Phasing out coal to hinder UK energy objectives - Sporton

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The head of the World Coal Association says completely abandoning the use of coal from the UK’s power generation mix will make the government’s objectives for energy ‘considerably more difficult.’

Benjamin Sporton, the WCA’s chief executive told Power Engineering International that Minister Amber Rudd’s speech could have implications, not just from the perspective of costs but also the country’s ability to keep its lights on.
Benjamin Sporton, the WCA’s chief executive
“While billed a ‘reset’, Ms Rudd’s speech was more a restatement of the government’s pledges to end the use of unabated coal that came in July. British coal-fired power stations operate within the strict parameters of UK and EU environmental regulations. The closure of these facilities will make DECC’s stated objective of ‘keeping bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses and powering the economy while decarbonising in the most cost-effective way’ considerably more difficult."

Sporton says coal still provides a significant chunk of the UK’s energy mix and is important in times of high-demand, such as in colder winters.

“Discounting coal from the energy mix may increase costs and challenge Ms Rudd’s priority to ‘keep the lights on’.  It should be noted Ms Rudd seems to have these concerns also – she stated that the government will only proceed if timescales can be met.”

It remains to be seen what government intentions are with reference to carbon capture and storage (CCS) and coal’s prospects for participation. Several CCS projects are currently in the development stages across the UK, including the White Rose Project.

Cambridge Professor and former government adviser on energy, Dr David Reiner told PEi on Monday that for most of the existing coal fleet, time was running out for inclusion with CCS.

“My understanding is that if an old coal plant somehow managed to get CCS up and running by 2025 it would be allowed to continue to operate but given the lead times that would be very, very challenging,” Reiner said.

In July, while speaking to the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Ms Rudd indicated the government’s continued commitment to carbon capture and storage and Sporton says recent developments have not indicated any change on that stance.

He also believes the government’s latest statements do not necessarily make potential plans for new ultra supercritical coal plants with CCS suddenly redundant.

“Ms Rudd – and previous government commitments – refer to ‘unabated coal’- that is energy generated without using CCS. Accordingly, utilities which may have plans to develop ultra-supercritical coal plants with CCS still may do so.”

Regardless of the objections of the coal industry there does seem an unstoppable momentum towards gas in the UK. But is the government justified in abandoning coal in exclusive favour of gas, despite the fact that modern coal plants in association with CCS might be perceived as an equally viable option?

“Fuel switching is not an effective strategy to address climate change,” Sporton says.

“In the future, gas too will require CCS. The Government should adopt a technology-based approach to energy policy and invest in carbon emission reductions expertise regardless of energy source. The world’s first large-scale CCS project was launched in 2014 at SaskPower’s coal-fired Boundary Dam power plant in Canada. This coal-fired CCS project is an example of what can be achieved, capturing 90 per cent of CO2.”

READ MORE: UK government berated for decision to sideline ‘essential’ coal

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