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Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 14:51 GMT
Is coal about to make a comeback?
Coal at Kingsnorth
Green groups want less coal and more renewables

Over the last 10 years, the green lobby - Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others - have moved from the edges of the political debate to the centre.

They have fought the battle over climate change and they have won.

All political parties now cite a reduction of greenhouse gases as a priority.

But the real battle is yet to be fought.

The vast majority of people accept that carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is warming up the Earth, but what are we actually going to do about it?

A looming energy crisis is going to test our politicians' resolve.

Generation gap

Over the next 15 years, half of our coal-fired power stations are going to close because they are too dirty.

Nine of our nuclear power stations are closing down production because they are too old.

We are going to lose 30% of our power generating capacity, and if we don't plug the gap there is a danger that the lights will start going out.

Power station
Produce electricity from coal is done on an industrial scale

The green lobby, victors of the war to recognise climate change, want ministers to use the energy gap to prove their credentials as a "green government".

They want more energy efficiency, like a ban on conventional light bulbs; they want locally generated power where the heat as well as the electricity generated is used in homes and offices, and they want far greater investment in renewable wind and wave energy.

King coal

Electricity generating companies want to plug the gap with more efficient coal-fired power stations that are also ready to install new technology to capture carbon dioxide instead of releasing it into the atmosphere - if and when that technology is ready.

To that end, the energy giant E-ON has submitted an application to build a huge new coal-fired power station by the River Medway in Kent, at Kingsnorth.

The new power station would replace the existing coal-fired station on the same site.

It would provide electricity for about 1.5m homes, about the same as the present coal-fired station generates.

New Kingsnorth power station
Would generate 1600MW, enough power for 1.5m homes
Greater thermal efficiency means it would produce more energy from less coal
Two million fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide would be emitted each year compared to the current plant
However, because the new plant is more efficient - burning the coal at higher temperatures and with higher pressures in the boiler - it would burn less coal and produce less carbon dioxide.

A decision is expected on that planning application on 21 November 2007. If it gets the go-ahead, it could be the first of many.

And when the shouting is over, the government are going to have to decide whether to back a new generation of coal-fired power stations.

Tough choices

It is a tough political choice and there have already been some casualties.

John Gummer, a former Conservative Environment Secretary and a guru for David Cameron's now green Conservatives says the power station as planned is "outrageous" and should not be allowed to go ahead.

The Conservative energy spokesman, Charles Hendry, thinks it should.

If opposition parties are having problems with this one, then the government can expect trouble, too.

Greenpeace see this issue as their last stand, and they are far harder to ignore than they were a decade ago.

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