Green groups: Britain faces new ‘dirty coal’ age

A general view of Drax power station in Drax, northern England, February 16, 2011 (Reuters/Nigel Roddis)
A new age of pollution is looming, green groups in the UK warn. A loophole in the law will allow a fresh generation of coal-fired power stations to be built without permanent curbs on their emissions.

Ed Davey, British Energy Secretary claimed last week that the country’s Draft Energy Bill will not allow for construction of new coal plants “that emit more than 450g/kWh”.

However, if future coal-fired power stations trial new carbon capture and storage technology known as CSS, they will be exempt from the coalition government’s strict carbon caps.

The method works by burying the carbon in the ground and according to the International Energy Agency could provide a fifth of the carbon cuts needed by 2050.

The UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change said it was confident that CCS will work, but admitted that “it is possible a very limited number of projects could be built as part of the CCS programme that will not be subject to Emission Performance Standards.” In other words, if the technology fails, a power station will be allowed to stay open and go on polluting.

Joss Garman, a senior campaigner for Greenpeace, said that both parties in the coalition had pledged to scrap Britain’s outdated and dirty coal-fired power stations, but that Ed Davey has now slipped the coal industry a whopping loophole.

He told RT “if you build a coal station like the one currently proposed for Hunterston, Scotland – this means that there are no legal back stops to prevent it belching out high levels of carbon pollution for decades into the future, should the CCS demo prove to be unviable”.

The idea of capturing carbon from burning coal is still in its infancy and has yet to be proven commercially. The UK’s first CCS project, a relatively small £20 million pilot, is in Yorkshire and opened last November.

It is still an expensive technology and while the US, Canada and Australia have significant plants, there is nothing large-scale in Europe.

Garman believes that this is further evidence of the UK government’s incoherent and botched energy policy. He said “CCS plans have slipped and the budgets aimed at supporting the development of this technology have recently been slashed”.

Garman says that the government’s plans for new nuclear stations have stalled while energy efficiency – the cheapest way to save energy – has played no part in the government’s new energy bill. Representatives of the renewable energy industry – which includes solar and hydroelectric power – say the government’s proposals are “unworkable” and a “train wreck.”

It is now looking increasingly unlikely that the government will meet its carbon reduction emissions targets.

Garman added, “A new dash for gas-fired power generation, plus a continued over-reliance upon coal burning – together with a failure to give sufficient support to energy efficiency and renewable energy – means the UK is way off course from what must happen to cut carbon emissions”.