The UK will not permit new coal-fired power plants without equipment to capture and store at least 25% of carbon emissions from day one and 100% by 2025, when carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is expected to be technically and commercially proven, the country’s climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, said last week.

The decision marks a reversal in the country’s energy policy. Coal currently accounts for 37% (29 GW) of the UK’s electricity capacity, generating 31% of the UK’s electricity in 2008. That is set to decline to 21 GW as stations close in accordance with EU controls on sulfur and nitrogen emissions.

Only 15 months ago, former energy secretary John Hutton had been expected to permit the first new coal-fired power station in Britain in more than 30 years at Kingsnorth, Kent. That project, spearheaded by Germany’s E.ON, has since been in limbo owing to the nation’s commitments to a low-carbon future. Miliband’s announcement is now expected to delay by another year the government’s decision on whether or not to approve the controversial project.

Miliband told the UK House of Commons on Thursday that it was imperative to take all of the low-carbon technologies at the country’s disposal into account to overcome its three main challenges: transform its energy to low-carbon sources; maintain security of supply; and to support the UK’s economy and industry.

He said coal power would continue to play a role in the nation’s diverse energy mix, because securing the UK’s energy security would mean maximizing domestic fuel supply. Coal would be necessary as “it is low cost and it is flexible enough to meet fluctuations in demand for power.” But there was no alternative to CCS if the nation was serious about fighting climate change and retaining a diverse mix of energy sources for the economy, he said.

“Capturing the CO2, transporting it and locking it permanently underground would reduce emissions by 90 per cent,” Miliband said. “But while this has been demonstrated in its different parts and at small scale—capturing emissions from 30MW—it has never been tried at a commercial scale and never the complete process from start to finish on a power station. So the first task is to urgently drive the technology at scale.”

Miliband proposed that alongside the government’s ongoing competition to build a end-to-end post-combustion demonstration plant (covering capture, transport, and storage), it should fund up to three more projects including pre-combustion technology with a new levy mechanism.
The CCS clusters are expected to built in regions where emission reductions could be achieved the most economically, specifically, in Thames, Humberside, Teesside, Firth of Forth, and Merseyside.

The government has touted the demonstration project that would be built as a result of its ongoing competition as “one of the biggest CCS projects in the world, more than ten times bigger than the largest existing pilot.” The three new plants would be required to demonstrate at least 300 MW of net capacity, or around 400 MW of gross output.

But how the four demonstration plants—each costing around £1 billion—would be funded remains unclear. The Guardian reported that both government and industry expect consumers to pay a 2% tax on electric bills by 2020, though it said that utilities had indicated they were encouraging government subsidies.

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