluded that wind and solar power would cut energy bills for consumers, while the proposed gas plant would not. “Both [Drax] and [National Grid] confirmed that it is the production of renewable plants that will deliver cheaper energy,” it said.

This year there have been a series of legal actions against polluting infrastructure projects on climate grounds. Last week the Good Law Project launched a legal action over decade-old energy policies that it said the government was using to approve fossil fuel projects such as Drax’s gas plant, even after ministers had pledged to cut UK carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

In April, Transport Action Network launched a legal challenge to try to prevent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on a huge road-building programme, which it said breached the UK’s legal commitments to tackle the climate crisis and air pollution.

In February the court of appeal ruled that plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport were illegal because ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s climate commitments. This was the first major ruling in the world to be based on the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. Heathrow is seeking to overturn this decision in the supreme court.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We welcome the high court’s ruling issued today which supports the secretary of state’s decision to grant consent for the Drax repowering project. We are going further and faster than any other major economy in taking action on climate change.

“As we transition to net zero emissions in 2050, natural gas can provide a reliable source of energy while our world class renewables sector continues to grow, supported by record levels of investment.”


Watch this space!

It appears likely that this judgement will be appealed, and it was the Appeal Court which ruled against the Heathrow expansion.

It is noteworthy that Greenpeace’s John Sauven claims CCGT makes “little economic sense”, because wind and solar are already cheaper. But surely that is a decision for Drax to make?

What remains indisputable is that Britain’s power grid cannot operate without the back up of reliable sources of generation, such as CCGT. The dependability of our energy infrastructure is far too important to be put into the hands of unelected, activist judges.

  1. May 23, 2020 10:30 am

    These people are either incredibly stupid or just downright evil

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      May 23, 2020 10:40 am

      Both. IMHO. Probable Soros funding. Time to frack on for energy independence so us plebs are allowed electrickery.

      • Bertie permalink
        May 23, 2020 1:21 pm

        Oh damn . Is he still alive?

  2. jack broughton permalink
    May 23, 2020 10:43 am

    A second aspect of this stupidity is that the UK can no longer make large heavy duty gas turbines and will import these from the USA, Germany or France. In my opinion we really need a fleet of aero-derivative gas turbines. A mixture of efficient OCGTs and CCGTs to flexibly meet the inevitably variable (and uncontrolled) power demand / production situation that is to come as we depend more on wind and sun.

    This would have the benefit that it could underwrite Rolls Royce and possible reduce the further loss of UK manufacturing if RR goes to the wall or is bought up by overseas investors. Our power sector was a world leader only a generation ago until the short-term quick profit movement enabled our competitors to buy it up for a song then close it all down.

    The UK ought to follow Trump’s initiative in supporting national security in the power sector.

    • StephenP permalink
      May 23, 2020 12:43 pm

      I couldn’t agree more as regards Rolls Royce.
      It seems a great shame that they are proposing making 9000 skilled engineers redundant when they could use some of the billions that the government is throwing around to get back into developing heavy generating equipment and also get on with their designs for small modular nuclear reactors.
      (The BBC reported yesterday that there may be an estimated billion and a half £ fraudulent claims for universal credit under the more relaxed benefit processes since the coronavirus pandemic.)

  3. Joe Public permalink
    May 23, 2020 10:52 am

    “The planning inspectorate concluded that wind and solar power would cut energy bills for consumers, while the proposed gas plant would not. “Both [Drax] and [National Grid] confirmed that it is the production of renewable plants that will deliver cheaper energy,” it said.”

    The planning inspectorate forgot to include the value of its power being dispatchable; and the ‘free’ grid stabilisation provided.

    It also forgot to include the costs of back-up capacity plus extra grid stabilisation measures essential for intermittent wind & solar.

    • Devoncamel permalink
      May 23, 2020 11:38 am

      They don’t seem to have bothered with all the subsidies either. We’re already paying £12 per head to Drax in ROCs and CfDs according to their latest accounts.

      • David Lilley permalink
        May 23, 2020 12:28 pm

        Does this £12 include Carbon Emissions Tax, a totally artificial construct whose effect is to make fossil fuel energy production appear more costly than it inherently is.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      May 23, 2020 12:40 pm

      Then they appear to be morons. Or bribed.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      May 24, 2020 9:22 am

      Just lies. No doubt Drax and the National Grud confirmed some numbers for renewables were lower than some numbers for CCGT. But remove the arbitrary tax on gas, add in the essential and unavoidable costs to renewables and it’s not true.

  4. fretslider permalink
    May 23, 2020 10:53 am

    The Appeal Court has its own Mr Bean who was made an Honorary Fellow of The Academy of Experts – in recognition of his contribution to The Academy’s Judicial Committee and work for Expert Witnesses.

    Oh dear.

  5. May 23, 2020 11:09 am

    The insanity continues. Only blackouts will lead to a change in policy, but by then it will be too late. Get used to a third-world electricity supply.

    I recommend a generator in every household with a large supply of fuel to keep essential equipment operating during the regular blackouts.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      May 23, 2020 12:42 pm

      Done. Considering solar just to protect myself, not for any greenwittery.

    • May 23, 2020 3:14 pm

      “I recommend a generator in every household with a large supply of fuel to keep essential equipment operating during the regular blackouts.”

      I quite agree Philip. I’ve had a (petrol – couldn’t afford a diesel one) generator for 5 years although I’ve never yet had to connect it to the house. I installed it after our power went off (in the North of Scotland) for 36 hours in January 2015. We always get a lot of short interruptions to our power supply. One such episode b*****ed my computer when it went off and on again 4 times within about an hour! (I’ve since added a UPS to my arsenal of anti-interruption devices.)

      One tip I would add about petrol generators (and any other small petrol engine that isn’t used regularly) is to keep the stored petrol ‘volatile’. Always use Premium petrol – even this ‘goes off’ within about 3 or 4 weeks and causes difficult starting. The best remedy I have found is to add Briggs & Stratton Fuel Fit Additive/Stabiliser. 992381. This will keep the carburettor clean and make for easy starting using fuel which is up to 2 or 3 years old. Using this method I have had no problems in 5 years.

      • May 23, 2020 4:07 pm

        I recommend a gas-powered generator. A couple of large LPG bottles should keep you going through a lot of blackouts.

    • Iain Reid permalink
      May 24, 2020 7:32 am


      already done, we have bought a 40Kw diesel generator for our small business.

  6. Thomas Carr permalink
    May 23, 2020 11:39 am

    So the sheer impracticality and naivety of the Climate Change Act is coming home to roost. Plenty of Work for lawyers and counsel courtesy of Client Earth and sponsored by Greenpeace, Good Law Project , Transport Action Network and their absurd funders.

    • CheshireRed permalink
      May 23, 2020 5:20 pm

      The CC Act went through Parliament courtesy of one Edward Miliband. Of course it’s impractical, naïve, gullible, stupid etc….

  7. Mad Mike permalink
    May 23, 2020 11:55 am

    From the judgement reported by the Yorkshire Post ‘He added: “The claimant in this case seeks to protect environmental and health interests of great public importance which it says argue strongly against any development of the kind proposed taking place.

    “But those matters are not freestanding. There are also other public interest issues which operate in favour of such development, such as its contribution to security and diversity of energy supply and the provision of support for the transition to a low carbon economy.

    “Policy-making in this area involves the striking of a balance in which these and a great many other issues are assessed and weighed. This is carried on at a high strategic level and involves political judgment as to what is in the public interest.”

    In other words, in planning infrastructure projects, which presumably have a security and national interest element, the Government has the final say. If this ruling holds it means that the elected Government runs the country and not any hysterical pressure group that doesn’t like any particular project or direction the Government supports. I think that’s called democracy.

    • Russ Wood permalink
      May 23, 2020 3:39 pm

      Right now, in the midst of the Covid crisis in South Africa, we DO have a “hysterical pressure group”. Unfortunately, they are called the “Command Council” and presently are running the country without benefit of Parliament. Bye, bye, liberties!

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 23, 2020 6:38 pm

      Counsel should have asked claimants by how much the climate and environment would be protected by their actions should they win their case. They must be made to quantify their argument.

  8. Geoff B permalink
    May 23, 2020 12:37 pm

    Repeal the Climate Change Act… is law, so unfortunately the appeal should succeed. The Paris agreement is not legally binding, but I would not be surprised if it is incorporated as an act of parliament soon, more green virtue signalling to win votes. I just read an article from USA that stated 73% of the population believe that man made emissions are causing global warming while only 10% believe that it is not happening. The Democrats are using this argument to win the presidency.

    • Broadlands permalink
      May 23, 2020 1:45 pm

      The US is no different from other places. Climate models predicting catastrophes have been given religious status. “The science is settled”. “We” must move quickly to lower carbon emissions ASAP. Some are beginning to realize that rapid decarbonization is now happening with devastating social and economic consequences that the covid-19 “dress rehearsal” is exposing. The media is complicit in not pointing that out. Bipartisan myopia?

  9. Coeur de Lion permalink
    May 23, 2020 12:43 pm

    Erm, post Planet of the Humans, will this gas station substitute for the Drax wood chips that we are all subsidising at £800m a year? How Drax managers can show their faces in public beats me.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 23, 2020 6:43 pm

      They don’t (show their faces in public), they live in very expensive gated properties away from the hoi-poloi. Such wealth does Greenery bestow on one!

  10. Broadlands permalink
    May 23, 2020 1:29 pm

    “As we transition to net zero emissions in 2050, natural gas can provide a reliable source of energy while our world class renewables sector continues to grow, supported by record levels of investment.”

    Are natural gas emissions not part of getting to net zero emissions? Are ‘world-class’ renewable biofuels exempt? 90% fossil fuels. How will investments in CCS technology be sustainable without transportation of CO2 under pressure to underground locations? All done by PV vehicles…by 2050 using reliable natural gas?

  11. Athelstan. permalink
    May 23, 2020 5:01 pm

    It’s hard whether to laugh or cry or just give up.

    Tthese islands sit on a layered ‘sea’ of coal and trillions of tons in the North sea, then importing it still cheaper and perfect for base load electricity as the Germans retrofit their own coal generation capacity we shut ours.
    Next, burning and IMPORTED gas to produce electricity when gas should be pumped into homes and industry – the pipelines already there – are we as a nation totally gone off our rockers?

    nutz, total nutz.

  12. May 23, 2020 7:09 pm

    This was an appeal, by Drax. The original hearing was last month.

  13. Rasa permalink
    May 24, 2020 3:56 am

    So we know
    Solar panels generate zero electricity 18 hours a day and some days zero electricity in 24 hours. Wind on the other hand is simply unreliable……😳
    The untruthful statement by Greenpeace John Sauven adds little to the pro wind solar argument. Even if “renewables” were cheaper (which they are not) they make little economic sense to investment in a supply that is unpredictable random and needs to have duplicate backup Baseload grid generation.

  14. Phoenix44 permalink
    May 24, 2020 9:17 am

    I know I say this time after time, but the statement in the Guardian regarding Heathrow is simply false (I know the case very well). The court stated explicitly that it was not making any judgement on whether Heathriw “should” go ahead, simply that the government had not followed its own procedures. Many Green groups seem to have completely misunderstood this, as the Drax decision shows. Nothing the UK has signed stops any particular project – just as it doesn’t stop somebody currently without a car buying one or me turning up my heating. As the High Court has said here, policy is a complex and complicated issue and you can’t get one thing banned because it would increase emissions – its Net Zero, and a reduction in emission in total. Individual things might emit CO2 but the policy is not stop building or making now anything that emits CO2, it’s to work towards overall reductions in total.

  15. May 25, 2020 4:20 pm

    How much Russian gas is powering Europe now?

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