A company called E.ON is using some familiar scare tactics in order to win approval for a new coal fired electricity plant in the UK. The Guardian reports that E.ON says the lights will go out without their station and that they can ‘clean up’ the coal by buying offsets. E.ON’s claims for coal are deluded. We can’t afford the huge environmental cost of burning this fuel
Opposing plans for new coal-fired power plants in developed countries has become an international frontline of climate change politics. Jim Hanson, senior climate change scientist at Nasa, wrote to Gordon Brown last year calling for a ban on new coal, stating that Brown’s decision on Kingsnorth has “the potential to influence the future of the planet”. This is because coal is one of the most polluting and carbon-intensive forms of fossil fuels – producing twice the carbon emissions per unit of electricity as gas. Coal is the cause of fully half of the fossil fuel-caused increase of CO2 in the air today, and there is plenty left to burn. If we don’t limit the use of coal, avoiding catastrophic climate change will become impossible.
However, Paul Golby of E.ON, in these pages yesterday, dismissed anyone opposed to his company’s plans to annually emit at least 6m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – more than the total emissions of Costa Rica or Cameroon – as naively ignorant of power generation realities. He has tried to scare the public into thinking that new coal is necessary to keep the lights on.
Yet the independent energy consultancy Pöyry, in a report out today (ilexenergy.com), gives the hard numbers showing projected demand can be met, while respecting strict emissions limits and energy security concerns, using renewables and not resorting to new coal. Meanwhile Cambridge professor of physics David MacKay’s book Without Hot Air presents five different plans of how we can meet the UK’s energy needs and radically reduce emissions. Of course there are no easy answers, but for Golby to deny that there are no answers other than business as usual is dangerously untrue.
When are we going to accept what the scientists, including the Royal Society, are telling us, and commit to a renewable energy future? We don’t have to shut all our fossil fuelled plants immediately. In fact, here in NZ, it has been calculated that the cheapest and easiest way to go is to commit to 90% renewables by 2025. It’s easily done and assures our children don’t have to pull their world apart in a vain attempt to stop the ravages of climate change. By then it will be too late. ‘Business as usual’ needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history.