Environmentalists are urging the government to withhold support for what would be the UK’s largest gas plant.
A coalition of 75 groups has sent an open letter (published below) to the Planning Inspectorate and Energy Secretary Greg Clark, calling on the government to refuse to subsidise the plans.
Signatories include the Green Party, Friends of the Earth, and several Frack Free campaign groups.
Energy company Drax has submitted a planning application to replace its coal burning plants at a power station in Yorkshire with gas-fired units. The proposal was submitted after the government announced it would phase out all coal power generation by 2025. Drax is seeking government subsidy for the project. Today is the final day of consultation on the plans.
The groups are concerned the project would increase the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and lead to a rise in demand for fracked gas, which is opposed by local communities across the UK. Drax has previously been criticised over its use of biomass from wood in its power plants, which campaigners claim has significant environmental impacts.
The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned about the climate and environmental impacts of Drax Repower’s proposal to replace its two remaining coal-fired units with much larger ones to burn gas.
Drax is already the U.K.’s single largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Its power station causes serious harm to the climate and the environment by burning more coal than any other UK plant and more wood than any other plant in the world. Much of the wood comes from the clearcutting of carbon rich forests in the southern US which lie at the heart of a global biodiversity hotspot.
With the UK government demanding a coal phase-out by 2025, Drax now wants to build the UK’s largest ever gas power units and is asking for substantial new subsidies, in addition to the £2 million a day it is already receiving for burning wood.
Drax itself admits in its Preliminary Environmental Information Report that its gas plans will: “represent a significant net increase in greenhouse gas emissions and have therefore negative climate impacts.”
In order to meet the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, it is vital for the UK to phase out carbon emissions from fossil fuels and high-carbon biomass, not increase them. Permitting power stations such as Drax to burn large quantities of natural gas will push us beyond the 1.5 degree limit and prevent the UK from meeting its international climate change commitments. As the recent Oil Change International report states: “Opening new fossil gas fields is inconsistent with the Paris climate goals.”
Drax’s plan to replace coal with another fossil fuel will hamper rather than help the U.K.’s transition to low carbon energy, particularly since Drax has said that repurposing two coal units to burn gas will “extend their operation into the 2030s.” As the ecosystem scientist, Professor Robert W Howarth, from Cornell University, states: “There is no bridge fuel and switching from coal to shale gas is accelerating rather than slowing global warming.”
A further concern is that Drax’s proposal comes at a time when greater reliance on gas would require either increased Russian imports or dependence on unconventional gas, especially fracking and horizontal drilling. In spite of huge local and national opposition to fracking, the recent government proposal to transfer decisions on fracking from a local to a national level is increasing fears about a threat to local democracy from unconventional gas exploration.
According to Drill or Drop, there are already 3 active shale gas sites in the UK, with the UK’s first commercial scale fracking expected to start at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire imminently. A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the government expects there to be approximately 17 sites by 2020 and around 30 to 35 sites by 2022.
All gas production and transport is associated with leakage of the potent greenhouse gas methane, but unconventional gas comes with far greater methane emissions. Methane leakage in the production of gas for Drax would therefore greatly increase carbon emissions over and above the smokestack emissions.
Finally, we are concerned that Drax has stated that the project will need substantial funding from tax payers, in the form of Capacity Market Payment subsidies over a 15 year period.
The future of Drax power station may hinge on it receiving planning consent and these subsidies for new gas. Without them, the power station may no longer be profitable and have to close. This would reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, save biodiverse forests and protect communities from air pollution. It would also help the UK to meet its climate goals by creating a strong incentive to expand low-carbon renewable energy and investment in energy efficiency and conservation.
Therefore, we urge you to:
a) Refuse planning permission for the Drax Repower proposal because it is not a sustainable development and cannot be part of a transition to a low carbon economy;
b) Ensure that Drax cannot bid for Capacity Market payment subsidies for the proposed gas power units;
c) Focus support on genuinely renewable wind, wave and solar energy as well as on energy efficiency and conservation which can help us to meet our climate targets.
List of Signatories
A Greener Hawick
BP or not BP?
Breaking The Frame
Brighton Action Against Fracking
Campaign Against Climate Change
Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon
Coal Action Network
Colombia Solidarity Campaign
Cumbria Action For Sustainability
Energy Poverty Research Initiative
Frack Aware Barnsley
Frack Free Exmoor, Quantocks and Sedgemoor
Frack Free Leeds
Frack Free Ryedale
Frack Free Scarborough
Frack Free Surrey
Frack Free Sussex
Frack Free United
Frack Free Wakefield and District
Frack Off London
Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Friends of the Earth Glasgow group
Friends of the Earth Glastonbury group
Friends of the Earth Harrogate group
Friends of the Earth Newbury group
Friends of the Earth Torbay
Fuel Poverty Action
Global Justice Now Glasgow group
Green House Think Tank
Hereford Green Party
Initiative for Carbon Accounting (ICARB)
Kirklees Campaign against Climate Change
London Mining Network
New Economy Law
New Putney Debates
Occupy Environment Working Group (EEE)
People and Planet
Reclaim The Power
Residents Action on Fylde Fracking
Roundhay Environmental Action Project
Sheffield Against Fracking
Sheffield Climate Alliance
Sustainable Pill and District
The C.H.E.E.S.E Project (The Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts Project)
The Frack Free Food Alliance
Treesponsiblity: Climate Action in Calderdale
UK Tar Sands Network
UK Youth Climate Coalition
UK Without Incineration Network
UK Green Party
Weald Action Group
Europe / International
Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (Australia)
Dogwood Alliance (USA)
Estonian Forest Aid
Food and Water Europe
Friends of the Earth US (USA)
Global Forest Coalition
Healthy Forest Coalition (Canada)
Noah – Friends of the Earth Denmark
Partnership for Policy Integrity (USA)
Real Democracy Movement (USA)
Skydda Skogan (Protect The Forest) (Sweden)
Upper Valley Affinity Group (USA)
Image: CorporateWatch/BioFuelWatch. Updated 29/08/2018: More signatories were added and the headline and text were updated to reflect this.