Government comes under fire on clean coal

The UK government has outlined how it plans to reconcile the need for energy against the carbon emissions of coal-fired power stations - and promptly come under fire from opposition parties and environmentalists.

Government faces an unenviable tightrope walk when it comes to tackling the controversial issue of ‘clean’ coal but this week unveiled its plans along with a study carried out by consultants AEA Group on the future value of coal carbon abatement technology to UK industry.

The independent report concludes that clean coal technology could bring between £2-4 billion a year into the UK economy by 2030, and support between 30,000-60,000 jobs.

Energy Secretary Ed Miliband also tried to go beyond the ‘Carbon Capture and Storage ready’ policy that has been repeatedly attacked by environmentalists, saying that permission would not be granted to build new coal power stations unless they included demonstration-scale CCS projects from the outset and could be easily retrofitted once CCS became viable on a large scale.

A lack of demonstration projects has been one of the hurdles in Europe’s efforts to establish itself as a global leader in the development of CCS.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said: “The conditions we’re proposing for new coal are the most environmentally ambitious of any country in the world, requiring the demonstration of CCS on a substantial proportion of any new power station and the 100% retrofit of CCS when it’s proven.

“At the same time, by providing funding for demonstrations, we can maintain coal as part of our energy mix, supporting diversity and therefore security of supply.

“By acting early, jobs will also be created as Britain develops the expertise in what could be a major new industry, with CCS projects offering the potential to form the hubs for clusters of low carbon industries.

“By driving the development of CCS in this country, we are also, as a country, playing an essential role in the battle against climate change.”

The Conservative’s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Greg Clark said: “the Government has missed a golden opportunity to set an Emissions Performance Standard that would set a legal limit on the release of greenhouse gases from new power stations.

“This announcement should have closed the door on unabated coal, but the Government has left the door ajar.”

Greenpeace said the government needed to go further.

“The fact that there is even a consultation on coal is welcome, given that this time last year policy was being decided by myopic ministers in thrall to regressive civil servants, but Ed Miliband needs to go further,” said executive director John Sauven.

“His proposed policy leaves us with the threat of a massive new coal plant at Kingsnorth that would only capture and bury a quarter of its emissions and pump out six million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, making it the dirtiest new power station built in Britain for decades.”

“Britain could and should be a global leader on climate change and Ed Miliband has the power to make that happen, but first he has to rule out emissions from new coal-fired power stations, like Kingsnorth, and set a deadline for closing the existing coal plants like Drax.”

Sam Bond

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