Britain could be forced to close 14 power stations if a proposed European directive becomes law, a move that would drastically cut power supplies and endanger energy security, the Confederation of British Industry has warned.
The draft EU Industrial Emissions Directive, which aims to cut the number of harmful gases emitted by Europe's power stations, will force power plants to undergo upgrades to comply with air pollution targets, or close, by 2016.
The CBI, which represents the interests of British businesses, said yesterday that the upgrades would be costly and could lead to the closure of up to a quarter of the UK's energy producing capacity, threatening the country's ability to meet its energy needs. The lobby group has called for power companies to be given until 2021 to prepare for any changes.
John Cridland, the CBI's deputy director-general, said: "Businesses want to help cut air pollution, but this directive must be implemented in a way that doesn't undermine the UK's energy security.
"The timescales currently proposed by some MEPs are unrealistic and could lead to up to 14 UK power plants having to shut prematurely. Given that these plants are old and due to close in the 2020s, letting them run their course would allow for a smooth transition to new low-carbon energy sources and avoid creating a serious energy gap."
Joss Garman, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace, dismissed the warnings from the CBI: "Britain is gearing up for a six-fold increase in the amount of energy we get from clean sources in the next decade, so these CBI scare stories show that the French and German energy monopolies they represent are now seriously worried that the clean tech industry will effectively squeeze out dirty coal power in this country."
Energy security has been a hotly debated election issue. During an opposition day debate in January, the Conservative shadow Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, claimed the Government's energy security record had left the UK "at least 10 years adrift". He also warned that the UK was running short of gas.
The debate came in the midst of the freezing January weather when gas supplies ran low, although the consensus among energy industry analysts was that Britain's energy infrastructure had coped well. An official at one energy company, who refused to be named because of the political nature of the debate, said that Mr Clark's comments had been "unhelpful".
The CBI argues that the directive, which is set to be voted on by MEPs next Tuesday, two day before the general election, is also inflexible. The group says that it does not allow the UK to decide how best to meet its air pollution targets.