Plans for the construction of two "gas peaking plants" have been given the go ahead, in spite of passionate opposition to the potential for "shockingly huge" carbon emissions resulting from the proposals.

Eden District Council's planning committee gave approval last Friday to proposals for two gas peaking plants, set to be built next to the Tata Steel facility just outside the village of Shap.

The proposals for the two plants were submitted by two separate companies, Shap Energy Generation and Fell Energy Generation, both formed by the company Adaptive Energy Solutions, and will be built next to each other.

The plants will use natural gas, a fossil fuel, to generate electricity.

However, as "peaking plants", their purpose will not be to run constantly - they will instead kick into action when either the local or the national electricity grid is in need of extra power.

The applicants, which have partnered on the project with Electricity North West Construction and Maintenance, a part of Electricity North West, argued that the peaking plants are a necessary addition to the infrastructure supplying the National Grid as the UK makes the transition from fossil fuel to renewables as the primary source of the nation's electricity.

As such, according to Josef Balodis, who addressed the council's planning committee on behalf of the applicants, the plants are considered "renewable associated infrastructure", a term "coined by the planning inspectorate at two recent appeal cases, when the same types of development were allowed".

Throughout the most recent winter, Mr Balodis said, the National Grid issued "two warning events that the grid may struggle to provide power".

"Gas peaking plants such as those proposed act rapidly to support local and national renewable energy infrastructure, during the times of peak demand," Mr Balodis said, adding that this is "particularly important when the contributions from renewable technology aren't available when electricity demand is high."

The plans have however faced fierce criticism from a number of objectors prior to coming before Eden's planning committee, with three dozen objections submitted to the council.

One objector who addressed the planning committee on Friday was ecologist Dr Henry Adams, who argued the the carbon emissions set to be produced by the plants are "shockingly huge".

Dr Adams explained that he had calculated that the gas peaking plants could produce "90,000 tonnes of CO2 per year".

"To give you a comparison, that is equal to the emissions of over 11,000 people per year, which is over two thirds of the population of Penrith," he said.

"This would make a mockery of the carbon savings that many thousands of residents would make if they did the right thing to replace their gas boilers with electric powered heat pumps to reduce carbon emissions from burning gas, only to find out that to produce some of that electricity, the gas burning engines at Shap had produced more emissions than the thousands of households had saved, and their efforts had been nullified."

Dr Adams also argued that approving the proposals would "make a mockery" of Eden District Council's "understanding and interpretation of the words climate emergency, which is what it declared in 2019".

One specific element of the proposals criticised by Dr Adams was the number of hours the applicants have suggested the plants could run for - 4,000 hours per year, which Dr Adams noted is "46 per cent of a year", and equivalent to about 11 hours a day.

Dr Adams suggested this is "much more than the duration a gas peaking plant would normally run", and as a result, he argued that "this project is designed to act as a small gas power station, with a capacity large enough to gain the bigger profits from the capacity market auction, much more than just the grid balancing market for peaking plants".

Rather than the construction of gas peaking plants, Dr Adams said alternative technologies should be used to address peak demand.

"New methods are being developed such as flow batteries, gravity batteries, pumped hydro, liquid air and compressed air," he said.

On the issue of the number of proposed hours the plants would run, Mr Balodis said the value of 4,000 hours per year had been proposed as a "worst case" scenario, "given the uncertainty of when the plants may operate".

"It's likely that the plant will run much less than this, and in some cases, it's important to note not at all," he said.

Mr Balodis added that the technology used in the plants would also be "hydrogen ready", meaning they could rely on the use of hydrogen instead of gas if "limits" on the use of gas are required by the Environment Agency.

He also added that the "plant's operation, and so its total run hours, will be regulated by the Environment Agency and will operate under Environmental permitting regime".

Another objector, Peter Dicken, addressed the committee on behalf of Shap Parish Council, and suggested that the plans had been the subject of a "greenwash".

"The term 'greenwash' has been coined to describe marketing spin to persuade us that products or policies are environmentally friendly," he said.

"With 26 references to sustainability for a proposal that will generate energy from fossil fuel when better alternatives area available, this application is an excellent example."

Green Party Penrith North councillor Ali Ross proposed that the applications be rejected.

"I fully acknowledge the need for additional peak electricity provision, into the national grid, but there are genuinely low carbon alternatives to gas generators," she said.

But Nick Atkinson, Eden District Council's development manager for planning services, advised that considerations specifically relating to carbon emissions fell within the "permitting requirements" laid out by the Environment Agency, and that the consideration of planning applications carried out by the committee should fall within the scope of existing planning policy.

Mr Atkinson said that if carbon emissions was given as a reason for refusing planning permission, he "strongly suspected" that "were it to be appealed, that probably would not find support from the Planning Inspectorate".

"There is a changeover as fossil fuel power stations are being replaced by more renewable energies. Which is a hugely positive step.

"Ultimately, the applicant and Electricity North West are saying that there isn't sufficient energy provided by renewable sources to provide energy for the entire National Grid to be completely reliant on renewable energies

"This plant is here to help that transition away from traditional coal power fire stations to solar farms, wind farms, various other green sources.

"It's there to add additional power to the grid until the extent of renewable energies in the country is sufficient that these are not required."

Ms Ross suggested that "by authorising developments such as this, we're actually disincentivising the uptake of what would be environmentally far better alternatives to come forward", but Mr Atkinson advised that the committee could not "make a judgement on this application that we would prefer to see something else".

Ian Irwin, Eden's principal planning officer, added that planning applications cannot be refused on such terms.

"You can't refuse something on the basis that maybe next time, an applicant will think twice and come forward with something that we want to see," he said.

Mr Atkinson also said that Eden District Council's declaration of a climate emergency in 2019 cannot be taken into account when making decisions on planning applications.

"If the Local Plan or national policy changes - as it probably quite likely will do in the future to incorporate matters such as this, then that's absolutely fine," he said.

"But there is probably a bit of a discord between the aspirations of where the council would like to be, which is very admiral, and where the policies are that you can actually take into account."

When taken to a vote, both applications for the proposed gas peaking plants were approved by six votes to four, meaning that planning permission for both plants was granted.