Britain's eight remaining unabated coal power stations will be forced to close in 2025 unless they can halve their carbon emissions, the government said today.
However, the process to install technology to dramatically cut emissions and become "abated" power stations is thought to be so costly that the last plants will not be able to accomplish this, and are widely expected to shut down.
Launching a delayed consultation on unabated coal power today, which will close on 1 February, the government said it wanted to see an "orderly transition" away from unabated coal generation and that doing so will pose no risks to the security of electricity supplies.
In its own analysis, the government said coal power stations have become so uneconomical, due to new constraints such as climate change and air pollution commitments, that most stations are likely to be shut down by 2022. However, if there are delays in nuclear and offshore wind projects, the last coal-fired power unit would be expected to close in 2030.
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial strategy is consulting on two options for effectively forcing the plants to close by 2025 at the latest. These involve either applying more carbon capture and storage technology or modifying the existing Emissions Performance Standard, which sets emissions caps based on a plant's capacity.
The consultation is the first major climate change-related announcement from Theresa May's government and has been launched as UN climate change talks, COP22, take place in Morocco.
Business and energy secretary Greg Clark said:
We’re sending a clear signal that Britain is one of the best places in the world to invest in clean, flexible energy as we continue to upgrade our energy infrastructure.
Taking unabated coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technology, such as gas, will significantly reduce emissions from the UK’s energy use.
However, some analysts have called for the 2025 deadline to be brought forward by two years.
"There are significant benefits of phasing coal out sooner, rather than later," said Ben Caldecott, associate fellow at think tank Bright Blue.
"We believe that the 2020 target should be brought forward by at least two years to give investors greater certainty to invest, which will improve security of supply."
In 2012, there were 17 coal power stations in Britain. Last year, coal accounted for just under a quarter of electricity generation and the remaining power stations represent around 15 per cent of Britain's generating capacity.
Another consultation was launched today to "end uncertainty" over whether onshore wind projects on remote islands should be treated differently from onshore wind projects on mainland Britain.
The government also confirmed renewable energy will receive £730m in support during this parliament and that bids for £290m of support annually will open from next April.