By Julian O'Halloran
BBC File On 4
Electricity produced from the next generation of clean coal power stations could be twice as expensive as other coal-fired stations, BBC File On 4 has been told.
The Government hopes to clean up coal-fired stations
The government's hopes for early success in defeating global warming by cleaning up coal fired power stations have been challenged by a leading power generator.
An executive at RWE Npower, expected to be a major player in "carbon capture" technology, has spoken of fears about both the cost and the timescale.
The company hopes to build a big new coal-fired power station fitted with carbon capture and storage at Tilbury on the Thames Estuary.
Mr Chris Elston said coal stations fitted with this scrubbing technology "could easily double the cost of electricity compared with non carbon-abated plant".
The Government has held out the prospect of carbon capture and storage (CCS) being fitted widely to dispose of CO2 emissions in the years after 2014.
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Listen to File On 4, Radio 4 Tuesday 10 June 2008 2000 BST, repeated Sunday 15 June 1700 BST
But Mr Elston, Director of Projects at the company, said it could take 20 years before CCS can be deployed across Britain's fleet of coal-fired stations.
"We must recognise that it is quite a long path to having a full power station totally abated as far as carbon capture and storage is concerned.
"If the technology works it will be a step forward," said Mr Elston.
"If we want to burn coal and want to remove C02 we have no choice," he added.
Mr Elston said CCS had "huge economic downsides" and these would have to be reflected in electricity bills.
But, he said, "We have to recognise there is great uncertainty with all types of energy sources."
However Keith Allot, of the conservation group WWF - UK, said the hopes for CCS technology must not be used to justify a rush for new coal fired stations with high emissions "under the promise that at some point they would have this carbon capture equipment fitted."
"What we cannot really tolerate is the whole idea of this jam tomorrow approach, " said Mr Allott.
But Energy Minister Malcom Wicks, speaking on File on 4, hit back at green campaigners.
He said, "Whatever some environmentalists might wish - and they might wish that the future of energy could be all about energy efficiency and renewables - the world will be relying for its energy on fossil fuels for a century or more to come."
Mr Wicks added: "About 80% of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. In countries like China there's a heavy dependence on coal.
"So to work on a hypothesis that somehow because coal is dirty we can realistically rid the world of coal is total nonsense."