U.K. Said to Consider Closing All Coal-Fired Plants by 2023

A coal fired power station in Ferrybridge, U.K.

A coal fired power station in Ferrybridge, U.K.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
  • Announcement said to be weighed before Paris climate summit
  • Plants equipped with carbon capture would still be allowed

The U.K. is considering whether to close all of its 12 coal-fired power plants by 2023 as part of its effort to reduce the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, an official with knowledge of the discussions said.

Europe’s second-biggest polluter is also considering whether to make the announcement before Nov. 30, when United Nations climate talks start in Paris, according to the official, who asked not to be identified because the talks haven’t yet reached a conclusion. Plants fitted with equipment to capture and store carbon emissions would be exempt from closure, the official said.

If the government goes ahead with the plan, generators including Drax Group Plc, EON SE and RWE AG will face a decision on whether to convert coal plants to burn biomass, or fit them with costly carbon-capture equipment. The government is looking for ways to ratchet back the pollution blamed for global warming as more than 190 nations at the UN talks consider worldwide limits on fossil-fuel emissions.

U.K. is assessing what alternatives would make up for the loss of coal in the energy mix, and whether 2023 would be the right year to aim for a phaseout, the official said. The discussions were reported earlier by the Times newspaper.

Government View

The Department of Energy and Climate Change declined to comment on the specific notion of phaseout by 2023. In a statement, it said that “while fossil fuels have a role to play in meeting our energy demands,” coal-fired generation is already falling.

“A number of coal power stations have closed in recent years and we expect this trend to continue. Government is focusing on stimulating investment in lower carbon alternatives,” the department said.

Coal-burning is already declining in the U.K. because it’s the dirtiest-burning fossil fuel. Its share in the power generation market dropped to 30 percent last year, from 36 percent a year earlier, and several plants have closed down in recent years in the face of European Union regulations on air pollutants.

With new regulations entering into force in 2016, generators already face the choice between installing equipment to comply with the rules or accepting limited generating hours between now and 2023, when they would close.

Scottish Power Ltd.’s Longannet plant, SSE Plc’s Ferrybridge, and Eggborough Power Ltd.’s coal-burning station are all scheduled to close next year. National Grid Plc estimates that under a scenario where the U.K. chooses to pursue green policies, coal-fired capacity without carbon capture plants attached will fall by more than 10 gigawatts to 8.7 gigawatts in 2021, before declining to zero by 2030. The amount fitted with carbon capture would be small.

Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year signed up to a pledge to step up the fight against climate change, including phasing out coal.

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