All of this protesting, the rise of renewable energy and climate change all bring forward the question as to whether coal powered energy stations are actually relevant any more. It is a highly debated issue and many people have very strong feelings on the issue. It is important to understand all of the arguments though.
Coal as a resource is becoming harder to obtain and we are using it up. The easy to access supplies were mined long ago and so it is getting more difficult to get access to the coal that remains. This means that it is becoming more expensive to use coal as a fuel source. There are also the issues of how dirty the coal is with regards to the sooty smoke that it produces as well as the harmful gases which do damage to the environment. However, it still has some advantage over alternatives.
We have been using coal for a long time and we know how to mine it and use it to produce power easily. This means that with regards to knowledge, it is a cheap energy source. Many countries enjoy being able to use energy that they can get from their own country which is called energy security. Therefore some countries may rely on coal because it is a resource that they can easily get hold of. However, the UK no longer mines very much coal and most of the coal that it uses is imported.
It costs a lot of money to replace a power station. There is usually a lot of talk about location and what will fuel it. Most options cause opposition from local people as well as protest groups and this can mean that things get delayed and maybe even cancelled as in the case of Kingsnorth coal power station. This can put off companies from changing their power stations to new ones, which are likely to be more efficient and less damaging to the environment, even if they use energy that is not considered to be green or considered to be dangerous, such as nuclear fuel. It is often the case that power stations are not replaced or that they are replaced at the last minute, because of these issued.
As to whether coal power stations are still relevant that will depend on the growth of alternatives. We are demanding more and more energy to heat and light our homes and power all of our gadgets which means that all resources need to be considered by the power generating companies. They will look to the cheapest solutions if they can in order that fuel bills do not rocket in cost. It can be a difficult balance, with pressure from the EU to keep emissions down and work towards negating climate change, but with the public demanding cheap fuel prices. The public do have a choice to buy fuel from companies that only invest in green energy but many people cannot afford to take that option.
Kingsnorth power station, located at the Hoo Peninsula, Medway in Kent generated energy form 1973 to 2012. It was decommissioned due to an EU directive which stated that a power stations that did not have Flue Gas Desulphurisation technology be closed down after 20,000 hours of operation or by the end of 2015. The hours of use meant that the station had to close in 2012.
The owners of the power station, EON, decided that they would build a replacement power station at the site. These would also be coal fired units, like the old power station but they would have less emissions than the old units in the decommissioned power station, claiming that they would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20%. They were also planning to make them capture ready meaning that there would be carbon capture and storage. However, there were many people in opposition to the station being built.
Many charities and societies that protect the environment were against the development. Greenpeace, WWF, RSPB and even Christian Aid, among others were against the building for the new power stations. Many complained that there was no place for coal burning power stations when climate change is such a problem, saying that more renewable sources should be used. There were also a number of high publicity protests. Greenpeace protestors broke into the power station in October 2007 and painted the word ‘Gordon’ on the chimney, having planned to write ‘Gordon bin it’ but got stopped by a high court injunction before they could complete the damage, which was estimated to have cost EON £30,000. The ‘Kingsnorth six’ as the prosecuted were dubbed, were acquitted in court after arguing that they were trying to close down the power station because they were trying to prevent climate change, which would cause greater damage to property than they had caused. In August 2008 there was a Camp for Climate Action held near to the power station and 50 people tried to break in and were arrested. In October 2008 Greenpeace activists managed to occupy part of the power station using their boat rainbow Warrior to access the site. There was a standoff between protestor and security staff until a high court injunction was issued for their removal. In November 2008 a protestor managed to enter the plant and shut it down for four hours. In June 2009 Greenpeace activists boarded a ship which was loaded to deliver coal to the power station.
One of the big problems was the government’s consultation on Carbon Capture and Storage. They were, at the time, looking into this and the power station was doing to be used in a bid for the government’s competition for this. They did well with this, having reached a prequalification stage along with three other proposals. However, in March 2009 it was decided, by the government, that the decision about the power station would be delayed. Just a month later the chief executive of EON explained that without commercial carbon capture there was no point in them going ahead with the development. The project was then postponed until at least 2016.