Cameron calls for coal phase out

2 min read

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called for existing coal-fired power plants in the UK to be phased out in the next 10 to 15 years in a tweet following his speech at the UN climate summit in New York. His words come despite concerns in the industry that coal is still needed to play a vital role in energy generation and supply.

Cameron’s tweet, posted by the UK Mission to the United Nations, read: ’We’ve said no to new coal [without] carbon capture and storage and plan to phase out existing coal over next 10-15 years.’
While not stated explicitly in his speech at the climate summit, the UK team at the UN in New York said on the Twitter social media site afterwards that the UK government intends to phase out existing coal stations, with new coal-fired power stations to use carbon capture and storage technology.

This is the first time that a phasing out measure has been announced in the UK, though European Union rules on pollutants from coal-fired power stations state that older coal-fired plants will have to be fitted with clean technology sooner rather than later.

In contrast to the prime minister’s stance, UK energy companies such as EDF Energy have expressed that coal-fired power stations are critical to “bridging the energy gap between now and when the company can deliver new low-carbon generating capacity” and that switching away from coal too quickly could lead to higher carbon generation.

’If the UK were to close all its existing coal stations in the next few years, it is possible that they could be replaced by new gas-fired stations,’ EDF Energy says on its website. ’While the carbon footprint of new gas-fired generating plant would be smaller than the existing coal-fired power stations, they could still be substantial. Early replacement could therefore lock the UK into higher carbon generation for the lifetime of the new fossil-fuelled plants.’

EDF said it believes that the UK should use a “diverse range of fuels” including nuclear, renewable energy sources, and as the government proposes, coal and gas fitted with CCS technology, to ensure the long-term security of electricity supply in the UK.

Interestingly, the Guardian previously reported in August this year that the UK government was requesting that one of Europe’s most polluting coal power stations should stay open, despite its nitrogen oxide emissions exceeding new legal limits by five times.

The Aberthaw power plant in South Wales was said to be in the top 30 highest carbon-emitting plants in Europe by the Climate Action Network and alliance of non-governmental organisations in the “Europe’s Dirty 30” report.

Following Cameron’s announcement on Twitter, green campaigner Greenpeace UK called for both the Conservative and Labour politicians to announce a clear end date for polluting coal plants. 

This article originally appeared on a clean energy news service operated by VB Research, a sister publication to The Engineer