Amber Rudd to ‘reset’ Britain’s energy policy with coal phase-out

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has announced plans to "reset" Britain's energy policy by prioritising the closure of all traditional coal-fired plants by 2025 as Britain commits to building new infrastructure "fit for the 21st century".

In today’s (18 November) speech at the Institute for Civil Engineers in London, Rudd outlined plans to replace Britain’s reliance on coal-fired plants by introducing more gas-fired ones, since relying on the “dirtiest” fuel is “perverse”.

— READ: The 13 things you need to know from Rudd’s speech —

Rudd said: “We are tackling a legacy of underinvestment and ageing power stations which we need to replace with alternatives that are reliable, good value for money, and help to reduce our emissions.

“It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations. Let me be clear: this is not the future. We need to build a new energy infrastructure, fit for the 21st century.”

“The 10 year plan to close coal-fired plans will form part of a policy to make energy affordable and secure, aiming to introduce a “consumer-led, competition-focused energy system that has energy security at the heart of it”.

Currently, coal provides power for around 30% of the UK’s electricity, yet due to its carbon-intensive nature, environmentalists have been lobbying for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to phase it out by 2023.

“One of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas,” Rudd added. “Gas is central to our energy secure future. In the next 10 years it’s imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built.”

Bridging the gap

Burning gas emits around 50% less carbon as coal and is considered by some to be a step in the right direction as countries continue to push towards a zero-carbon future. The ETI – a public-private partnership between global energy and engineering companies and the UK Government – said that large-scale reactors could provide up to 35GW of baseload capacity.

However, with gas seen as a ‘bridging’ fuel and nuclear power generation likely to require government subsidies, many are still questioning the decision to cut renewable subsidies. Rudd added: “We now have an electricity system where no form of power generation, not even gas-fired power stations, can be built without government intervention.”

Rudd also gave her backing to new nuclear power, mentioning plans for a new fleet of nuclear power stations, including at Wylfa in Wales and Moorside in Cumbria. She added: “It also means exploring new opportunities like Small Modular Reactors, which hold the promise of low cost, low carbon energy.”

Renewable cuts

Rudd stuck by previous cuts to solar and onshore wind subsidies, saying “green energy must be cheap energy”.

However she did indicate that support for offshore wind could continue in the form of three Contracts for Difference auctions by 2020, “if, and only if, the Government’s conditions on cost reduction are met”. The cost target is expected to be £100/MWH.

Analysis in October revealed that the Government’s proposed cuts to the Feed-in Tariff subsidy scheme could leave the solar industry with just £7m of funding over the next three years – a 98% cut to current funding.

With the crucial Paris climate talks on the horizon and long-term targets in place to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, some are suggesting that Rudd’s energy ‘reset’ aimed at creating affordable energy is a step away from climate change driven policy.

A recent leaked letter from Rudd revealed that it is “difficult to say” whether or not the UK will hit its 2020 renewable energy targets. Despite this, more than three quarters of the UK public still support the use of renewable energy, according to latest figures from DECC.

[<a href=”//” target=”_blank”>View the story “Amber Rudd’s ‘reset’ speech: Twitter reaction” on Storify</a>]

Matt Mace

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