The Burnt Offering

20 March 2008

Photo: Craig Jewell

The UK Government is proposing to build new Coal Fired Power Stations. As coal is by far the most polluting form of energy production this seems the most retrograde step in terms of ameliorating our carbon footprint.

The power stations are supposed to be retrofitted with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology to remove pollutants, and store them somewhere (probably in defunct oil reservoirs under the North Sea). There's only one small problem with this idea: there are no functioning CCS plants, not even a proof-of-concept test rig. There was one project in Peterhead, Scotland but the Government did not fund it sufficiently and BP pulled the plug. There is a new competition for CCS plants unveiled in November 2007 which aims to get a test plant up and running by 2010.

Energy Minister, John Hutton, said about CCS in Parliament recently:

"By 2050 it is possible that most new coal-fired power stations will be able to deploy CCS technology…However, CCS is as yet unproven technology and we have to acknowledge there is some risk that safe and reliable CCS for power generation might not be proven or deployable at scale and at reasonable costs. This could happen if the projected costs turn out to be too high or if it proves to be difficult to develop safe ways to transport and store CO2."

Photo: Craig Jewell

So we are going to build some very dirty plants without any idea if the technology will be there to reduce the emissions. Even if it was that would do nothing about the environmental damage of mining the coal in the first place – strip mining produces emissions and is appallingly destructive of the environment.

A step backwards, and unnecessary when the UK is one of the best-placed countries for renewable energy such as wind, wave, and tidal stream power – industries of the future, not the past.

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