Kingsnorth Power Station, which has for three years been the battleground between environmental pressure groups and the British energy industry, will not get its controversial new coal power plant.
Kingsnorth's owner, the German energy company E.on, said it was kicking the proposed station into the long grass, blaming falling demand for electricity because of the recession. It said the new plant was not needed in the UK until around 2016.
The decision to shelve the proposal came almost two years to the day that six Greenpeace climate change protesters staged a high-profile, high-up protest, climbing Kingsnorth's 200-metre smokestack to protest against the carbon emissions. They were accused of causing £30,000 of damage, but the subsequent landmark court case saw the six acquitted after the jury accepted that the plant, at Medway, in Kent, might pose a greater threat than the activities of the activists.
The new coal plant's indefinite delay will be seen as a blow to the Government's energy strategy, which remains heavily reliant on coal power. E.on's announcement may also prove embarrassing for the Conservatives' shadow Energy and Climate Secretary Greg Clark, who, The Independent has learnt, yesterday told colleagues that the lights could go out because of an electricity shortfall.
The Government originally argued that potential environmental issues could be resolved through the fitting of Carbon Capture and Storage technology to new coal-fired power plants. Last April the Government decreed that no new coal-fired power station would be allowed unless it captured the carbon from 400 megawatts straightaway.
But for Kingsnorth, which would pump out 6 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year, this would represent one-quarter of its output.
Since its inception in 2006, the Kingsnorth coal plant expansion has provoked bitter environmental struggles. It has been at the centre of a series of large-scale climate camp protests. Al Gore famously asked why "there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants".
In July this year, hundreds of protesters from groups including Oxfam, the Women's Institute, Greenpeace and the RSPB formed a human chain around parts of the plant.
E.on described the decision as a postponement, but green groups last night believed that the announcement signalled an end to the whole project. "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," said Greenpeace's executive director, John Sauven. "The huge diverse coalition of people who have campaigned against Kingsnorth because of the threat it posed to the climate should take heart that emissions from new coal are now even less likely in Britain."
He added: "Ed Miliband [the Environment Secretary] now has a golden opportunity to rule out all emissions from new coal as a sign of Britain's leadership before the key Copenhagen climate meeting."
A spokesperson for E.on last night said: "We expect to defer an investment decision on the Kingsnorth proposals for up to two to three years. As a Group, we remain committed to the development of cleaner coal and carbon capture and storage, which we believe have a key role to play alongside renewables, gas and nuclear, in tackling climate change while ensuring affordability and security of energy supplies."