Exclusive: Whitehall dithering threat to clean coal cash hope

Drax power station
Drax power station
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YORKSHIRE is in danger of again missing out on hundreds of millions of pounds of European funding for the UK’s first “clean coal” power station owing to the Government’s failure to fully commit to any single project.

A motion passed by the European Parliament warned it is “far from certain” that the White Rose power project in North Yorkshire will secure a huge grant available from the EU for getting carbon capture projects off the ground –despite being the sole entrant in Brussels’s funding competition.

All European grants require match-funding from national governments, but Whitehall’s seven-year prevarication over which prospective carbon capture and storage (CCS) project to support means no UK scheme has yet been given the final go-ahead.

The White Rose project, a 450MW coal-fired power station at Drax, near Selby, was finally chosen as the Government’s preferred scheme last year, and was the only CCS project in the whole of Europe to enter the EU’s funding competition. But Whitehall’s insistence on another 18-month engineering study – only now getting underway – before giving the final go-ahead means the project is unlikely to receive any match-funding in time for the EU competition, which closes this summer.

It leaves Drax facing the stark prospect of potentially failing to win a competition in which it is the only entrant.

“Only one project is in the running, but it is far from certain that the requirements of the member state and the requirements of the Commission will match up sufficiently to allow a commitment to be made,” the EU motion warns.

Missing out on the vast sums on offer from Brussels would be yet another blow for the Government’s heavily-delayed plans to develop CCS, a new technology involving capturing carbon emissions from power stations and other major polluters before they are released and then burying them safely underground.

Another proposed “clean coal” project, at Hatfield in South Yorkshire, missed out in an earlier EU funding competition after the UK Government withdrew its support at the 11th hour.

Yorkshire MEP Linda McAvan said: “The Government missed the opportunity to win funding for the Don Valley CCS project last year – we cannot afford to let the same opportunity pass us by with the White Rose project.”

MEPs are now working to find some way of ensuring the separates timetables of Brussels and Westminster can be aligned to avoid the money going unspent.

Chris Davies, a North West MEP who leads on CCS in Brussels, said it would be “embarrassing” for the EU to fail to find a project to fund.

“My impression is the European Commission is very keen to give support to White Rose,” he said.

“It’s the only project in the running, and the Commission would be deeply embarrassed to admit a mechanism set up to support CCS had completely failed.

“But it’s not yet a done deal. The UK and the Commission need to be singing from the same hymn sheet, and my fear is these two big bureaucracies may each be more keen on following their own procedures than on actually making something happen.”

The UK Government insists it has shown a “strong commitment” to the White Rose project, but that the lengthy engineering study is necessary to ensure it will be a success.

“The Government has supported the White Rose project throughout the application process,” a spokesman said.