Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Coal power plan for nuclear site

By Douglas Fraser
Business and economy editor, BBC Scotland

A new coal-burning power plant, which would be the first conventional station to come on stream in Scotland since 1980, is being planned for the Firth of Clyde.

Hunterston Power Station in Largs
Hunterston B is scheduled for shut-down in 2016
Denmark's state-owned energy company, Dong, has identified Hunterston, North Ayrshire, as the preferred site.

The 1600MW plant would be able to power the average needs of two million homes.

The first of two 800MW plants could be operating by 2014, but the more realistic timetable is for a switch-on 10 years from now.

The facility would be located next to British Energy's nuclear plant and deep water port facilities, as it would be dependent mainly on imported coal, which has lower emissions than coal from Scottish fields.

It would also be suited for generating power from burning biomass, by-products from forestry and farming.

The use of coal will be controversial, as environmental campaigners push to reduce Britain's heavy dependency on polluting fossil fuels for its electricity.

But Brian Wilson, the former energy minister who is a consultant on the Hunterston project, said the plans for "clean coal" were distinct from old coal technologies.

Carbon capture

It is claimed that Dong already has experience of reducing emissions by a quarter in new plants when compared with old coal-burning stations.

The plan is also to prepare Hunterston for carbon capture - the new technology that pumps emissions for storage in emptying oil wells.

If this becomes viable, it is claimed emissions could be cut by 90%.

Although the science can be shown to work, carbon capture is yet to be made commercially viable.

The Danish company is proposing a joint venture company with Peel Energy, a sister company of Clydeport which operates the Hunterston port.

It makes perfect sense to build a new power station there, avoiding the need to transport millions of tonnes of coal a year across the country
Owen Michaelson
Peel Energy

Their plan would be dependent on an upgrade of the National Grid connections from the Ayrshire site.

At current costs, the proposal is priced at £1.5bn to £2bn.

Jens Kragholm of Dong Energy stresses the project is at a very early stage, as they investigate the environmental issues based on an outline design. A public consultation would follow.

According to Owen Michaelson, chairman of Peel Energy: "The Hunterston site is ideal, as it already handles a large proportion of Scotland's imported coal.

"It makes perfect sense to build a new power station there, avoiding the need to transport millions of tonnes of coal a year across the country."

Brian Wilson
Former energy minister Brian Wilson is a consultant on the project

While there has been rapid growth of wind farms in Scotland, the country's conventionally-generated electricity supply is facing a rundown as plants grow old.

Scottish Power has two coal-burning plants by the Firth of Forth. Longannet is having its life extended with upgraded equipment allowing for cleaner burning along with an investigation into its carbon capture potential, while the future of Cockenzie in East Lothian is under review.

Of the two remaining nuclear power plants in Scotland, Hunterston B is scheduled for shut-down in 2016 and Torness in East Lothian should keep running until 2023.

The Scottish Government has said it will use its planning powers to block proposals for any new nuclear power plant.

This has provoked a debate over Scotland's reliance for its electricity supply on renewable and fossil-burning sources, while the UK Government presses ahead with a new generation of nuclear at sites in England.

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