Friday, June 19, 2009

government to bury coal

When there was a cabinet reshuffle that put Geoff 'Buff' Hoon in Transport and Ed Miliband in Climate Change and Energy, a friend said this meant the Heathrow third runway would go ahead (Hoon is the government's flak magnet), but that Kingsnorth would be scrapped (Miliband really means it, within the limits of the roles he has).

I thought this was a bit simplistic and cartoony, yet it appears to be bang on.

Having already said that there will be no new coal plants operating without full-scale carbon capture from 2025, Miliband plans to go one further.

Ed Miliband, the energy secretary, is proposing to extend his plans to force companies to fit carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) onto new coal plants – as revealed by the Guardian – to cover a dozen existing coal plants.

The consultation published by his Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) conceded that if this happened "we could expect them to close".

As the climate doesn't differentiate between emissions from new coal plants and those from old ones, making emissions restrictions apply to all coal stations is entirely sensible. However, the cost of retro-fitting will be huge and many plants - especially those a long way from anywhere that can store CO2 - would close down.

They really would shut them rather than cough up. Already a bunch of coal stations are to close in 2015, not because they're clapped out but because new regulations on sulphur emissions come into force then and it's too expensive to retro-fit the gear to comply.

The new announcement from Miliband, if it goes through (and it's still an if) would probably mean the closure of Drax and others.

Also, the government has decided to delay the decision on who gets to run the pilot plant with CCS for another 18 months. As they still want it to be up and running by 2014 there almost certainly wouldn't be time to built a new plant, it would have to be a bolt-on to an old station.

Not only would that mean we get practical experience in retro-fitting and make it more viable, it also means no Kingsnorth.

Miliband told the Guardian that the short space of time for E.ON to build a new plant was "one of the factors" which would influence the decision but declined to comment further.

Paul Golby, E.ON's chief executive, has admitted the firm would not build Kingsnorth if it did not win the competition.


Jim Bliss said...

This certainly sounds like good news, but if I may be cynical for a moment...

New Labour are in a position to make these "principled" stands right now because nobody in their right mind thinks they'll be in power this time next year. They can commit Britain to 100% renewable energy by 2012 if they want, because they know it won't be them implementing that commitment.

And when the new tory government takes office next year, are they really going to maintain a commitment to carbon capture if it means huge costs to the energy corporations? Or if it means rolling black-outs when all those coal stations go offline with little or nothing done to replace them?

I want to believe this is a positive announcement. I really do. But it looks suspiciously like party politics to me. And that's one thing for which Milliband has plenty of aptitude.

merrick said...

Jim, I hear you. But I do see them charging ahead with all manner of vote-losing nonsense, so there *may* be other things at work here.

also, it kind of ties the next government's hands a bit. for example, do the Tories:

a) extend the deadline for CCS
b) drop CCS altogether
c) keep to the Labour plan of 2014

As a government priding itself on a green tinge (they've promised to scrap the third runway in very blunt unambiguous terms) there's only so much backsliding they can do.

So even if it is as cynical as you suspect, it creates a momentum the right way.

As long as the era of unabated coal is over soon, the rest is more negotiable.