Brexit may hamper Britain’s plans to abandon coal

Britain’s recent decision to leave the European Union may hinder its 15-year plan to shut down coal-fired power stations and decommission all but one of its ageing nuclear plants.

The nation, which would lose 23 gigawatts (GW) of power-generating capacity with such measure, would then have to rely more than ever on imports of natural gas and electricity… or not.

According to Alex Harrison, counsel at Hogan Lovells in London, who specializes in electricity markets and utilities, coal-fired generation may remain a key part of Britain's energy supply for longer than planned.

Britain’s planned exit from the EU will make access to cleaner sources of fuel challenging.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Harrison said Britain’s planned exit from the EU will make access to cleaner sources of fuel challenging, which in turn may mean the country will have to keep coal-fired generation past its self-imposed 2025 deadline.

With this, the nation would also fail to meet its obligation under the 2008 Climate Change Act to reduce greenhouse gases to 80% below their 1990 level by 2050.

Former Energy Secretary Amber Rudd had said that if coal power plants were able to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) before 2025, they would not have to close.

That approach has led to a boom of investments in heavily subsidised low carbon technologies in recent months, but as Jonathan Ford wrote for Financial Times (subs. required), “it has not added a single megawatt to Britain’s overall capacity.” On the contrary, it has actually been shrinking:

The UK’s main transmission company, National Grid, has just warned that the nation’s margin of supply might shrink to 0.1% this winter — down from 17% five years ago.

If there is little danger of the lights going off, that is mainly because the grid has kept open some dirty old coal-fired stations that would otherwise have shut by striking temporary supply contracts with them. When these are taken into account, the margin creeps up to a more respectable 5%.

Last year, Britain shut down it last underground coal mine, putting one of the last nails in the coffin of the 300-year industry that once employed over a million workers.

Yet, the fuel still accounts for about 25% of the UK's power supply.