MAC: Mines and Communities

Turning E.ON Off!

Published by MAC on 2009-10-13

UK campaigners claim victory against coal

In August 2008, protestors glued themselves to the doors of BHP Billiton's London headquarters.

They sought to link coal mining by the global resources' giant with a controversial planned UK coal-fired power plant. See:

Last week, E.ON - the plant's proponent - announced it was postponing  the Kingsnorth project.

Kingsnorth power station plans shelved by E.ON

• Decision hailed by groups who staged Climate Camp protest
• Lower electricity demands due to recession cited as reason

The Guardian

7 October 2009

Environmental campaigners were celebrating tonight after controversial plans for a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent were shelved, as the company behind the scheme postponed the project and blamed the recession.

Energy group E.ON said recent falls in demand for electricity had forced it to rethink, but that the plant could still be built if economic conditions permitted.

However, green campaigners were claiming a major victory over what they viewed as in effect a cancellation of the Kingsnorth station, which has become a focus for protest and concern over carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.

In a statement to green groups including Greenpeace, the company said: "We can confirm that we expect to defer an investment decision on the Kingsnorth proposals for up to two to three years. This is based on the global recession, which has pushed back the need for new plant in the UK to around 2016 ... we remain committed to the development of cleaner coal and carbon capture and storage".

John Sauven, head of Greenpeace, said: "This development is extremely good news for the climate and in a stroke significantly reduces the chances of an unabated Kingsnorth plant ever being built. The case for new coal is crumbling, with even E.ON now accepting it's not currently economic to build new plants."

Professor Jim Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, welcomed the decision: "This is a step in the right direction. But there must be government leadership to make it truly important. The requirement is to phase out coal emissions, if we want to be fair to our children and grandchildren. We desperately need a nation to exert some leadership, adopting policies to move promptly in that direction. I still look on UK as being perhaps the best hope for leading a fundamental change.

"But as yet there seems to be no government, the US included, with the guts to say what is needed and move in that direction. Instead we hear goals for emissions reduction - what a fake - the coal must be left in the ground or we can never achieve the needed goals for atmospheric carbon dioxide."

Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth said: "We're delighted that E.ON has shelved its Kingsnorth plans - we should be investing in clean energy sources not building new dirty coal-fired power stations. Plans to build this power plant have seriously undermined the UK's credibility on climate change ahead of crucial talks in Copenhagen.

"The government must now show real leadership and say no to all new coal plants which aren't fitted with 100% carbon capture and storage from day one. The UK has one of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, but our record on developing green energy is a national disgrace. It's time to make the UK a world leader in developing clean power and cutting energy waste."

At its most far reaching, E.ON's decision is a blow to government plans to develop so-called clean coal technology, which would trap and store polluting emissions underground. The unproven concept is attractive to ministers because it provides a way to burn fossil fuels while introducing other policies to curb carbon emissions.

E.ON first applied for permission to build the Kingsnorth facility in 2006, but subsequently asked for the decision to be deferred until ministers had decided whether it must be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Earlier this year, Ed Miliband, the environment secretary, said new plants such as Kingsnorth would have to trap and store a large portion of their emissions, which would significantly raise the cost.

How this cost would be met has yet to be decided. The government has pledged funds to the winner of a competition to develop a CCS plant by 2015, in which Kingsnorth is one of three contenders. Ministers have also talked of funding an additional three CCS plants by 2019, perhaps through a levy on electricity bills.

A source close to the process said tonight that E.ON's move could be an act of "brinkmanship" intended to force ministers to place less of the financial burden for CCS on energy companies.

Ministers have talked up the need for clean coal plants to meet future electricity needs and to help Britain rely less on gas supplies from nations such as Russia.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "E.ON's decision to delay their proposed project is a response to the global economic situation and they remain committed to developing clean coal. They have not said they are withdrawing from our CCS demonstration competition and we will be discussing with them the implications for this and for their planning consent application."

Greg Clark, the shadow climate change secretary, said: "This latest news underlines the chaos in Labour's energy policy. At a time when the government is predicting power cuts by 2017 its plans for new capacity with carbon capture and storage are disintegrating."

Kingsnorth victory has been to give coal a black name

E.ON's shelving of plans for Kingsnorth is a victory of sorts, but the real triumph ishow the campaign used public anger to turn politicians against coal

Bryony Worthington, The Guardian

8 October 2009

E.ON's decision to scuttle its plans for a new coal-fired power station is sensible, and a victory for the lobbying groups who have been targeting it.

One can only imagine the divisions this issue must have created within the company. The marketing and public affairs side of the business will have been anxious to limit the damage to their brand, with the generating and trading sides extremely frustrated that the logic of the situation - that they were replacing one filthy, inefficient station with a much more efficient, sensibly located one - was cutting no ice in the debate.

But the lobby groups quite rightly identified that when it comes to climate change, coal power stations are a big part of the problem ; the idea of building more seemed so crazy, it made for an easy target.

Campaigning to stop new things from happening is always easier than stopping things that are already happening.So, like the extension of Heathrow , plans for a new coal -fired power station were bound to become a focus for attention.

E.ON were in some ways unfortunate that the timing of their proposal provided such an effective lightning rod for the public's growing anger at the lack of progress in the fight against climate change.

The company's decision to walk away now is a sign it wishes the fight to stop. The recession has provided a neat reason - electricity demand in the UK has been falling, by 8% last quarter compared to the same period last year - so a plausible business case can be made for the decision.

But energy decisions are not made on the basis of short-term trends. The number of power stations in the UK will soon decline: many will have to shut by 2015. Before the
campaign against Kingsnorth , it was sensible for E.ON to acquire the option to rebuild it to maintain their share of the generating market.

But the campaign against Kingsnorth has changed everything . Not only has the company's image been dragged through the mud, the policies affecting power stations have also been changed.

It looks less and less likely that "unabated" coal stations, meaning those that emit greenhouse gases to the atmosphere rather than capture and store them , will be
tolerated in the UK.

The two main political parties have committed to funding up to four new stations with capture and storage - and if they can be completed in time, they will soak up a lot of the demand for new capacity.

Renewable energy in the UK also seems finally to be taking off, with wind up by 33% last quarter compared to the previous year.

And there is always the prospect that we will actually work out ways to use electricity more efficiently and to generate more of it closer to home - ideas E.ON itself is strongly advocating.

The campaign against Kingsnorth successfully captured the public's attention and used it to secure policy changes. That, rather than E.ON's potentially temporary retirement from the fray, is the real cause for celebration.

Now if activists can just turn their sights to existing coal stations, we may seriously start to make some inroads by reducing the UK's emissions.

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