In Brief

Britain to close all coal-fired power stations

The end of coal power will save 3,800 lives, says Greenpeace

Energy secretary Amber Rudd is expected to say today that all Britain's coal-fired power stations will be shut down by 2025, with their use being restricted from as early as 2023.

According to the BBC, coal currently provides around 28 per cent of the UK's electricity, but there are concerns over its impact on the environment – and increasingly its impact on public health. A new study from Greenpeace that will be published today claims that a move away from coal will prevent nearly 4,000 premature deaths in Britain and £6.7bn in health spending by 2035.

Rudd will say that relying on "polluting" coal is "perverse". She will instead signal a major shift to new gas-fired power plants and argue that the deadline for the switch will "send a signal to people who are in the market for building gas stations that coal will no longer crowd out new gas".

The energy secretary has long been a fan of using gas to diversify energy supply and has been pushing through reforms to promote 'fracking' in order to extract shale reserves trapped in underground rocks.

But campaigners on both sides of the debate will be concerned about this latest announcement. Green lobbyists will lament the lack of focus on renewable energy, while others will worry that the UK, which is already struggling with low energy capacity reserves, will not be able to replace coal stations fast enough. Already this autumn the National Grid has had to invoke emergency procedures to prevent a supply crunch.

The BBC's John Moylan says that "only one large gas plant is under construction today", while another gas plant that secured a subsidy last year "is struggling to find investors".

The report into the effects of coal burning, carried out by Greenpeace, used state-of-the-art computer modelling to track the dispersion of fumes from the UK's coal plants and calculate their future impact on the nation's health.

The report has found that phasing out Britain's ten remaining coal-powered fire stations by 2025 would prevent up to 3,800 premature deaths, avoid half a million lost work days and save £6.7bn in health costs over the decade to 2035. More than a million children and 1.7m adults might also be saved from lung problems.

Eggborough closure heralds end of 'the age of coal' 

3 September

Another coal-fired power plant in the UK is closing, bringing down the curtain on the "age of coal" in the UK and raising concern over whether the country can keep the lights on in the years ahead.

The Czech owner of the 50-year-old Eggborough power station in Yorkshire has announced that it will close next March as it is no longer economically viable, The Guardian reports. At a time when costs are rising and wholesale energy prices are falling, the plant would need £200m of additional funding to keep firing for another three years. It currently produces around four per cent of the UK's power.

Last month Scottish Power announced that it would close Scotland's last coal-fired power station, Longannet in Fife, also next March. Opened in 1972, it is one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in Europe. Between the two shutdowns about 470 jobs will be lost.

BBC Yorkshire's business correspondent Danni Hewson says the two recent announcements, along with the closure of the Ferrybridge plant in Yorkshire earlier this year, shows that "in this country at least the age of coal is past".

Eggborough had applied for government funding to convert to biomass power generation, but policy changes meant that it did not qualify for support.

The Daily Telegraph says that the lack of reliable renewable alternatives to coal, and slow progress in installing new nuclear installations, is raising concern over future energy security.

Peter Atherton, analyst at Jefferies, told the paper that "dispatchable" capacity – "power plants that can be switched on or off on demand, as opposed to wind or solar farms that rely on the weather" – would fall to 53 gigawatts next winter, below the estimated peak demand of 56 gigawatts. Ofgem already warned earlier this year that disappointing output from wind power next year could leave the country facing blackouts unless "emergency measures are brought in to bolster electricity supplies".

A spokesperson for the Department for Energy and Climate Change told the Guardian that "people can be assured that energy security will be unaffected". The government "has worked with National Grid to put in place an effective plan which is flexible enough to adapt to individual plant closures", it said.

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