Clean coal myth at E-On's Kingsnorth

1st July 2008
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Don't believe the carbon capture hype, say MPs and NGOs

E.ON’s controversial coal-fired power station to be built at Kingsnorth in Kent may never be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to reduce its CO2 emissions, despite being ‘capture-ready’.

Bob Taylor, E.ON’s managing director of generation, was asked by the Government’s Environmental Audit Committee whether he was 100 per cent confident that Kingsnorth would one day be fitted with CCS technology. He replied, ‘100 per cent is a tough test’. When asked what his confidence level would be, Taylor said:

‘That is a really difficult question... In reality, until we understand the true economics of operating an integrated carbon capture and storage system at scale, I find it difficult to answer.’

Martin Horwood MP described Taylor’s answer as ‘raising real doubts about CCS-ready as a claim’, and Desmond Turner MP said the market conditions that would make CCS attractive might ‘not happen at all’. Under questioning in the same evidence session, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks revealed that currently ‘CCS-ready’ only involves leaving ‘enough space’ to one side of the power station to build the capture unit, and plotting a route from there to a depleted oil or gas field in which to bury the CO2.

A recent report from WWF, ‘Evading Capture’, confirms fears that current claims of ‘capture readiness’ mean next to nothing, and its authors warn that utilities will not undertake later retrofitting lightly:
‘Once unabated coal-fired stations are built, the power sector will undoubtedly press for continued operation in order “to keep the lights on”, or to demand that the Government pick up the bill for any retrofitting,’ said Morgan Parry, head of WWF Cymru. Concerns were also raised during the Westminster session that the Government is far too reliant on the price of carbon to deliver on its environmental targets. Committee chairman Tim Yeo MP told Wicks that pointing to the rising price of carbon as ‘a justification for the choice of the most polluting technologies’ undermined the whole concept of emissions trading:

‘You will say to people that if you have this system [carbon trading] somehow it will allow them to salve their conscience and get away with polluting as much as they want because somewhere in the world someone will make a saving. I believe that is a very poor argument,’ Yeo said.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist July 2008


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