Our energy future: out with coal and in with gas and wind

Energy secretary Amber Rudd this week announced plans to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025 and restrict their use by 2023 in a major policy speech, writes Mike Hardware.

Rudd claims her speech has set out a new vision for an energy system that puts consumers first, delivers more competition, reduces the burden on bill-payers and ensures enough electricity generation to power the nation. According to the secretary of state the UK has a legacy of ageing and unreliable power plants. No new forms of power generation, including gas-fired power stations, can be built without government intervention.

Among the government’s new priorities are:

  • A consultation on ending unabated coal-fired power stations by 2025
  • Prioritising new gas-fired power stations
  • A commitment to offshore wind support to ensure secure, low-carbon, affordable electricity supplies
  • A move towards a ‘smarter energy system’.

Regarding renewable energy and coal, the energy secretary argued that despite the huge growth in renewables, Britain’s dependence on coal – “the dirtiest fossil fuel” – has not been reduced and that a higher proportion of the UK’s electricity came from coal in 2014 than in 1999.

The government will develop a cleaner and more secure energy network by consulting on closing coal fired power stations by 2025. In turn Rudd expects that the old coal stations will be replaced by new gas-fired power stations. However, despite the headline announcement, Rudd conceded in her speech that the government will only proceed, “if we’re confident that the shift to new gas can be achieved within these timescales.”

The energy secretary also committed the government to supporting offshore wind, but only on the condition that it comes down in cost, saying: “The industry tells us they can meet that challenge, and we will hold them to it. If they don’t there will be no subsidy. No more blank cheques.”

When it comes to “blank cheques” offshore wind is a very high cost energy source, much higher than onshore wind, which did not merit a mention in the speech. Nor did solar power, which is well on the way to becoming subsidy free.

Finally, the government underlined its commitment to taking action on climate change and meeting the UK’s 2050 target. However, the energy secretary argued that climate change is a global problem that no one state can solve alone. She also stressed that it was essential that private investment is used as well as state intervention when tackling climate change.

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