Fuel Poverty Action
"Fuel Poverty Action strongly oppose the “Drax Re-power” proposal to build what would be by far the largest gas-burning power capacity ever built in the UK. It is extraordinary that at a time when the reality and devastating effects of climate change are more evident every day, a proposal to extend and prolong the life of a fossil-fuel plant should even be considered.
A. “Negative climate impacts” cost lives, and also have major financial costs, for heating, cooling, food, and health care. We cannot afford this development.
B. These negative impacts set up vicious circles exacerbating climate change including through the need for air conditioning.
C. Expanding any gas-fired generation is incompatible with climate commitments, and fracking, which Drax would rely on, is worse, because of methane emissions.
D. The UK public rejects fracking, embraces renewable energy, and cannot accept the argument that increasing use of gas is a transition to a low carbon future.
A. Energy customers are often told that fossil fuels are the only (relatively) cheap and realistic way to “keep the lights on” and avoid unaffordable bills. The truth is that we cannot afford these fuels.
Drax, already the U.K.’s single largest emitter of carbon dioxide, admits in its Preliminary Environmental Information Report that repowering to burn gas will: “represent a significant net increase in greenhouse gas emissions and have therefore negative climate impacts.”
“Negative climate impacts” cost lives, and also have major financial costs, for heating, cooling, food, and health care.
The intolerable UK average of 9,700 excess winter deaths a year due to people being unable to heat their homes and eat may soon get worse: early hopes that bills might be brought down in the UK by “global warming” have been shredded not only by research but by the experience of winter 2017-18 with its intense prolonged cold: a predicted effect of “climate chaos”. [Redacted]
Now many in fuel poverty struggle in the summer as well, to keep food or medicines cool, and people who are elderly, ill or in other ways more vulnerable to heat now need air conditioning to survive. Many who do not have/cannot afford air conditioning, both in the UK and in hotter countries, die of the heat. The 70,000 death toll from Europe’s summer heat wave in 2003 makes the World Health Organisation’s estimate of 250,000 deaths a year caused by climate change by 2030 look extremely conservative. There were an extra 650 deaths in just two weeks of the June-July 2018 heatwave in England and Wales alone.
Meanwhile climate change is leading to higher food prices as agriculture suffers, worsens air quality (in terms of pollution, ozone, pollen) and leads to other major health costs as laid out by the World Health Organisation, who anticipate a $2-4 billion annual cost to health by 2030. [Redacted]
B. The “negative climate impacts” are not only immediate but in many ways set up vicious spirals exacerbating climate change.
Air conditioning stands to contribute substantially to a vicious circle, producing higher temperatures which make more air conditioning necessary [Redacted]
The unpredictability of a world in “climate chaos” is itself expensive, forcing energy suppliers to make provision for peaks in demand which push up the cost of fuel and which may rely on emergency diesel or other fossil fuel generators with even worse carbon emissions than “normal” power plants.
Meanwhile, both droughts and floods, rising sea levels and fires in forests, moors, and even urban green spaces, impose major costs on individuals and on governments, and cause more vicious spirals of warming.
C. With oil production in decline, it is likely that a major source of gas for Drax would be fracking. While “Opening new fossil gas fields” of any kind is “ inconsistent with the Paris climate goals”, fracking, with its high leakage of methane gas, is worse. Methane is 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. BEIS’s Public Attitude Tracker says only 18% of the public support fracking, and it is furiously opposed by local populations who face destruction of their environment, water, and air quality. It is therefore utterly shocking that the government expects there to be 30 to 35 sites by 2022 [Redacted]
The expansion of gas fired power generation at Drax would help lock in this plan, which defies all reason, as well as defying the Paris agreement and National Planning Policy Frameworks which define as unsustainable developments which are incompatible with a transition to a low-carbon future.
D. We do not believe the UK public will ever accept the idea that creating the biggest ever gas-burning power station will create a “transition” or “bridge” to decarbonisation because gas is not as bad as coal. Research published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology suggests that a gas plant can become a bigger source of greenhouse gas emissions than a coal one if just 3% of the gas leaks into the atmosphere [Redacted]
But the effects of increasing gas capacity go much further, and include the substitution of gas for developing genuinely renewable wind, wave and solar sources of energy, and also heat sources for homes (eg via heat pumps and using waste heat). The arguments against the spurious “bridge” argument are well laid out in the recent and widely endorsed study, "Debunked: The G20 Clean Gas Myth". [Redacted]
In sharp contrast to fracking, 85% of the UK public support renewable energy. For keeping homes warm, insulation and other energy saving measures are often the most effective, and cost-effective choice. The investment required to repower Drax could instead insulate homes.
We believe that the Planning Inspectorate has a moral, and arguably a legal responsibility to refuse permission for Drax to start burning gas. It would be a development that UK energy users cannot afford, in terms of our personal finances, our health and life expectancy, our well-being, and our futures.
A fully referenced version of this submission is available at fuelpovertyaction.org.uk