Britain Defers Coal Plant

Coal-based power has had a rough run lately:

Coal power plant decision deferred

A decision on whether to build Britain’s first coal-fired power station in more than 20 years has been deferred to a later date.

Energy giant E.on UK sought permission from Medway Council to replace existing coal-fired units at Kingsnorth power station in Medway, Kent.

E.on UK says the £1 billion investment to build two new cleaner coal units would produce power from coal more efficiently and more cleanly than ever before in the UK.

The units would produce enough energy to supply about 1.5 million homes and lead to a cut in carbon emissions of almost two million tons a year, E.on UK says.

However, more than 9,000 people have objected to the plans.

Activists staged a protest at the plant last month by climbing a 200m-high smokestack and chaining themselves to the station’s conveyor belt to prevent it burning coal.

I have said before that I think we will see a lot more coal in our future. Not that I want to see more coal, as it is the wrong direction to go if we are going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But until consumers are willing to pay a premium for greener options – or unless society becomes more tolerant of nuclear power – I see a lot more coal in our future. This was my major point in XTL: Promise and Peril. I am afraid we will turn to the cheap and dirty options before we embrace the cleaner, more expensive ones.

A recent Wired interview with Stanford’s Jeremy Carl from their Program on Energy and Sustainable Development sums it up:

WN: Can you give us an idea of the scale of coal power? Can you put coal in context as an energy source?

Carl: Only oil makes a bigger contribution to global energy. In terms of energy in the industrial world, it’s about 40 percent of electricity production.

WN: How dirty is coal?

Carl: Coal is as dirty as it gets. Coal has every element in the periodic table. And depending where in the world you get it from, “coal” can mean 100 different substances. If you sent the sort of coal you might use in a typical Indian plant to a supermodern boiler in Japan, it would shut the place down.

WN: But there’s got to be good things about coal.

Carl: It’s cheap.

So, as oil depletes, what else are we going to turn to? Solar? Wind? Tidal? Geothermal? Yes, to some extent. But are the masses going to be willing to pay a premium for these options? Are they going to be willing to take draconian conservation measures? No, I don’t think so. Not unless they are forced to. They are going to scream for cheap power. That’s why we can’t get gas taxes increased in the U.S. Even though people in theory want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they don’t want to do so if there is any significant personal cost.

8 thoughts on “Britain Defers Coal Plant”

  1. The unfortunate reality for many people in the world is either cheap energy or no energy. If we choose the expensive/clean pathway, which I agree is desirable, the problem is how to ensure that the economically challenged portion of the population can afford at least their minimum energy requirements. But judging by the direction of world politics, I don’t think we could count on that.

    As far as coal goes, several reports on coal appeared this year, and were not so sanguine about the long-term future prospects. So coal might be cheap now, but what about 20 years down the road? Even two or three decades is near-term when you consider the time and expense of building energy infrastructure.

  2. Re-read the story. This is a situation I run into. They are proposing replacing an old coal plant with a new one that reduces emissions. In this case the perfect is the enemy of the good. Environmentalists will block even cleaner coal plants because they still don’t like fossil fuels or because they believe that something better is readily available.

    This is why I don’t believe we will ever solve this problem. Opponents want an all or nothing solution. They won’t accept something that is midway. Reauthorizing and repowering old coal and fuel oil generation should be a no-brainer. But it isn’t. These plants get routinely rejected by the greenies.

    Integrated Gasified Combined Cycle (IGCC) ARE cleaner and more efficient. They emit virtually no heavy metals and little SO2. And these plants are easier to do CO2 sequestration, when that is required.

  3. Cleaner coal plants seem like a worthwhile proposition. So does solar, nuke, geothermal, wind. There is no limit to the types of power we can generate. It is not a problem.
    And conservation? Lately, I am thick in architectue, due to new job requirements. Did you know that 60 percent of electrical use at hotels is due to lighting? And that new bulbs are on the market that use radically less electricity?
    I still contend that, despite thug oil states, there is, and will be, no energy crisis. We will see BTU use per capita decline in the USA going forward. Motor gasoline demand is now down four-week averages, compared to last year. That figure will be in permanent decline. All this crying about refineries — forget about it. We won’t be needing anymore.
    How can there be an energy crisis when there are so many different sources of energy, and so many ways to use less?
    The PHEV is coming.
    The market system is a wonderful creation. The price mechanism a thing of beauty.
    The venture capital system is great. The only thing I worry about is the extremely poor level of political leadership we have in the country. From both sides, parties pander to their cores, rather than telling even a few blunt truths.
    “Privatize the gain; subsidize the risk” — the American way.
    Even so, broadly speaking, the price mechanism is at play and will work.

  4. Cleaning up coal meets a cost/benefit analysis. Coal isn’t cheap. We just pay for it with our emergency room bills and our kid’s asthma.

    Clean coal doesn’t currently exist. I don’t know if it is a serious proposal or a stalking horse to allow business as usual.

    R to the first

  5. Integrated Gasified Combined Cycle (IGCC) ARE cleaner and more efficient.

    The new coal plants at Kingsnorth aren’t IGCC. They’re supercritical, which is better than old plants but nowhere near as good as IGCC.

  6. We will see BTU use per capita decline in the USA going forward.

    But even if that’s true, unless that decline outpaces population growth, aren’t we still screwed?

  7. New coal plants include a wet ESP can be built extremely clean (and in the US they are required to be). Today, you can get practically zero emissions with the exception of CO2. Of course, removing CO2 is feasible too, it’s just a matter of cost.

  8. On carbon sequestration in undersea oil fields:

    University of Leeds research shows that porous sandstone, drained of oil by the energy giants, could provide a safe reservoir for carbon dioxide. The study found that sandstone reacts with injected fluids more quickly than had been predicted – such reactions are essential if the captured CO2 is not to leak back to the surface.

    Europian nuke plants facing decline
    The report, commissioned by The Greens, a European parliamentary group, points out that many ageing reactors are due to close before 2030, and that 338 new ones would have to be built just to replace them.
    “The world has five fewer nuclear reactors operating today than it did in 2002”

    The Paris-based nuclear consultants who compiled the report argue that the industry is growing too slowly to meet this target, and may even be shrinking. The world has five fewer reactors operating today than it did in 2002, they say. Only 91 reactors are now being planned, and a further 32 are under construction, mostly in Asia and eastern Europe. Construction work on 11 of those has been under way for 20 years or more.

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