Strange Goings On At DECC
By Paul Homewood
h/t Patsy Lacey
An intriguing report from the Telegraph (along with mandatory misleading photo):
The Government has been forced to deny it is watering down its pledge to phase out unabated coal power plants by 2025 after the energy minister suggested there could be leeway in the definition of “unabated”.
Unabated coal is widely understood to mean any plants that are not fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which captures the harmful emissions that cause global warming for permanent burial.
But minutes of a coal industry meeting with Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister, record that she encouraged the industry to engage in a forthcoming consultation on the 2025 closure plans, including on the question of “what is ‘unabated coal’?”
The speculation that the consultation could see the commitment watered down was further compounded when a Whitehall source was quoted in the Independent saying the consultation would consider whether coal could carry on burning if it was “partially abated”.
Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister Credit: Warren Allott
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) refused to provide a definition of “unabated” on Friday, indicating this was one of the areas that the forthcoming consultation would “seek to clarify”.
It is not clear in what way a plant could be “partially abated”, although it is accepted that even CCS abatement technology is only expected to capture about 90pc of emissions.
A Government source insisted it had no intention of offering a loophole to water down its pledge and suggested the process of defining “unabated” would simply mean setting a standard that could allow for CCS.
CCS technology is as yet untested in the UK and is seen as at best a distant prospect after the Government last year scrapped a £1bn scheme to develop the technology.
Two projects had been competing for that funding: one to retrofit CCS to an existing gas plant at Peterhead in Scotland, and one to build a new coal plant with CCS in Yorkshire.
Experts say retrofitting CCS to coal in the UK could be tricky, not least because of the old age of most of the coal fleet.
A previous Government competition for CCS was cancelled in 2011 as developers planning to retrofit CCS to the Longannet coal plant encountered technical difficulties.
Ministers pledged to phase out unabated coal by 2025 Credit: Phil Noble/Reuters
Guy Shrubsole, of Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s bizarre that there’s still talk of CCS for coal. Even the most ardent advocates of CCS now accept that it only makes sense for gas and industry.”
The DECC also declined to say how it would treat coal plants that co-fired biomass, such as the unit of Drax which currently burns 5pc-15pc coal with the remainder biomass.
Richard Black, director of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “Usually the term ‘abated’ means ‘units fitted with carbon capture and storage equipment’. However, CCS captures at most 90pc of carbon emissions. So you could in theory argue that anything else which reduces emissions by 90pc should be termed ‘abated’ as well.
"For example, some units designed to burn biomass can burn coal as well; so would DECC consider regarding a mix containing, say, 10pc of coal to be sufficiently abated?”
Drax itself acknowledged the coal element of its co-fired unit was unabated. It plans to convert the unit to burn 100pc biomass, subject to state aid clearance, and is also lobbying the Government for subsidies to convert its remaining three coal-fired units.
A spokesman for the DECC said: “Unabated coal is the dirtiest, most polluting and inefficient way of generating electricity. The government is absolutely committed to phasing out power production from unabated coal by 2025 and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise.
“We made this clear last year and nothing has changed.”
First, a point of fact.
Whether or not a CCS system (that does not exist) can be retro fitted to old coal power stations, the fact remains that most of the UK’s coal power plants have already opted out of the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive, meaning that they will have to shut by 2023 anyway.
The only plants still open that have opted in are Drax (which is planning to convert to 100% biomass), Fiddlers Ferry, Rugely (shutting this month) and Ratcliffe. The capacity of Fiddlers Ferry and Ratcliffe is 1961 and 2000 MW respectively.
What is intriguing is that Andrea Leadsom is fervently Brexit, unlike her boss Amber Rudd. Could there be some jockeying for position here. It certainly seems odd that the spokesman for DECC has put her down so forcefully.
Finally, I cannot finish without commenting on this statement:
Unabated coal is the dirtiest, most polluting and inefficient way of generating electricity
Fitting a coal plant with CCS will not reduce the amount of “dirty pollutants” one iota. Indeed, it is generally accepted that CCS fitted plants will need to burn more coal per unit of electricity, thus increasing real (not imaginary) pollution.
As for being inefficient, they obviously have not looked at the CfDs awarded to renewable energy!