The UK has pledged to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2025, but its focus on gas and nuclear as replacement fuel sources instead of renewable energy has prompted criticism.
The decision, announced by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, makes the UK the first developed nation to firmly commit to ending the use of coal for energy generation. The plans expect all coal-fired power stations that are not equipped with the necessary technology to capture emissions to be shut down by 2025, with their use already restricted by 2023.
"We are tackling a legacy of under-investment and ageing power stations which we need to replace with alternatives that are reliable, good value for money and help to reduce our emissions,” Rudd said.
"It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive, 50-year-old coal-fired power stations,” she said, adding that the government considers gas to be the most cost-effective solution to tackle emissions as well as secure energy supplies.
"Gas is central to our energy-secure future,” Rudd said. “In the next 10 years, it's imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built."
It is the latter that has raised concerns among environmentalists, despite welcoming the decision to cease the use of coal.
"This switch from coal to gas is like trying to go dry by switching from vodka to super-strength cider. It entirely fails to seriously address the real challenge at hand,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas.
"Investing in renewables and energy conservation would be far more effective economically, environmentally and in terms of energy security. We must begin weaning ourselves off gas as quickly as possible."
The UK government has been slashing renewable energy subsidies on the pretext of protecting consumers from rising energy bills. How the construction of the new gas power stations would be funded was not explained.
According to Rudd, focus on gas and nuclear energy generation will help create a "consumer-led, competition-focused energy system".
Greenpeace's head of energy Daisy Sands said that the polluting coal power plants should be replaced with "clean, renewable and flexible" energy infrastructure.
"Launching a new dash for gas and new nuclear is not the solution, as it will only lock in more dirty power than we actually need for a low-carbon transition,” Sands said.
A report by Greenpeace suggests retiring all of Britain's coal-fired power stations by 2023 will avoid up to 3,800 premature deaths, lung problems for more than a million children and 1.7 million adults and save £6.7bn in health costs between 2023 and 2030 arising from issues caused by pollution.