UK government berated for decision to sideline ‘essential’ coal

The UK’s coal industry says the government is wrong to announce the phasing out of coal power and pointed out the negative impact it will have on carbon capture and storage (CCS) development.

However Cambridge University’s senior lecturer on technology policy Dr David Reiner believes there will be little impact on CCS and the decision to end coal power is correct.
Nigel Yaxley
CoalImp (the Association of UK Coal Importers) believes that coal’s role in keeping bills down and lights on will remain essential for the next ten years, and quite possibly beyond, despite last week’s government announcement of plans to close all UK coal power stations by 2025.

Managing Director of CoalImp, Nigel Yaxley (right) said: “The UK’s decision to turn its back on the world’s most abundant and low cost fuel will be welcomed by many climate campaigners in the developed world but, importantly, will not be followed by many in the developing world from whom we increasingly import the goods we all take for granted.”

“If the UK takes a step which others cannot reasonably follow, there is a serious question over its effectiveness in climate change policy.”

“It is all the more essential that development of coal-fired CCS in the UK is accelerated and broadened so that, as existing plant closes, the country retains some diversity in its energy mix and is not overly dependent on gas, which will also need to be fitted with CCS in due course.

“This would be a way of showing real leadership to other countries which, cannot, and will not, consign coal to history.”

Whilst the announcement appears to add clarity on an end-date for unabated coal in the UK, the coal lobby says the government is guilty of wishful thinking in how coal is to be replaced, and fails to address the question of what new policy instruments will be introduced to bring about this outcome.

The lobby group insists that the UK’s key policy change in fact came over five years ago, outlawing the construction of new, highly efficient coal-fired power stations ” ‘a step that was at odds with our main industrial competitors and denied a key pathway to carbon capture and storage (CCS)’.

The group also maintains that the carbon tax ” set at around four times the level paid by European competitors ” is inevitably leading to old coal plants becoming increasingly uncompetitive and hastening their closure.

Yaxley said, “A relaxation of the punitive carbon tax would give some relief to electricity consumers, and mitigate the risks of supply shortages. The alternative is to rely on other short-term, and in many cases, less efficient and more polluting, solutions and on paying industrial users to switch off ” essentially, power cuts in all but name.”

Mr Yaxley continued: “The existing fleet of coal stations remains a bridge to a lower carbon future – and that bridge should not be burnt too early. Clarity is needed on how the transition will be managed.

“Existing coal plants should remain a part of that transition, and a new fleet of coal plants with carbon capture and storage should be brought on stream to replace them, avoiding over-dependence on expensive gas.”

The IEA Clean Coal Centre agreed that the closure of old, unabated coal-fired power plants is the correct decision but is concerned about the future of CCS.

“We are concerned that Amber Rudd made no overt mention of carbon capture and storage as a way to reduce emissions from any fossil-fuel fired power plant. The Centre would like to see the construction of CCS demonstration plants proceed promptly in the UK. For example, if the White Rose project in Yorkshire were to go-ahead it could give an opportunity to provide very low CO2 emitting coal-fired power and provide the basis for a CCS hub so that neighbouring industries could also capture and store their CO2, using the White Rose pipeline. “

The IEA CCC say that despite recent investments in the technology including for works at the Grangemouth coal-gasification power plant, it will be hard to promote and sell the technology abroad if there is no commercial deployment in the UK.

In its press statement IEA CCC pointed out that emissions from gas are comparable to those from new top-of-the-range ultra-supercritical (USC) coal-fired plant and would be higher than those from USC coal with CCS.

“Building unabated gas-fired power stations locks the UK in to substantial emissions from fossil fuels for possibly the next 40 years.”

“The IEA CCC published a report this year comparing the greenhouse impact of coal and gas. It found that if the rate of methane leakage is more than 3 per cent during the upstream sourcing and processing of natural gas, then the climatic benefit of substituting gas for coal is negated.”

“So, the hopes of the CCC rest on Ms Rudd’s inclusion of the word ‘unabated’. We trust this means that there will be CCS fitted to both coal and gas-fired power plants within the decade.”

However Dr David Reiner (right), a leading Cambridge academic and former adviser on energy to the British government has a different view and believes coal is rightly being consigned to the past.Dr David Reiner

“I don’t think (Amber Rudd’s) announcement means very much for CCS. My understanding is that if an old coal plant somehow managed to get CCS up and running by 2025 it would be allowed to continue to operate but given the lead times that would be very, very challenging.”

“Obviously the terms of the Contracts for Difference that Peterhead and White Rose will negotiate in the coming months will be critical for any future plants and will matter more than this ‘reset’ announcement.”

“As for gas versus coal — Most UK coal plants are 50+ years and are quite inefficient compared to the newer gas plants, so not only is coal a dirtier fuel, but the lower efficiency means that UK coal plants produce 2.5 times more carbon dioxide than gas plants for every unit of electricity produced. So one can only say good riddance to these old coal plants.”

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