Coal power to be consigned to history in October 2024, one year earlier than planned

Ministers hope move will persuade other nations to call time at crucial autumn Cop26 summit

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 30 June 2021 01:29 BST
<p>The last remaining operational coal plants in the UK are expected to close by October 2024</p>

The last remaining operational coal plants in the UK are expected to close by October 2024

The burning of coal to generate electricity will be consigned to history in October 2024 – one year earlier than originally planned – the government is promising.

Ministers hope the move will persuade other nations to also call time on coal power at the autumn Cop26 summit – billed as the last chance for the world to prevent a climate emergency.

Its contribution to the UK’s power mix has already plunged from around 40 per cent less than a decade ago to just 1.8 per cent last year, with more than a third now coming from wind.

The new commitment, signalled by Boris Johnson earlier this year, means the outlawing of unabated coal power, without the technology to capture and bury the carbon dioxide emissions produced.

But it applies to electricity generation only, not including other uses of coal such as in the steel industry.

There was uproar earlier this year when the government cleared the way for a new coking coal mine, for use in steel production, in Cumbria – before pulling back, after the criticism.

The government has also been rapped by its independent climate advisers for having no viable plan to achieve the commitment of “net zero” emissions by 2050.

Nevertheless, Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, said: “The next decade will be make, or break, for our planet and the most powerful way we can make a difference is to end our reliance on coal.

“Ahead of Cop26, I hope the UK’s decisive step towards a cleaner, greener future sends a clear signal to friends around the world that clean power is the way forward.

“The impact of this step will be far greater if we can bring the world with us, and so our desire to support a clean and just energy transition is central to my discussions on the road to Cop26.”

There are just three operational coal power plants in the UK, since the units at Drax in north Yorkshire were mothballed in March, and all are already expected to close by October 2024.

It will mean the end of the era that dates back to the world’s first coal power plant, on Holborn Viaduct in London, which opened in 1882.

The announcement comes during criticism of the looming approval of a new North Sea oil and gas project, off the coast of the Shetland Islands, expected to extract 150 million barrels of oil.

That amount would be equivalent to operating 16 coal-fired power stations for a year – while setting up and powering the oil rig will emit more than three million tonnes of carbon over the project’s lifetime.

The project will not be covered by the government’s commitment to assess whether new developments are “compatible with the UK’s climate change objectives” – because it was licensed for exploration in 2001 and 2004.

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