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Activists threaten direct action against Scotland's 'Kingsnorth'

Severin Carrell and Tim Webb

15th March, 2010

Ayrshire Power starts planning process for power station which would be UK's first to use carbon capture and storage

Climate activists are threatening a campaign of direct action against a new coal-fired power station that could be the UK's first to fit carbon-capture technology.

Campaigners say that if the proposed 1.6GW station in Ayrshire is approved, it will be the "new Kingsnorth", a reference to E.ON's controversial coal-fired plant in Kent that sparked battles between protesters and police before E.ON finally shelved it.

The warnings from Friends of the Earth Scotland, WWF Scotland and the World Development Movement came as Ayrshire Power today took the first formal step towards applying for planning permission for the new station, at Hunterston on the Firth of Clyde.

Carbon Capture and Storage

The proposal has intensified the conflicts between green campaigners, power companies and the government over "decarbonising" energy supply and lessening the UK's heavy reliance on coal and gas for its electricity needs.

Juliet Swann, of FoE Scotland, said many local residents and a "large coalition" of environment groups would resist the scheme. It would increase the UK's use of coal, and, at first, use untested carbon capture and storage technology to tackle only a quarter of its CO2 emissions.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves trapping a percentage of the carbon dioxide emissions from power stations by collecting, transporting and then burying the CO2 so that it does not escape into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

Carbon capture should first be used on existing power stations, such as Longannet, which is one of two coal-fired stations in the running for a new carbon-capture demonstration project, Swann said.

'Carbon capture and storage is potentially a way to reach a low-carbon future,' she said. 'But it should be demonstrated on existing plants first, not least so we can share the technology with the rest of the world, and in doing so repay our debt to them for supplying us with so much of our dirty energy.'

Planning fast track

The dispute also focuses attention on the Scottish government's determination to abandon nuclear power, which generates at least 26 per cent of Scotland's electricity, by increasing coal-fired production.

The proposed station is near to Hunterston B nuclear station, which is due to close down in 2016; Scotland's other nuclear station, at Torness, will shut down in 2023.

Energy policy in Scotland is controlled by ministers in Edinburgh. The first minister, Alex Salmond, has championed carbon capture and the coal industry while at the same time insisting Scotland can become a "green powerhouse" from renewable energy.

To the fury of campaigners and local residents, Salmond's government aims to fast track the Hunterston proposal by using a new streamlined planning process, bypassing the often lengthy and expensive public-consultation rules that normally apply.

Residents are already challenging this move in court, claiming ministers illegally added Hunterston to the list of fast-track projects on the "national planning framework" without consulting them properly.

Government subsidy

With the UK pledging to cut CO2 emissions by up to 42 per cent by 2020, Ayrshire Power plans to make Hunterston the first newly built coal-fired plant in the UK to "capture" CO2 emissions and store them under the seabed.

New legislation requires power companies to fit carbon-capture technology for at least 300MW of its output. Ayrshire Power says 400MW (25% of its emissions) will be captured first, and, eventually, 90% of its CO2 emissions.

But Ayrshire Power admits it will need another £1bn – mostly from the UK government's carbon-capture funding programme – to pay for the CCS technology on top of the £2bn cost of building the power station.

The project has already suffered a serious blow after one of its original developers, the giant Danish power company Dong, withdrew from the proposal only days after E.ON suspended its plans for Kingsnorth.

Cost of clean coal

Like E.ON, Dong also cited the recession and the heavy cost of investing in "clean coal". Ayrshire Power's sole owner, the Manchester-based airports and property firm Peel Holdings, admits it now needs significant new investors in the Hunterston project, feeding doubts that it will go ahead.

Ayrshire Power began the first stage in the fast-track process today under a new "gate check" procedure, where the government and statutory bodies check the company has the right documentation for the planning process. It has not confirmed when it will formally submit its full application.

Muir Miller, Hunterston's project director, said the plant would use up to 25% less coal than power stations now in use, by using biofuels and "supercritical" technology to burn coal at higher temperatures. The station would power 3 million homes.

'We believe our proposal supports the UK and Scottish governments' commitment to leading the way in developing CCS to assist in decarbonising the UK's electricity sector by 2030,' he said.

'We remain determined to deploy this technology at full scale on a modern supercritical power station, supported by appropriate regulatory and fiscal measures.'

This article is reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network

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