UK Announces Plan to Shut Down Coal Plants

The U.K. plans to phase out coal power by 2025, but how will renewable energy factor into the equation?

The U.K. made headlines by announcing that it plans to phase out all of its coal power stations in 10 years, while possibly restricting their use by 2023. Currently, more than a quarter of all U.K. energy production comes from coal, which leaves quite a gap to fill. Leaders say that they plan to transition to gas and nuclear energy to replace the loss of coal power.


The primary concern with the existing coal plants is that they are old (50 years old in some cases), unreliable, pollution-generating, and carbon-intensive. U.K. Energy Secretary Amber Rudd stated, "We need to build a new energy infrastructure, fit for the 21st century."

There is one loophole however. If the coal plants manage to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) by 2025, then they will be allowed to continue operating. Thus far, CCS technology has been slow to develop, so it may not become a commercially viable option by the time 2025 rolls around.

Some experts are skeptical that the U.K. will be able to realize its dreams of going coal-free. As of yet there is no fixed date at which the coal plants must close, so some think that they will in reality continue to operate past 2025. They cite particular concern that the U.K. may not succeed in building enough new gas plants by then to cover the energy deficit.

As of yet there is no fixed date at which the coal plants must close, so some think that they will in reality continue to operate past 2025. They cite particular concern that the U.K. may not succeed in building enough new gas plants by then to cover the energy deficit.

Others are wary of the U.K.’s track record in rejecting countryside development of wind and solar energy, wondering why the country is not committed to pursuing the cleanest means of energy production. Substituting coal for gas and nuclear may improve some pollution conditions, but might not make enough of a difference to the climate in the long run without a deeper investment in renewable power sources. Environmental groups say they would like to see less of a reliance on gas in the plan.

The U.K.’s big announcement comes just weeks before the multinational Paris climate talks that will begin at the end of November. President Barack Obama, while stating that there is still a lot of work to do, says he is “optimistic” that nations can hammer out an agreement to reduce greenhouse gases across the world. Obama has struggled to get legislation through Congress that would limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, begging the question of whether the U.S. could successfully take similar steps as the U.K. in its current political climate.

Replacing fossil fuel energy with renewables — we're going to need an energy system that looks more like the Internet. The benefits of such a system extend in unlikely areas, says environmentalist Bill McKibben, like deflating the power of terrorist strikes.


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Image: WILLINGTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 28: Rapeseed blooms dance in the breeze in front of the former Willington Power Station cooling towers on April 28, 2015 in Willington, England. Willington coal-fired power station closed in 1999 and all that remains are its cooling towers. There are plans to build a new state-of-the-art gas-fired power station on the site. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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