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Ministers to announce CO2 plans

23 April 09 04:57 GMT
By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

Ideas for a new generation of coal-fired power plants to stave off a potential energy crisis are to be announced by the government.

The plans are expected to include clusters of power stations sharing pipes diverting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to sites under the sea.

On Wednesday the chancellor announced funds for up to four similar projects.

Each carbon capture scheme could cost more than £1bn, paid for by a new levy on consumers' electricity bills.

A study by the energy company E.ON has proposed a network connecting major emitters of carbon dioxide in the Thames Estuary to a central pipeline carrying the gas to be stored in old gas fields in the North Sea.

The scheme could be built around new power stations proposed for Kingsnorth, Kent, and Tilbury, Essex, the study suggests.

The government estimates the technology could put around £8 a year on the average household bill by 2020, although this figure depends on many factors.

While the power industry and some environmentalists welcome the strong new commitment to carbon capture, others argue that even coal plants with carbon capture equipment fitted will still produce substantial amounts of greenhouse gases.

They want coal-fired plants ruled out altogether.

Experts say that capturing carbon reduces the efficiency of a plant.

Together with the CO2 created by mining the coal, transporting it and building and running the equipment, it means that the "life cycle" carbon savings are likely to be around 75% of the emissions, compared to unabated coal.

Spurring the new strategy is the UK's target of saving at least 80% of its greenhouse gases by 2050.

Over-reliant

And because no new coal power station has been built in the UK for more than 30 years, energy experts say the nation has become over-reliant on electricity from gas.

Although government policies in the past have failed to attract industries to manufacture renewable technologies, sources have told the BBC they wanted to correct this by ensuring that carbon capture technology creates jobs at home.

Environmental groups say although carbon capture and storage technology have both been proven, they have not been tested large-scale coal-fired plants.

A Greenpeace spokesman said: "Even for supporters of carbon capture and storage, the danger remains that a new coal plant like Kingsnorth could be built at vast expense and with an expected lifespan of several decades - but that for some reason full-scale CCS deployment never materialises due to technological or financial constraints.

"This is entirely plausible given that CCS has not been proven at commercial scale anywhere in the world".

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