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UK appeals court upholds approval for Drax gas plant project

The U.K. Court of Appeal upheld a decision allowing Drax Group PLC to go ahead with converting its Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, England, from coal to gas.

Environmental nonprofit ClientEarth has been challenging the 1.8-GW project since it was approved in October 2019. ClientEarth argued in a January 2020 High Court challenge that the permit ran counter to the U.K.'s plans to decarbonize its power grid and slash emissions.

In May 2020, the High Court rejected ClientEarth's challenge and ruled that the government did not act unlawfully in allowing the conversion of the remaining units at the 3.9-GW Drax coal plant into four combined-cycle gas turbines.

On Jan. 21, 2021, the Court of Appeal dismissed ClientEarth's case on all grounds. The environmental group said it is not appealing to the Supreme Court.

Despite the dismissal of its appeal, ClientEarth declared that the appeals court judgment sets a precedent for rejection of other major energy projects on climate change grounds.

The decision also puts pressure on the government to consider the "carbon lock-in risk" of each project and gives attention to shortfalls in the government's permitting process for new fossil fuel projects, ClientEarth said.

"The Secretary of State's decision still stands and that's problematic of course, but we believe that the judgment brings vital clarity to the meaning of national planning policy," ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said in a statement, adding that the burden is now on Drax to prove that the gas project is in compliance with U.K.'s climate goals.

Meanwhile, a Drax spokesperson said in an email that the group can still contribute to the country's climate targets by investing in carbon capture and storage technology.

In June 2020, Drax and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. announced plans for a new bioenergy pilot project with carbon capture and storage at the Drax power station. The pilot project could prevent 16 million tonnes of emissions per year.

Drax aims to become carbon negative by 2030.