'Significant setback' claim to Government's energy plans

Climate change campaigners have claimed that the Government's policy on coal has suffered a "significant setback" after energy giant E.ON said a decision on its plans to build Britain's first coal-fired power station since 1984 should not be made until later in the year. 

The company proposed that a decision on whether to approve the application at Kingsnorth in Kent should wait until the Government had finished its consultation into carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Greenpeace said the announcement was a "major blow" to the Government's energy plans, while other campaign groups said ministerial policies were now in a "mess."

Business Secretary John Hutton signalled his support for new coal-fired power stations earlier this month when he accused opponents of indulging in "gesture politics."

Greenpeace said E.ON had expected a Government decision on Kingsnorth at the end May 2008 at latest, adding that the plans were so advanced that contractors had already been secured to commence building work from this summer.

E.ON also announced that it will be one of the entrants to the Government's carbon capture and storage competition, based on its Kingsnorth project, which it plans to build CCS-ready in anticipation of this technology being successfully developed.

Chief executive Dr Paul Golby said: "Decarbonising fossil fuels - and especially coal - is one of the key challenges to be overcome if we are to combat climate change and we aim to be right at the centre of the debate. That is why we have consistently supported the Government's competition and that is why we have entered Kingsnorth.

"By making it clear we will use our proposed Kingsnorth site to develop CCS technology, we are addressing one of the fundamental issues in the whole debate - how can we demonstrate that carbon capture works on a commercial scale unless we first build a station which is CCS-ready and then fit the technology to that station?

"Moreover, how can we expect other nations such as China or India to adopt carbon capture technology unless we can demonstrate that it can be retrofitted?

"That is also why we are also proposing to Government that the Kingsnorth planning decision is made following their consultation process, when we will all know exactly what is required by the Government for a station to be deemed CCS-ready. Once the Government's consultation process is complete and its results published, we can move forward accordingly."

Greenpeace executive director, John Sauven, said: "E.ON's Kingsnorth climbdown is a major blow to John Hutton and his plans to have a new coal-fired power station under construction this summer. With the most ardent coal generator now calling for a delay, Hutton's under-fire department is looking isolated. It's time for the Prime Minister to step in and take control by initiating a full government coal review.

"It looks like reports of disquiet around the cabinet table are making E.ON nervous. Ministers are increasingly concerned about the damage to Britain's climate change reputation if Kingsnorth is approved. The world's leading scientists and Al Gore say new coal stations shouldn't be built unless the carbon emissions can be captured and buried from day one."

Image: The future of Britain's new coal-fired power stations remains in a state of flux

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