Lord Turner's Committee on Climate Change, which reported to the government on Monday, has gone a long way towards ruling out new coal plants like Kingsnorth from playing a role in any future UK energy mix.
Although it doesn't explicitly ban them, the report accepts that to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change we must do everything we can to limit global warming to 2 degrees this century. This, in turn, will require CO2 emissions to be cut by 80 per cent by 2050 - a figure that the government has already accepted. Coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels so, in one of his key recommendations, Turner proposes to close coal plants that don't capture and bury their emissions by the early 2020s at the latest.
Write to energy secretary Ed Miliband, and ask him to act immediately on Lord Turner's recommendations.
The fact that Lord Turner accepts the case against coal and has made recommendations which effectively rule out new unabated coal-fired power stations is very significant. As an ex-head of the Confederation of British Industry and the current head of the Financial Services Authority, his opinion carries a lot of weight within the business community.
Nevertheless, at this stage they are just recommendations - the government has still to accept them, and to show how they might realistically be implemented to achieve the 80 per cent cut in CO2 emissions needed to limit runaway climate change.
If Turner's advice is accepted, then any new coal plants would have to be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) capabilities. But there are huge uncertainties around the commercial viability of this technology, so much so that E.ON executives themselves describe CCS for coal as a 'developing technology' with 'technical risk'. E.ON's own estimate is that by the early 2020s their proposed Kingsnorth plant would only capture a small percentage of its emissions – certainly not enough to satisfy Turner.
Adding to investor uncertainty, Turner suggests that next generation power stations should have to meet tough emissions standards. This would effectively ensure that only cleaner technologies are used to power Britain, while ruling out the dirtiest fuels. Unabated coal plants would have no chance of meeting the standard, while even new plants fitted with CCS would be likely struggle if as expected the figure was set at or below 500g per KwH (the standard already adopted in California). Although no specific figure has yet been mentioned, the very idea is likely to have E.ON executives breaking out in a cold sweat, as they know their coal plans don’t even come close to satisfying the new standards the committee is demanding.
So what does all this mean? As Greenpeace UK director John Sauven points out, the committee's report could mark a sea-change in the struggle to get genuine government action on climate change:
"It is incredibly significant that Turner says we can't deliver a low-carbon energy system by relying on the European emissions trading scheme alone. For too long ministers have treated the ETS like a magic box – you put a polluting industry in there and it disappears. Now the climate change committee is saying we need extra regulation to combat unacceptably high emissions from coal".
"Assuming the Government accepts the advice of its own climate change committee, Kingsnorth is dead in the water."
That is still a big if, but thanks to Lord Turner, it's looking a lot more likely now that it was a few months ago.
What you can do
Please write to Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and encourage him to act immediately on Lord Turner's recommendations.