UK to Close All Coal-Fired Power Plants by 2025

In a major speech setting out the future direction of the UK’s energy policy, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd announced plans to restrict the use of the country’s coal-fired power stations by 2023 and close all of the facilities by 2025.

“Frankly, it cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations,” Rudd said while speaking in London before the Institution of Civil Engineers. “We need to build a new energy infrastructure, fit for the 21st century.”

Rudd said that even with huge growth in its renewable energy sector, the UK has still not reduced its dependence on coal. She noted that 30% of the UK’s electricity still comes from unabated (without carbon-capture technology) coal. In fact, she said a higher proportion of electricity came from coal in 2014 than it did in 1999.

“One of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas,” Rudd said. “In the next 10 years, it’s imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built.”

The UK currently imports about half of its gas needs, but some estimates suggest that imports could increase to 75% by 2030. Rudd’s plan, however, is to encourage investment in shale gas exploration in the UK so that new sources of “home-grown supply” are added in the future.

But gas is not the only energy resource that the policy relies upon; nuclear power is also expected to be a major contributor to the UK’s future electricity supply.

“We are dealing with a legacy of under-investment [in nuclear power] and with Hinkley Point C planning to start generating in the mid-2020s that is already changing,” Rudd said.

However, Rudd noted that building just one plant isn’t enough.

“There are plans for a new fleet of nuclear power stations, including at Wylfa and Moorside,” she said. “This could provide up to 30% of the low carbon electricity which we’re likely to need through the 2030s.”

Offshore wind energy was also addressed. If current projections hold true, the UK will have about 10 GW of offshore wind generation installed by 2020. While costs for offshore wind energy have come down by at least 20% in the last two years, Rudd said it is still too expensive.

“Our approach will be different—we will not support offshore wind at any cost,” said Rudd. “The technology needs to move quickly to cost-competitiveness.”

If that happens, Rudd suggested that new offshore projects could add another 10 GW of capacity in the 2020s.

“New nuclear, new gas and, if costs, come down, new offshore wind will all help us meet the challenge of decarbonisation,” Rudd said.

The secretary expects to launch a consultation in the spring to determine when all unabated coal-fired power stations will close. She did note that the plan hinges on making the shift to new gas generation within the timescales. If the plan is carried out as proposed, the UK will be one of the first developed countries to deliver on a commitment to take coal off of the table.

“By 2025, with a new nuclear power station built, offshore wind competing with other renewables, unabated coal a thing of the past, and smart energy coming into its own we will have transformed our energy system,” Rudd said.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)