Energy firms plan UK’s first carbon-neutral ‘industrial cluster’

The Drax power station in North Yorkshire
 The Drax power station in North Yorkshire. Drax is part of an alliance of companies leading the campaign to go carbon neutral. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/PA

Energy companies have ignited multibillion-pound plans for the UK’s first carbon-neutral “industrial cluster” in the Humber.

An alliance of companies including National Grid, Drax and Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, are leading a campaign to shrink the carbon footprint of Britain’s most polluting industrial zone.

The cluster includes hundreds of refineries, factories and the Drax coal-fired power plant near the Humber estuary, safeguarding 55,000 jobs and a local industrial economy worth £18bn a year. However, it is also responsible for the highest concentration of industrial emissions in the country, undermining the UK’s goal to become a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

The alliance plans to trial world-leading technology to capture and store carbon emissions from factory and power plant flues before they enter the atmosphere. It also hopes to use carbon capture while breaking down natural gas to create hydrogen, which can be used in industry, heating and transport without creating climate emissions.

Lord Haskins, the chair of the local enterprise partnership, said it planned to work with businesses across the Humber “to make this ambitious plan a reality”.

“This is a huge opportunity to accelerate clean growth in the Humber while also supporting significant industries to adapt for the future. If we can achieve this goal of becoming carbon neutral on the Humber it would make us a brilliant example not just for the rest of the country, but the rest of the world,” said Haskins, a former Labour adviser and boss of Northern Foods.

UK urban centres are also vying for investment to become the country’s first carbon-neutral city. Bristol has joined the race by vowing to cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 through a £1bn climate scheme. The UK’s first European Green Capital hopes to maintain its green lead by attracting investment from major companies and investors to create a carbon-neutral city.

Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol, said its City Leap programme was “a world first” that would lead the way on reducing carbon emissions. “We are creating a decarbonised local energy system that Bristol can be proud of. City Leap is leading the way on carbon reduction, while at the same time addressing important social and economic challenges,” he said.

Bristol council voted unanimously in favour of establishing a net zero-carbon city, meaning any climate emissions must be neutralised by schemes that absorb carbon, after becoming the first to declare a climate emergency.

City Leap aims to bring together international organisations, investors and tech companies to help develop low-carbon solutions that can drive down the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

 

But Bristol will face stiff competition in the race to tackle the climate crisis from Glasgow and Edinburgh, which launched bids to become the UK’s first carbon-neutral city this year. Edinburgh has already shrunk its carbon footprint by a third since 2005 and is on track to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 40% by 2020 before becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Glasgow city council said this year it had teamed up with Scottish Power, the only major energy supplier to generate 100% renewable electricity, to meet the same target. The initiative aims to make Glasgow greener by reducing the carbon intensity of the city’s heating and transport and boosting investment in the electricity grid. It will also focus on rolling out more charging locations for electric cars.

The Scottish cities revealed separate plans to cut their emissions to net zero by 2030 in May, days after the UK government’s official climate advisers delivered a plan to create a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

The Committee on Climate Change said Scotland should take the lead with an aim to become carbon neutral five years before the rest of the UK because it had the potential to go further, faster.

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