Coal power stations in Kent – two steps back

Well, it is one step forward and two steps back. Medway Council have, despite over 9000 written objections, voted approval for Eon UK, one of Europe’s largest energy utility companies, to build two coal fired stations at Kingsnorth, which is near Rochester in Kent. They do not have the power to fully approve the application, but was asked by the Government on their views.  

Medway have reacted like Port Talbot Council, who recently approved a biomass power station. They have bought the environmental pitch (no doubt supported by the applicant’s consultants), and accordingly made their decision on grounds that do not include environmental ones. 

I think that all Councils are out of their depth with these decisions, as the Government seems to be. There is no policy – large multi national utilities with the ear of the government do what is in their shareholder’s interests, not what is in the public interest and the Government, ignorant and bothered by issues they regard more pressing, accept the advice given by the beneficiary of the advice. 

It is astonishing that the Government would even contemplate permitting the building of a coal fired power station without there existing coal carbon capture technology. It does not yet exist, of course.  Eon “hopes” that the carbon will be captured from the plant and stored in the oilfields under the North Sea. Greenpeace thinks that the technology to do this will not be around until the second half of this century. 

The idea for a coal power station must be virtually already accepted by the Government if they have asked the local Council for their views; Medway Planning Committee are not experts (as far as I know) on the technical side of coal fired power stations, so they are presumably being consulted on the planning issues. The final decision on the building of these plants will be made by the Government. 

For matters to have got to this stage I would suspect that Eon has convinced the government that the coal fired station is desirable. I remember hearing Malcolm Wicks (then and now) Energy Minister speak about two years ago. He asked that there be some carbon capture demonstration project (presumably he was then unaware on what happens with Norway’s oil).

I guess that Eon has sold this project to the government on the basis of its carbon capture potential.  Unfortunately, you do not need a coal fired power station to demonstrate carbon capture from coal. You have to invent the techniques first and then apply it; you do not need to apply it to a new plant – adapt an old one. If the techniques work, they should be tested on what exists, not on a new specially polluting plant that you have created so see it it works. 

The reason for eschewing coal powered electricity generating stations is that a coal fired power station usually emits three times the carbon per unit of electricity generated compared with gas and around twice the carbon compared with oil.

This plant may be a lot cleaner than the plants that they will replace (and that won’t take much).  Eon expect a 20% reduction in carbon emissions from this coal burning plant, compared with the old coal burning plant that it will replace, but they would produce far less carbon if they burnt natural gas.

Eon has opted for a coal fired power station, the first to be built in the United Kingdom for 24 years, because they presumably find it in their interests. They have done their sums and figured out the future of oil, natural gas and coal and want to cover the risk of gas and oil becoming prohibitively expensive, and so opt for coal. 

James Hansen wrote to Gordon Brown before Christmas urging him to block this proposal. When a man of Hansen’s qualifications and stature makes a suggestion on an issue like this, it is foolish to ignore him. 

I am sure that we need to plan our energy policy more carefully than we do. Energy is treated as an afterthought by the government – Malcolm Wicks’ job is not considered important enough to warrant a place in the Cabinet. We do not have an energy policy – the various white papers are a mix of pious hopes, politically correct statements and unformed ideas. Only by centrally planning our future energy, and making renewables and particularly microgeneration (solar panels, PV and wind turbines) central to it, will we ever have a chance of bring down our massive carbon emissions.

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