The UK government has reportedly delayed its decision on an application by German power generation giant E.ON to build a 1,600-MW clean coal power station at Kingsnorth, in Kent, until after the summer.

The delay has prompted warnings from power companies about the country’s electricity supplies, The Guardian reported. Research institutions and think tanks have repeatedly warned that the county faces blackouts within 10 years, as power stations go out of service.

Under the EU’s 2001 Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), older coal- and oil-fired power plants were forced to choose between closure and spending hundreds of millions of pounds for upgrades to meet tougher pollution standards. Nine power plants—representing about 15% of the UK’s power supply—are set to close by 2015. At the same time, four aging nuclear power plants will also be shut.

To make matters worse, some researchers, like the consultancy group Utilyx, have forecast that several of these plants could be out of commission much sooner, as they have been running at historically high rates. The group said in December that one of these, ScottishPower’s 1.2-GW plant at Cockenzie, could close as early as September 2010, based on current rates.

The UK government, which has pledged to drastically cut carbon emissions, is looking to cover 20% of the country’s electricity needs from renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power by 2020.

“The UK will need to live within set carbon budgets as we reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050. This will be nothing short of a revolution in the way we live and we need to ensure that terms like ‘carbon neutral’ are not used carelessly but are clear measures of what we can and will achieve,” Climate Change Minister Joan Ruddock said on Monday in a press release.

The UK electricity industry estimates it needs to spend £100 billion on new stations to ensure supplies.

The Kingsnorth station would be the UK’s first coal-fired power station in more than three decades. Its approval could trigger submissions for other projects, The Guardian said on Monday.

A decision by the government had been expected last year, but it was delayed by a consultation on how to make new coal plants carbon-capture ready. The most recent delay comes amid plans by Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband for a fresh review of coal policy, the newspaper said.

Sources: The Guardian, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Utilyx