A plan to virtually eliminate CO2 emissions from new coal fired power stations and at the same time secure a lead for the UK in the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been proposed by the UK’s energy and climate change minister Ed Miliband. It came in a parliamentary statement that followed on from the previous days’s budget statement.
He set out to parliament proposals for the basis on which coal fired power which will be permitted in the future, mainly:

* No new coal firing without CCS demonstration from day one. Alongside the government’s ongoing competition to build a post-combustion demonstrator, up to three further projects including pre-combustion technology, will be funded by a new levy mechanism. The demonstrations proposed will be on around 400MW of gross generation output (300MW net output). It is envisaged therefore that up to four clean technology plants could be built in the UK, including one plant resulting from the government’s CCS competition.

* Full scale retrofit of CCS within five years of the technology being independently judged as technically and commercially proven. The Environment Agency is likely to be charged with making the independent judgement of when the standard is met.

The government will also seek views on whether it is possible to implement these conditions through an emissions performance standard.

These proposals form part of a consultation that will be released in the summer, setting out the government’s proposals for England and Wales in more detail,to be published alongside a partial Impact Assessment and an Environmental Report. An outline can be found at http://decc.gov.uk/en/news/.

Decisions on any applications to construct a new coal power station will be taken once this consultation process has been completed. The folowing criteria, oinline with the Committee on Climate Change recommendeation that conventional coal-fired power generation should only be built on the expectation that it will be retro-fitted with CCS by the early 2020s, will be applied to test whether or not a power station application includes a convincing definition of ‘carbon capture ready’. It must have sufficient space available to retrofit CCS, be able to identify a suitable potential offshore area to store carbon dioxide, possess a feasible potential transport route from the power station to the storage area and include no foreseeable barriers to retrofitting CCS.

The intention as well as placing the UK firmly at the forefront of developing CCS technology to commercial deployment, and aid the global effort to fight climate change, is to open up a new advanced green manufacturing industry .

Ed Miliband said: “The future of coal in our energy mix poses the starkest dilemma we face: it is a polluting fuel but is used across the world because it is cheap and it is flexible enough to meet fluctuations in demand for power. In order to ensure that we maintain a diverse energy mix, we need new coal-fired power stations but only if they can be part of a low carbon future. With a solution to the problem of coal, we greatly increase our chances of stopping dangerous climate change. Without it we will not succeed. CCS is the only technology with the potential to reduce emissions from fossil fuels by up to 90%. But there must be a global effort to develop this technology and the UK is in a strong position to lead this charge. This signals the era of unabated coal is coming to an end, and a new low carbon future for coal with CCS can begin. There is no alternative to CCS if we are serious about fighting climate change and retaining a diverse mix of energy sources for our economy.”

The new demonstrations will be funded by an incentive mechanism as announced by the UK chancellor in the recently announced budget. Proposals for how the incentive will work are being developed. The chancellor also announced an extra £1.4 billion in support for low carbon industries ranging from energy efficiency and renewables through to carbon capture and storage. These measures, together with announcements made since last autumn when the downturn started, will enable an additional £10.4bn of low carbon investment over the next three years.

Longer term aspects of the CCS scheme include the following:

* CCS clusters in the regions where the greatest emission reductions can be achieved most economically.

* A new future for the North Sea industry, capitalising on the UK’s abundance of offshore storage sites for CO2.

* Research suggesting that carbon abatement technologies could sustain 50,000 jobs by 2030.

Coal currently accounts for 37% (29GW) of the UK’s electricity capacity, generating 31% of the UK’s electricity in 2008. That is set to decline to 21GW as stations close in accordance with EU controls on sulphur and nitrogen emissions that cause acid rain. Nonetheless carbon abated coal has a role to play in the future mix, providing diversity alongside renewables, nuclear and gas.