Another step towards Kingsnorth

By Alex Stevenson

New coal-fired power stations form part of Britain’s “low-carbon future”, Ed Miliband told the Commons this lunchtime.

His pledge came as he outlined proposals to MPs for the construction of new conventional coal-fired stations, including Kingsnorth.

Mr Miliband said permission would be granted on the condition they can be retrofitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology within five years of 2020 – subject to the technology available.

It means energy firm E.On’s application for a new coal plant at Kingsnorth, originally made in December 2006, has taken another step forward.

The energy and climate change secretary said the moves ensuring no new coal energy is permitted without CCS made the UK one of the most “environmentally ambitious” countries in the world.

“This signals the era of unabated coal is coming to an end, and a low carbon future for coal with CCS can now begin,” he said.

“There is no alternative to CCS if we are serious about fighting climate change and retaining a diverse mix of energy success for our economy.”

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Martin Horwood said the government’s proposal were subject to “a dirty great loophole” – that new stations will only have to implement the retrofitting of CCS if the technology is ready.

“The technology does need to be proven,” Mr Miliband insisted.

“It needs to work. I believe it will work. But we need to discuss the conditions if it doesn’t.

“We are treading a very fine balance between getting coal built and driving towards low carbon.”

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Nick Clark was critical of the “government’s characteristic dithering” on CCS, warning Mr Miliband “he’s left it perilously late to secure our energy supplies for the decade ahead.”

But the climate change secretary insisted his proposals represented a “genuine step forward”.

The government hopes to create CCS clusters in regions where the greatest emissions reductions can be achieved – Thames, Humberside, Teesside, Firth of Forth and Merseyside.

It believes 50,000 jobs could be created as a result. Mr Miliband told MPs he hoped the creation of new low-carbon industries would provide the same impetus for jobs as the expansion of North Sea oil in the 1970s.

The Scottish National party’s Mike Weir welcomed news about the Firth of Forth demonstration project, but said Scotland could have already been “at the forefront of CCS” if ministers had not “pulled the rug” from under an abortive project at Peterhead.

“The Scottish government is showing that we have what it takes to become the pre-eminent location for clean energy research, development and delivery in Europe, but the UK government needs to stop dragging its heels,” he said.

A decision on Kingsnorth will follow the consultation on CCS and an additional consultation on a new framework for coal-fired power stations, energy minister Mike O’Brien told parliament last month.