Mothballed coal plants are vital back-up, says Paul Golby chief executive of E.ON UK
- Ageing coal-fired power stations should be exempted from environmental regulations and kept open to stop the lights from going out, the chief executive of E.ON UK has urged the government.
Paul Golby told the Guardian that some of the coal and oil-fired plants due to close this decade because of European pollution regulations should remain operational and ready to come online during periods of peak demand such as those experienced in recent weeks. The Guardian revealed this month that almost 100 large power users had to switch to alternative sources when National Grid triggered clauses in their interruptible supply contracts.
"Given that the issue we are trying to grapple with is climate change, there is a question mark over keeping one or two of these oil or coal fired plants mothballed to secure supplies for a few days per year when we get these conditions," Golby said.
"It might be a small economic and carbon premium worth paying for security of supply and getting us through this transition to a low-carbon energy system. It's something we have talked to the government about."
Golby's view is privately supported by many UK power station operators who fear a looming energy gap in a few years when old coal and nuclear plants have been closed but new reactors, clean coal plants and wind farms have not been built.
The idea puts the energy industry on a collision course with environmentalists, who are vehemently opposed to any continued use of coal in the energy mix. Coal plants emit about twice as much carbon as equivalent gas plants. E.ON became synonymous among environmentalists as a supporter of the fossil fuel after it made the first application in decades to build a new coal plant in the UK, at Kingsnorth in Kent.
A spokesman for Friends of the Earth said: "E.ON has got an agenda trying to keep as much as coal open as possible."
The pressure group said that power supply could be met by more micro-generation, such as solar panels, by energy efficiency, combined heat and power plants and more gas plants.
Jim Footner from Greenpeace added: "This is yet more evidence that E.ON wants to carry on with business as usual whatever the cost to the climate. E.ON needs to stop changing its story and get on with building the clean energy future that Britain needs."
Golby warned that as more wind farms are built, more back-up generation will be needed for when the wind does not blow, particularly during cold weather. E.ON's UK wind farms operated at only 16% capacity on average during this month's cold snap.
The E.ON UK chief said it was not economic to build new plants which would only be used occasionally but admitted that the plan would antagonise some environmentalists. "There is bound to be an environmental emotional response I guess. But if that was the only way that this quantity of wind can be built maybe it's a price that may be worth paying."
Why shouldn't Kellingley and Thoresby have remained open into 2018?
In a report prepared for the NUM and TUC "Merits of UK Coal State Aid Application" it is argued that rather than close Kellingley and Thorseby in 2015 they could remain open until 2018. Other EU member states have and still are benefiting from the fund whilst making a case for extended funding.
"It can be seen that our European competitors are taking a strategic decision to support their coal industry during managed wind down of uncompetitive coal mines, and are providing substantial sums under European State Aid regulations. As an example, Germany’s closure plans are designed to address the social impact of job losses, and specifically to allow sufficient time to enable direct and indirect supply chains to adjust. To date the UK has made little use of state-aid provisions for the sector, either under the previous regulations or current Closure Aid."
The full report can be read here http://www.num.org.uk/uploads/26/1184.pdf
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