A reprieve for coal

According to the UK government, coal will pay a vital role in our future energy needs. The Government has signaled its support for coal-fired power stations, accusing opponents of "gesture politics".

Business Secretary John Hutton said power generation from fossil fuels would continue to play a "key role" in the UK despite the planned expansion of nuclear and renewable power. He told a London conference: "For critics, there's a belief that coal-fired power stations undermine the UK's leadership position on climate change. In fact the opposite is true."

Hutton said a mix of energy sources would be needed for the foreseeable future, adding: "Our leadership role is best promoted by the actions we take on capping emissions, carbon pricing and supporting the development of new carbon capture and storage technology. Not by gesture politics.

"Electricity demand fluctuates continually, but the fluctuations can be very pronounced during winter, requiring rapid short-term increases in production. Neither wind nor nuclear can fulfill this role.

"We therefore will continue to need this back-up from fossil fuels, with coal a key source of that flexibility, as we increase the proportion of renewable energy in our electricity mix."

The Government is considering whether to give the go-ahead to build Britain's first new coal-fired power station in over 20 years, at Kingsnorth in Kent. Energy giant E.on wants to demolish an outdated plant and replace it with two units using cleaner coal to supply over 1.5 million homes by 2012.

The £1bn scheme has been strongly attacked by green campaigners. However, Hutton pointed out that coal took up the slack in the winter of 2005/6, consistently generating around half of the UK's electricity.

Hutton said the UK was taking a global lead on clean coal power generation, adding that within seven years the world's first commercial-scale demonstrator plants will be in operation here, generating electricity from coal with up to 90 per cent less carbon emitted.

Image: The UK government has stated that coal has a part to play in the mix of energy sources

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