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UK move away from coal is “wishful thinking”

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World Coal,

Coal’s role in the UK energy mix will remain “essential” for the next ten years, according to the Association of UK Coal Importers (CoalImp), despite the government’s announcement of plans to phase out coal-fired power by 2025.

“The UK’s decision to turn its back on the world’s most abundant and low-cost fuel will be welcomed by many climate campaigners in the developed world but, importantly, will not be followed by many in the development world from whom we increasingly import the goods we all take for granted,” said Nigel Yaxley, Managing Director of CoalImp. “If the UK takes a step which others cannot reasonably follow, there is a serious question over its effectiveness in climate change policy.”

Instead, the government should focus on supporting the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a way of mitigating a dependence on gas, as well as deriving most value from its old coal-fired plants before they close.

“It is […] essential that development of coal-fired CCS in the UK is accelerated and broadened so that, as existing plant close, the country retains some diversity in its energy mix and is not overtly dependent on gas, which will also need to be fitted with CCS in due course,” said Yaxley. “This would be a way of showing real leadership to other countries which cannot and will no consign coal to history.”

Moreover, the government should consider relaxing the UK’ Carbon Price Floor, a carbon tax, to give relief to electricity consumers and mitigate the risk of supply shortages. According to some estimates, the UK risks a power shortage next year and old coal-fired power plants are closed with little new capacity added.

“The alternative is to rely on other short-term and, in many cases, less efficient and more polluting solutions and on paying industrial users to switch off – essentially power cuts in all but name,” said Yaxley. Meanwhile, jobs continue to be lost in industry with Tata Steel citing the UK’s high electricity costs behind its recent decision to close its steelworks in Scunthorpe.

“Existing coal plants should remain a part of that transition [to a lower carbon future],” concluded Yaxley. “And a new fleet of coal plants with CCS should be brought on stream to replace then, avoiding overdependence on expensive gas.”

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