Drax Re-power

The views expressed in this page do not represent those of the Planning Inspectorate. This page consists of content submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by the public and other interested parties, giving their views of this proposal.

Drax Re-power

Received 16 August 2018
From Joseph Nicholas


I am writing to object to Drax Power's proposal to replace its final two coal-burning units with much larger ones to burn natural gas, which is not a sustainable development as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework because it is not compatible with a transition to a low-carbon future.

Drax is the UK's single largest emitter of carbon dioxide and admits in its Preliminary Environmental Information Report that burning fossil (natural) gas at the power station will "represent a significant net increase in greenhouse gas emissions and have negative climate impacts". But if the UK is to meet the Paris Climate Agreement to keep global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees, it is vital for fossil fuel emissions to be phased out, not increased. According to a recent Oil Change International report: "the coal, oil, and fossil gas in the world’s currently producing and under-construction projects, if fully extracted and burned, would take the world far beyond safe climate limits".

Permitting Drax to burn large quantities of natural (fossil fuel) gas means that the UK will exceed the 1.5 degree limit and prevent it from meeting its international commitments to tackle climate change.

1. Drax proposes to build what would be by far the largest gas-burning power capacity ever built in the UK. It comes at a time when the UK’s North Sea gas production is in long-term decline and Norwegian gas production (the main source of gas imports) is predicted to peak around 2022. This means that increased reliance on gas would require either increased Russian imports or, more likely, reliance on unconventional gas, especially hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling. There are already 3 active shale gas sites in the UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has said (in response to an FoI request) that the government expects there to be approximately 17 sites by 2020 and around 30 to 35 sites by 2022.

2. Unconventional gas production is associated with significant leakage of methane, far more so than conventional gas production. 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 plant if just 3% of the gas leaks into the atmosphere. Leakage of methane in the production of gas for Drax would therefore significantly increase carbon emissions over and above the smokestack emissions of burning the gas.

3. The smokestack CO2 emissions from new gas units will exceed the longer-term average CO2 emissions per unit of electricity (which have been dropping rapidly due to greater wind and solar power use) and thus contribute to higher long-term UK CO2 emissions.

4. Drax’s proposal to burn large quantities of gas will hamper rather than help the UK’s transition to low carbon energy. Drax claims that gas is a useful "transition fuel" between coal and renewable energy as the burning of unabated coal is phased out by 2025, but the real alternative to its proposal is the closure of the two coal power units, which would result in genuine and significant carbon reductions. Replacing coal with another fossil fuel cannot help the UK to decarbonise, 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 Howarth of Cornell University says, "the only path forward is to reduce the use of all fossil fuels as quickly as possible. There is no bridge fuel, and switching from coal to shale gas is accelerating rather than slowing global warming".

I believe that, rather than paying for an unnecessary gas development which is bad for the climate, the UK should instead invest in genuinely renewable wind, wave and solar energy which can help us to meet our climate targets. I therefore urge you to refuse permission for Drax to start burning gas.