Several of Britain’s coal fired power stations, among them its largest and therefore most polluting plants, which were due for closure in 2014 or 2015 are likely to be granted a four year stay of execution by the European Union, giving the UK another few years to tackle its looming energy shortage.

The scheduled closures are putting the UK in danger of running out of power in the second half of this decade and experts in the industry had been warning that taking this amount of generation off the system before nuclear power plants are built would risk an “energy gap” and potential black-outs.

After what is reckoned to have been furious lobbying by UK energy companies, MEPs on the EU’s Environmental Committee have voted to recommend the four year life extension to fourteen of Britain’s oldest power plants, due to close under opted-out arrangements made to meet the large Combustion Plants Directive. It is also rumoured that UK lobbyists had pressured the EU to re-think its rules, otherwise the UK would simply have to ignore the directive if no changes were made. There has been a view among some commentators and energy brokers that the existing timescale was not reasonable and represented a threat to the UK’s energy security.

Although this postponement would provide a short breathing space, there is still the question of funding – it is estimated that the UK’s energy generation needs an investment of £200bn in new generation and networks by 2020.

The EU Parliament still has to approve the Committee’s recommendation, a final decision being due in July, but energy industry experts are confident that parliament will follow the Committee’s guidance.

•Opted out plants must be run for no more than 20 000 (operational) hours starting from 1 January 2008 and ending no later than 31 December 2015. Then they must close. The UK currently has 13 plants opted out under this arrangement, nine of which are larger than 2 GW, and including very large coal fired plants at Ironbridge, Cockenzie, Ferrybridge and Tilbury, the coal/oil Didcot and Kingsnorth plants, and the oil fired plants at Grain, Littlebrook and Fawley.