Whitehall emails reveal government climate policy being dictated by German utility giant

Last edited 31 January 2008 at 8:18pm
31 January, 2008

Hutton's department reverses climate and energy policy in six minutes and four words

A pillar of the government's climate and energy policy collapsed in the face of a single email from German utility giant E.ON, according to Whitehall documents obtained by Greenpeace.

The email – written two weeks ago - demanded that the Department for Business radically alter the conditions attached to building the UK's first new coal-fired power station in 30 years. Originally the government had asked that the new plant – proposed for Kingsnorth in Kent – be fitted with so-called 'carbon capture and storage' technology. But when E.ON wrote to the officials admitting the technology will not work and demanding the company be allowed to build a conventional high-emission coal-fired power station instead, it took the government just six minutes to reply agreeing to the request.

As a result the government's climate and energy policy – based on a faith in the potential of carbon capture technology to deliver 'clean coal' – has been exposed as hollow, with huge implications for the UK's carbon emissions targets.

In the E.ON email, sent at 8.16am on January 16th, the company says CCS technology at Kingsnorth 'obviously... has no current reference for viability at any scale.' Astonishingly, the email then goes on to insist that cabinet minister John Hutton has 'no right' to withhold approval for a conventional, highly polluting plant and that 'we [E.ON] want to build from summer 2008.'

Six minutes after the E.ON email was sent, the Department for Business replies: 'Thanks. I won’t include [the previous conditions].'

If the plant is built this summer it will emit 8 million tonnes of Co2 every year – the same as the 30 least polluting countries in the world combined.

Reacting to the revelations in the emails, released under the Freedom of Information Act, Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said:

"Now we know who writes policy in the Department for Business. These Whitehall documents reveal a pillar of the government's climate and energy strategy evaporating in six minutes under the pressure of a single email from a German coal company. We now face the prospect of Britain building conventional coal-fired power stations without even the pretence that carbon capture technology can play a role in the short term. The implications for our emissions targets are enormous."

Both E.ON executives and government ministers have claimed that burning coal – the dirtiest of all fossil fuels – is compatible with fighting climate change. On January 3rd E.ON chief executive Paul Golby told the Today Programme that he intended Kingsnorth to be the UK's first clean carbon demonstration plant, with carbon captured from it and stored in depleted oil fields under the North Sea. Golby and others in both industry and government use terms like 'clean coal' and 'green coal' as justification for a new generation of power stations. Now the Whitehall email exchange shows how the company and the government are concerned only with pressing ahead with a conventional, polluting plant as soon as possible.

On January 23rd the government accepted a European target to generate 20% of Britain's total energy use from renewables by 2020. Gordon Brown has accepted that the target translates to 30-40% of our electricity from renewables within 12 years.

Sauven continued:

"A week after this email was written ministers were telling the public we'd be generating between 30 and 40% of our electricity from renewables by 2020. We now stand at an energy crossroads. What will it be, a renewables revolution or a renaissance for the single most climate wrecking form of energy generation in use anywhere in the world?"

In an indication of the extent to which the government is minded to approve a conventional coal plant at Kingsnorth, civil servants have already drawn up a 13 page list of highly detailed conditions for new build which doesn't even mention climate change but does discuss protection for the area's water voles and great crested newts.

For more contact Greenpeace on 0207 865 8255 / 07801 212967

Notes to editors

Download the FOI documents:

Document 1
Document 2
Document 3
Document 4
Document 5

Kingsnorth power station is just the first in a series of coal fired plants in the pipeline. The following sites are all being proposed by various power companies – none would use CCS technology at the outset:

Hatfield, Kingsnorth ,Tilbury, Blyth, Ferrybridge, Fiddler’s Ferry, Longannet, Cockenzie, and High Marnham.



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