UK's gas power plans risk derailing climate targets, thinktank says

Fossil fuel companies risk derailing the UK’s climate targets and pushing up household bills by planning to build a string of new gas-fired power plants worth £9bn, according to a thinktank.

The UK has 17 gas-fired plants proposed with a combined generation capacity of 14GW. They include plans for Europe’s largest at the Drax site in North Yorkshire.

If all 17 were built and used to generate power they would produce 24m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of 7% of the UK’s emissions in 2019, according to a report by CarbonTracker.

The multi-billion pound investments would also run the risk of being “stranded” because they are more expensive than clean energy technologies which can generate electricity at a lower cost, the thinktank said.

The author of the report, Catharina Hillenbrand von der Neyen, said cheaper, cleaner energy options including onshore wind, solar farms and batteries, could fill the gap left by the closure of old coal and nuclear plants without having to invest in gas-fired electricity.

“By ignoring a least-cost clean energy solution, the UK risks veering off a net zero pathway and penalising consumers, as they will be the ones to bear the higher electricity prices,” she said.

The UK’s future energy system would use more batteries, which could make better use of renewable energy sources, she said, and more flexible electricity use could avoid the need for backup supplies generated from fossil fuels.

The UK’s last coal power plants are scheduled to shut by 2025 under the government’s ban on coal-fired electricity, by which time almost half the UK’s nuclear reactors are also due to be decommissioned. Energy companies plan to fill the gap with the new gas-fired power plants.

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The CarbonTracker report was based on current project proposals in the UK, and did not take into account plans which might be scrapped before major investments decisions are taken.

The largest plant planned, to replace two of the Drax coal-burning units with combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGTs), could be scrapped this week after provoking fierce opposition from green groups and an unsuccessful legal challenge.

Drax is expected to announce its full-year financial results on Thursday, and may also reveal plans to abandon the gas project to focus on its investments in bioenergy and carbon capture technology.

The company sold its portfolio of four gas plants late last year to VPI Holdings – an affiliate of energy trading giant Vitol – for £193m. It said they did not form part of its core strategy.

A spokesperson for Drax said the company had not made an announcement about its future gas projects at the Drax site, once the largest coal-generation plant in the UK, but would provide clarity on its plans on Thursday.



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