The government has confirmed that energy giant EDF has agreed to keep its West Burton coal-fired power station online over the coming winter, with discussions ongoing about the prospect of two further coal plants similarly extending their life.
Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced the move late afternoon on Twitterstating that “with uncertainty in Europe following the invasion (of Ukraine), it’s right we explore all options to bolt supply. If we have available back-up power, let’s keep it online just in case. I’m not taking chances” .
West Burton A, which first began generating in 1966, was originally slated for closure last year, before EDF first agreed to extend its life to this September. The company has now agreed to extend its life once again, until at least next Spring.
A spokesperson for EDF told The Guardian: “EDF is working hard to finalise an agreement with National Grid ESO to support the government’s request to keep West Burton A power station available over next winter. An update will provided at the appropriate time.”
However, the move is likely to face fierce criticism from environmental groups, who have repeatedly accused the government of failing to do enough to energy efficiency in response to the spike in energy prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead prioritising new fossil fuel development , alongside new renewables and nuclear projects.
The phasing out of coal power is considered a top priority for the net zero transition. Just yesterday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his call for G20 governments to dismantle coal infrastructure and deliver a full phase-out of unabated coal power by 2030 for OECD countries and 2040 in all other nations.
“The only true path to energy security, stable power prices, prosperity and a livable planet lies in abandoning polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, and accelerating the renewables-based energy transition,” Guterres said.
The UK government has committed to phasing out its entire power plant fleet by 2025 and there has been a wave of plant closures over the past five years, as carbon prices have served to push up the cost of coal power compared to coal renewables and gas.
Last year, Conservative Cabinet Minister and COP26 President Alok Sharma pushed the button to trigger the demolition of the former Ferrybridge C coal-fired power station, hailing the event as a symbolic moment in the UK’s drive to secure a global phase out of coal power ahead of the vital summit.
Posting on Twitter, the politician said the destruction of the two chimney stacks and boiler house at SSE’s West Yorkshire power plant was a landmark moment in the UK’s ongoing effort to precipitate the end of coal power.
“Pressing the button on this demolition is a symbolic moment for me,” he said. “It demonstrates that change is possible. But to limit global temperature rises and keep 1.5C within reach, the whole world needs to plan to consign coal power to history.”
While announcing the changed policy on coal, Kwarteng emphasized that the government was taking other measures to continue the shift away from fossil fuels. “For our long-term energy security, we’re accelerating renewables and nuclear – while maximizing North Sea oil and gas production,” he said.
The extended life for UK coal plants is likely to be regarded as a symbolic blow to the country’s net zero plans.
However, writing on Twitter Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans explained that the EDF plant was likely to have a negligible impact on overall UK emissions in the coming months, given that in recent years it has only operated at around five per cent capacity with coal plants typically only Being used for short periods when power demand is particularly high and renewables output low.
“Energy efficiency measures or efforts to use less energy could have an impact – but there’s nothing stopping those happening even if West Burton stays open as an insurance measure,” he said. “Either way, CO2 impact is tiny. emotionally, it is not a great look for the UK.”