In 1974, the BBC launched Ceefax, Richard Nixon was kicked out of office and the last new coal-fired power station was built in the UK. Most things have moved on a fair bit since then – but apparently not for the UK's energy companies.
Coal – the most polluting of all fuels in the most polluting of all sectors – may be about to stage a major comeback in the UK. In December last year, the energy giant Eon applied to build the first new coal-fired generating units in the UK in 33 years and now Medway Council in Kent is considering the application. Staggeringly, each of the two units Eon proposes would emit more carbon dioxide than 24 of the world’s lowest emitting countries combined.
By producing energy close to where it is used and capturing waste heat, decentralised energy can more than double the efficiency of power stations.The units they're proposing don’t even have the capacity for heat capture. In fact, the units are only 45 per cent efficient, meaning that most of the energy is lost as waste heat before it even reaches the transmission lines – pretty scandalous in an age where countries like Denmark are achieving up to 90 per cent efficiency in their power plants.
If Eon is given permission to build these new units at its Kingsnorth power plant, this could be the start of a whole spate of new applications for coal plants. Under New Labour, coal has become cheaper to burn than the less polluting natural gas – as a result, its use has risen under Tony Blair, and the issue looks set to be Gordon Brown's first true test on climate change, within weeks of his taking office.
Given a chance, energy companies will lead the UK into more unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions and energy wastage for the life span of the new plants - around 50 years. It's already going to require a massive effort across the country to quickly reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to a level where dangerous climate change can be avoided. If Kingsnorth is allowed to go ahead, our chances of success will be far, far lower.
A couple of months ago, we sent out an e-update explaining that coal may be facing a renaissance in the UK. Now is the time to act; the local council in Kent is now considering the application. If you have a few minutes to spare, please help us to make sure the new coal rush never has a chance to get off the ground: write a letter to Chris Butler, the planning officer in charge at Medway Council. The UK doesn't need more outdated, inefficient coal fired power plants. We need an energy system that can meet the demands of the 21st century: decentralised energy, based on energy efficiency and renewables.