Air Quality

Published on January 9th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley

January 9th, 2018 by

The UK government announced last week that it expects all of the 8 remaining coal powered generating stations in the country to be shuttered permanently by 2025, the result mostly of economic pressure on coal being ratcheted up as the UK carbon tax makes coal more expensive compared to other fuels.

coal fired generating plant

That’s good news. Greenpeace hailed the announcement, calling it “significant progress on making coal history in the birthplace of the industrial revolution,” according to The Guardian. Environment group WWF praised the government for “hitting this dirty industry where it hurts.” However, other climate activists fear the government’s plan is too timid.

Environmental group ClientEarth worries about replacing coal with another fossil fuel. “We are concerned that the door is left wide open for investments in new, long-term gas capacity, locking us into another generation of fossil fuel power,” said Sam Bright, a CleanEarth attorney. Alan Whitehead, shadow energy minister for the UK Labour Party applauded the coal plant closures but said, “The government’s lackluster support for renewables and scrappage of a number of green schemes has left it on course to miss its own climate targets.”

The government is reserving the right to keep the coal plants open longer if an emergency shortfall in electricity supplies occurs. “We consider it prudent for the secretary of state to retain provisions to act in emergency situations, as a last resort, where there might be a shortfall in electricity generation, or risk of one, and that suspension would wholly or partially mitigate that risk,” the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said.

By 2025, UK coal plants will need to meet tougher emissions standards, which will require them to be retrofitted with expensive carbon capture systems. In the meantime, the government will shovel carloads of cash to coal plant operators by way of subsidies to keep those last generating stations going for another 7 years, with UK utility customers ultimately paying the price for keeping them open.

Critics suggest the country is not doing enough to promote renewable energy. If a new generation of gas-fired or nuclear plants get built, they will still be providing electricity until 2050 and beyond, delaying the clean energy revolution by at least a generation. The news from the UK is good, but is it good enough?

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.