‘Security of supply’ issues set to extend British coal-fired power station lifespans


Coal-fired power stations could still be operating in 2030
Coal-fired power stations could still be operating in 2030

A new report by Imperial College London has found that nearly half of the UK’s existing 40-50 year old coal-fired generating capacity could still be operating in 2030.

This directly contradicts current government assumptions that existing coal will close as a result of age and/or because of local air pollution legislation by the mid-2020s.

The report’s lead author Dr Rob Gross, of the Energy Policy and Technology Unit, said: “Imperial College’s economic modelling shows that it is unwise to simply assume that coal-fired power stations will all close in the 2020s.

“If government wants old coal stations to close it needs to ensure that happens through legislation.”

We modelled a variety of scenarios and, with the UK’s existing suite of energy policies, in every instance coal still played a role in generating electricity and 2030 emissions targets were missed.”

“Our modelling shows that firm commitment to carbon pricing is very important to 2030 targets but investors would have much more confidence if the government also took a regulated approach, for example by extending the emissions performance standard to existing coal fired stations.”   

Lord Adair Turner – a former Director General of the CBI – commented: “The Climate Change Committee recommended that coal generation should only be allowed in the UK in 2030 if fitted with carbon capture and storage.

“This would enable us to get emissions from electricity down to 50g per kWh. As this report makes clear, present policies could leave us in 2030 with so much unabated coal that electricity emissions could be 130 -240 g per kwh, blowing a hole in plans to create a low carbon economy.

“Analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others has  shown repeatedly that we can build a low carbon economy at low cost provided we plan well in advance and provide strong incentives to which business can respond. A clear commitment to get unabated coal out of the UK generation system is needed to provide certainty against which businesses can invest.”

The report also shows that recent policy decisions which appear to encourage the life extension of existing coal plant through the 2020s may be deterring investment in the new, lower carbon and more efficient replacement capacity needed to ensure long term security of supply.

Jenny Banks, WWF’s Energy and Climate Change Specialist, also commented: “Running one big coal-fired power station full time in 2030 would use over half of our carbon target for the power sector but generate just 3% of our electricity needs.”

“We’re pleased that the Government has recognised that it’s time to close old coal plants but actions speak louder than words.  The current plans for bill-payers to help fund inefficient old coal plants from the 1960s and 70s to let them stagger on through the 2020s are hardly sending the right signals.

“Over the past year the Government has exempted coal plants from emissions standards that new plants will have to meet, frozen a tax on carbon pollution to help the UK’s biggest emitters and created a new scheme which will pay our biggest polluting power stations to stay open.”

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