Just four companies account for most of Europe’s dirtiest power stations with more than half of the 30 plants analysed run by Germany’s RWE, EON, Vattenfall of Sweden, and Electricté de France, WWF says.

The UK’s biggest polluter was Drax which released some 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2006, up 10% on the previous year, followed by Scottish Power’s Longannet station and EDF Energy’s Cottam station, which each emitted over 10 million tonnes over the year. Emissions from both Longannet and Cottam increased by more than 20% over 2005 figures.

The so-called ‘Dirty Thirty’ report reveals that the combined emissions from the ten worst UK power stations increased by nearly 8% last year, highlighting a return to coal by generators in the face of volatile gas prices.

Dr Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said: “The dash for gas in the nineties helped drive down carbon emissions almost by accident – but the power sector is now on a ‘roll to coal’ with profound environmental implications. If the government wants to maintain international credibility on climate change, it must dramatically increase and diversify renewable energy, curb energy demand and provide the power sector with incentives or legislation to reduce coal burn.”

With proposals for new coal-fired power stations now coming forward Allott warns: “No new coal-fired power stations should be accepted without an unambiguous commitment to fit carbon capture equipment,” adding, “There is a real danger that new stations may be approved because they are claimed to be ‘carbon capture ready’ – but that this turns out to be a fig leaf which allows them to carry on polluting for decades.”

However, responding to the report Vattenfall said: “The WWF has first selected the 30 largest power stations and then ranked them in terms of efficiency. This means that the organisation has ranked the most efficient coal-fired plants and ignored the smaller plants that emit more carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. The statistics show that Vattenfall’s power stations are actually among the most efficient lignite-fired plants.”

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