Coal in a hole

The proposed new Kingsnorth power station promises 'clean coal', but the technology behind this claim is unproven. Ellen Potts looks behind the myths to examine why E On is lighting the path for a new generation of coal power

August 4, 2008
4 min read

A smiling child gazes up into lush green foliage; boats float in a tranquil harbour; a couple stand by a gate in a misty, magical landscape. These are some of the images that greet you when you visit the website of E On UK, ‘Britain’s leading energy company’. The gentle giant provides energy for homes and schools, and more – scroll down and the issues covered range from community volunteering to E On’s investment in renewable energy.

Moreover, E On is taking the threat of climate change seriously, as the main sponsor of the Guardian’s ‘climate change summit’, where it will convene a session examining ‘the role of energy companies in finding effective ways to deliver the transition to secure, affordable and low-carbon energy’.

More specifically, the website describes E On’s new ‘clean coal’ power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, which will replace existing plant and employ ‘supercritical technology’ to make it 20 per cent more efficient. To top it all, it will be built with the capacity to retrofit carbon capture and storage (CCS), a new technology designed to reduce emissions still further.

E On, it seems, is trying very hard. So hard that it has recently hired Edelman, a world leader in the public relations field and the self-proclaimed inventor of ‘environmental PR’. The threat? The Camp for Climate Action, which will be coming to Kingsnorth this August. E On says it respects the right to protest, and just wants to be able to operate and provide power for its customers’ homes and businesses.

Seems reasonable enough? Let’s look beyond the greenwash.

Kingsnorth is a coal-fired power station. Coal may pose ‘the greatest threat to the climate’, according to James Hansen, NASA scientist, but as a source of power generation it is very cheap. And there’s plenty of it, at least for the time being. So, as E On is firmly committed to maximising profits for its shareholders, it is firmly committed to coal. Which doesn’t really square with a ‘low-carbon’ goal.

E On UK is part of the German-based E On group, which has at least eight new coal-fired power stations planned in Europe and one in the US in the next five years. This energy giant prides itself on working towards ‘vertical integration’ – gaining control of the entire supply chain – and its portfolio covers coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewable energy.

E On generates around 10 per cent of our electricity in the UK. Of that, for all the talk, renewables weigh in at a paltry 2 per cent, while coal accounts for a massive 61 per cent. E On has three coal-fired power stations including Kingsnorth, and their combined generation is greater than any other UK company’s.

Since the winding down of the UK coal industry in the 1980s, the coal-fired stations built in the 1960s and 1970s have been ticking over. However, EU legislation limiting emissions means that most will have to close. It is this, rather than any aspiration to be environmentally responsible, that is driving the wave of seven proposed new coal-fired power stations in the UK. These will ensure that coal is burned for the next 50 years at least. The new plant at Kingsnorth will produce eight million tonnes of CO2 per year. ‘Clean coal’ is a contradiction in terms.

Then we come to the big red herring that is CCS – an as yet unproven technology whereby CO2 is sequestered and stored away. Even if it turns out to be technically feasible, it will be costly and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is unlikely to be commercially viable for decades – far too late to have any impact on climate change. But this hasn’t stopped E On and companies like it from using CCS as a justification for new coal-fired power power stations such as at Kingsnorth.

The alternatives are clear. If, as the government states, the UK is set to become a world-leader in technologies such as wind and wave power, the coal industry is ripe for what is known as a ‘just transition’ to green-collar jobs. The German environmental engineering sector has generated some 250,000 jobs in the past four years, a figure that dwarfs the 5,600 in UK coal.

The revitalisation of the coal industry is a path the government and energy companies shouldn’t even be thinking of treading in the face of climate change. It is up to us to stand squarely in the way.

www.wdm.org.uk/kingsnorth

thecoalhole.org

www.climatecamp.org.uk

www.eon-uk.com

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.