From: Reuters
Published January 3, 2008 09:52 AM

First UK coal plant in 30 years clears hurdle

LONDON (Reuters) - A plan for Britain's first new coal-fired power station in more than 30 years has taken the first step to approval, German utility E.ON said, despite fears about the impact on carbon emissions.

A local government authority has recommended central government approve its proposal, E.ON said.

E.ON's UK arm hoped for a government decision on its planned Kingsnorth coal plant in Kent this year, spokesman Jonathan Smith said on Thursday.

Britain has to juggle rival concerns over global warming and keeping the lights on. It has to add new power equal to at least one third of its current, ageing generating capacity in the next 10 to 15 years.

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Coal produces more of the planet-warming gas carbon dioxide than any other power source, but provides an alternative to low carbon-emitting gas from Russia, seen as a potential energy security risk, and low carbon nuclear, which takes longer to build, as well as renewable energy, which so far contributes only a tiny part.

"There's an obvious (electricity supply) gap emerging and we're doing our best for a diversity of solutions to fill that," said a spokesman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which would not comment on timing for a decision.

"We do see coal as having a future for diversity of energy supply, provided environmental libailities can be managed, to safeguard energy security in this country."

But the government has received criticism for not preparing sooner for the looming electricity supply gap.

Next week it is expected to give the green light for new nuclear power plants, but analysts say they will take at least 10 years to build and so fail to solve the supply gap.

Britain last month said it wanted 33 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020, nearing half of total peak UK electricity capacity now, but drew skepticism on how realistic that was. Renewable energy now accounts for around 4 percent of UK electricity.

"The fact people are going to build new coal plants now illustrates how badly the government has planned environmental policy over the last 10 years," said Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University.

"We've now got a hole in capacity and the question is what to do about it. Because we've dithered on nuclear and renewables we have a seriously urgent situation and to keep the lights on you need coal or gas."

Drax was the last new coal plant to be built in Britain, in the early 1970s, while only one of Britain's 10 nuclear power plants will still be on-line by 2025, Helm added.

E.ON said its new plant will use so-called "supercritical" technology which means burning coal more efficiently at higher temperatures. Carbon emissions could be cut further using technologies to bury greenhouse gases underground, not expected to be commercially available until after 2020.

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