Following today's announcement by Ed Miliband of new regulations for coal plants and the launch of a consultation on coal policy, Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said:
"At last Ed Miliband is demonstrating welcome signs of climate leadership in the face of resistance from Whitehall officials and cabinet colleagues. He is the first minister in twelve years to throw down the gauntlet to the energy companies and demand they start taking climate change seriously."
Greenpeace believes the key part of today's announcement is the requirement by power companies to capture and bury all the CO2 emissions from new coal plants by 2025 at the latest, if the Environment Agency states that CCS works – a radical departure from the policies of previous energy secretaries. This time last year energy issues were being decided by tired ministers in thrall to regressive civil servants. Now we see hints of real climate leadership.
John Sauven continued:
"Finally a cabinet minister has faced up to the massive threat coal poses to the climate, but we're not there yet. Very significant questions remain unanswered, with environmentalists concerned that emissions from coal could still be undermining Britain's climate efforts for years to come. For every tonne of carbon captured and buried from new coal plants before the 2020s, the Government seems happy to see three tonnes released into the atmosphere. Until there is a cast iron guarantee that new coal plants won't be allowed to pump out massive amounts of CO2 from day one, our campaign continues."
Questions that the consultation must answer are:
- Will new coal plants be permitted to operate for a decade while still pumping three-quarters of their emissions into the atmosphere?
- How will the Government ensure that, if CCS technology doesn't work, the UK won't be left with a legacy of new coal plants emitting huge amounts of CO2 at a time when we must be slashing emissions?
- Will existing coal plants like Drax, which are slated to continue operation into the 2020s, be allowed to continue operating unabated despite their massive emissions?
Four CCS coal demonstration projects operating for 15 years before becoming fully CCS could still emit up to 275 million tonnes of CO2, according to the Greenpeace energy team (calculation available on demand). Greenpeace believes today's announcement will only be effective in ruling out climate-damaging emissions from coal if it is backed up with tough regulations that prevent the prospect of the energy companies building new highly-polluting coal plants with the odd small CCS experiment bolted onto the side. A new Kingsnorth that emits marginally less than it otherwise would have is still utterly inconsistent with claims that Britain leads the world on climate change.
Research by Poyry – Europe's leading independent energy experts – found that if Britain meets its renewables and energy efficiency targets, we won't need any coal or nuclear.
In December last year Lord Turner's Committee on Climate Change – in its advice to the Prime Minister – said no coal station (existing or newly built) should still be operating without full CCS beyond the early 2020s. Professor James Hansen, the NASA director widely recognised as the world's leading climate scientist, has said no coal station should be allowed to be built unless it has full CCS from day one.
Greenpeace supports the approach pioneered by Governor Schwarzenegger in California - an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) applied to power stations that would limit the amount of CO2 produced per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. Greenpeace advocates an initial EPS of 350g/Kwh which would rule out new unabated coal. The EPS would tighten over time to reflect developing technologies and demands by scientists that emissions peak in 2015 then reduce dramatically.
"The Government should implement an Emissions Performance Standard so if CCS doesn't work, whatever takes its place is in line with the climate science."
Environmentalists have run a two year campaign against new highly-polluting coal plants, with attention focusing on E.ON's plans to build a new plant at Kingsnorth in Kent. The German utility submitted plans for a normal ‘unabated' plant, and came close to achieving consent from then-energy secretary John Hutton. Now those plans are regarded by government as untenable.
Six Greenpeace activists who shut down the existing plant at Kingsnorth and painted the Prime Minister's name on the chimney faced trial late last year but were acquitted after convincing a jury that the damage they did to the power station was justified in the face of the harm done to the planet by coal plants.
In today's Financial Times Scottish Power urged the Government to support a plan to 'retro-fit' CCS at the company's existing Longannet power station on the east coast of Scotland. Fitting CCS to such existing plants would negate the need to build new coal plants in order to demonstrate the potential viability of the technology. Nick Horler, the chief executive of Scottish Power, said: "There are over 50,000 fossil fuel plants worldwide, and if we can't do anything about retro-fitting them with carbon capture, then whatever we do with new build is largely irrelevant."
A full Greenpeace briefing on coal can be downloaded at: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/files/pdfs/climate/caseagainstcoal200812.pdf
A timeline of recent developments in the coal debate can be found at: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/coaltimeline