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UK announces plans to close its coal-fired power plants by 2025

18 November 2015

Britain aims to close its polluting coal-fired power plants by 2025 under plans announced on November 18, becoming the first major economy to put a date on shutting coal plants to curb carbon emissions. The country will instead look to nuclear and natural gas-fired power plants to complement intermittent renewable energy, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said.

Ferrybridge C coal-fired power station, West Yorkshire
Ferrybridge C coal-fired power station, West Yorkshire

"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," she said in a speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Around a third of Britain's electricity came from coal-fired plants last year but many of the 12 still operating are old and due to close over the next decade under tightening European Union environmental standards.

Rudd said the government would begin a consultation next spring setting out proposals to close by 2025 all coal-fired power stations which were not equipped to capture and store their carbon emissions - and restrict their usage from 2023.

British power producer Drax Group, operator of one of Europe's largest coal and biomass-fired power plants, would likely close its remaining coal units in 2023, according to analysts. It announced in September it would halt investment in the country's only coal power station carbon capture and storage (CCS) project.

German utility E.ON operates a 2 gigawatt (GW) coal-fired plant in Nottinghamshire, which is fitted with pollution-reducing technology that means it could still be running in 2025 under current legislation.

Rudd said the government is committed to meeting a legally binding target to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 to 80% below 1990 levels. Gas plants emit almost half the amount of carbon dioxide per megawatt of power generated as coal plants.

"Gas is central to our energy-secure future,” she said.

The big question is how to ensure gas plants are built to replace closed coal-fired stations. Only one large plant is under construction, and another, which secured a subsidy last year, is struggling to find investors.

Rudd said that plans for new nuclear power stations, including those at Wylfa in Wales, Moorside in Cumbria and Hinkley Point in Somerset, could eventually provide almost a third of the low carbon electricity the UK needs. A recent OECD report said that proposed new nuclear plants in the UK would be the most expensive in the world. 

The speech comes amid concerns in some quarters that the UK could suffer from blackouts as a result of short supplies, brought about in large part from the closure of a number of power stations that have come to the end of their working lives.

Free-market think tank the Centre for Policy Studies said Britain was on the verge of an "energy crisis" with electricity demand set to outstrip available supply in the near future. However, National Grid dismissed these concerns, saying it has plenty of gas and enough electricity to get through the winter without any disruptions.

The government was criticised earlier this year by environmental groups for cutting renewable energy subsidies - it has already reduced solar subsidies and will cut those for onshore wind next year. Rudd said that such subsidies must be carefully focused on technologies that offer the best value for money, fitting into a "consumer-led, competition-focused energy system".

Rudd's speech comes ahead of the UN summit on climate change in Paris in December, aimed at securing a new global climate change agreement.

In the second quarter of 2015, the UK electricity mix was 30.2% gas, 25.3% renewables, 21.5% nuclear and 20.5% coal.


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