Kingsnorth Power Station (Proposed)

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Kingsnorth Power Station (Proposed) was a proposed 1600 megawatt supercritical coal power station[1] at the site of the existing Kingsnorth Power Station located on the Medway Estuary in Kent. It is owned and operated by E.ON UK.

Background

Rebirthing Kingsnorth

In October 2006, E.ON UK announced plans to build two new 800 megawatt 'supercritical' coal units at the power station at an estimated cost of £1 billion. In its announcement E.ON stated that the new units "could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 1.8m tonnes a year" compared to the existing plants and that they "will operate at an efficiency of 45% and above, compared to the existing units’ efficiency of around 36%."[2] In late 2006 the company has stated that it aimed to begin construction "early in 2008 with the first power being produced late in 2012".[3]

In its environmental impact statement, E.ON UK seek to justify building the proposal on a number of grounds. Firstly, they argue that additional supply side capacity will be needed in the UK "in coming years" as older plants are decommissioned. In particular, it argues that there will a deficit in the South-East of the UK, where Kingsnorth is located. Secondly, it argues that gains from demand side management programs and renewables will be insufficient to avoid the need for new centralised power stations. Finally, it argues against importing electricity as this would make the UK "reliant on other countries", increases transmission losses and that the UK should be "self-sufficient in generation capacity".

The company also argues that, as it will have to decommission 3 gigawatts of existing plant, it's corporate strategy is to build additional coal-fired power stations to "ensure that there is adequate fuel diversity". In a minimalist gesture to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from new coal plants E.ON states that "they must be more efficient than those they replace and must be capable of being retrofitted with additional clean-up technologies as they become available and proven."[4]

E.ON's willingness to canvass the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in its environmental impact statement is spartan. In it E.ON spends only 54 words addressing the 'climate change' impacts of the proposed plant. "Anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide have been identified as playing a major role in Global Warming. The efficiency of the new units will be greater than the plant efficiency of the existing Kingsnorth power station. Thus the new units will emit less CO2 per GWh of electricity produced than the existing Kingsnorth power station," is all the company's report states.[5] (Ben Stuart, the communications director of Greenpeace, told the BBC that the new plant would emit 8.4 million tonnes of CO2 every year.[6])

While flagging that the plant may, at some future date, be fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage equipment, even this is heavily qualified. In its environmental impact statement, E.ON states that after the demolition of the existing station, the land could be used "to accommodate carbon capture and storage plant together with suitable routes to the North Sea, should a future legislative framework allow and support this".[7]

It further states that CCS "will be considered as an option for GHG emission reduction at the Kingsnorth site by E.ON UK at a later date. This will be subject to the process of CCS being allowed by law and incentivised by a suitable framework and technological hurdles for the process being overcome so that proven technology becomes available for the process of capture and storage. With this in mind the proposed units will be designed "capture ready" to allow retrofit at a later date."[8]

The company's environmental impact statement does not disclose the origin or the qualities of the coal that would be used if the plant is built.

Making a Decision

But before E.ON can proceed with the proposed power station it requires the approval of the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), John Hutton. (Under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, the consent of the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is required for new onshore electricity generating stations of over 50 megawatts).[9]

On December 11, 2006 E.ON formally submitted it application for the project to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.[10]

In January 2008 the Medway Council, which only had advisory powers in relation to the proposal, voted to support the project despite having received 9,000 objections.[11] In a March 2008 speech to the free-market think tank the Adam Smith Institute, the British Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, John Hutton, signaled his implicit support for the Kingsnorth power station, even though he is yet to make a formal decision. "For critics, there’s a belief that coal fired power stations undermine the UK’s leadership position on climate change. In fact the opposite is true ... Our leadership role is best served by the actions we take on capping emissions, carbon pricing and supporting the development of new CCS technology. Not by a gesture of politics," he said.[12] (see John Hutton on Nuclear Power and Coal-Fired Power Stations for more details of Hutton's speech).

In response, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "At a time when the Government should be working to reduce emissions, ministers seem determined to allow a huge new polluting power station. What planet is John Hutton living on? Without carbon capture and storage, clean coal is a total myth. This monstrosity will only emit 20 per cent less than previous coal-fired stations and a massive 75 per cent more than a gas-powered plant.[13]

If Hutton thought implicitly supporting E.ON's Kingsnorth proposal at a free-market think tank's conference was smart politics, was good politics, the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron, upped the ante. In a June 2008 speech outlining his environment policy, Cameron detailed his full support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and letting the market decide the best technologies. However, he added a qualifier that if he formed government he would require new power stations to meet a mandatory "carbon emissions rate" equal to or lower that from power "generated in a modern gas plant."

"Such a standard would mean that a new generation of unabated coal power plants could not be built in this country," he said. Cameron also accused the government of sending "mixed messages" to industry such as by "saying 'yes' to unabated coal at Kingsnorth".[14]

In late March 2008 E.ON UK requested that a decision on its application for Kingsnorth be delayed until the completion of the government's consultation on Carbon Capture and Storage. E.ON has touted that the Kingsnorth plant would be 'carbon capture-ready' and has been shortlisted as one of four contenders in a competitive bid to build a government-funded CCS demonstration plant. On March 31 E.ON UK simultaneously announced that it would be be an entrant in the government's Government's carbon capture and storage (CCS) competition and that it was requesting that the decision on Kingsnorth be suspended. In a media release, E.ON UK stated that it wanted the application deferred until the completion of the competition "when we will all know exactly what is required by the Government for a station to be deemed CCS-ready."[15]

Power in Europe, an energy industry trade newsletter noted that it is believed that the government is only considering a 300 MW demonstration plant. It noted that if so, "only be only a fraction of Kingsnorth's capacity of 1,600-MW would be abated, assuming the project wins."[16] "We think the power industry recognizes that there is political risk in pushing a big coal project like Kingsnorth through now. There is a question mark over whether (Secretary of State) John Hutton at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform can and should deliver on this alone," Greenpeace climate campaign Robin Oakley said.[16]

Opposition to the Proposal

A coalition of community groups are also opposing the proposed new coal-fired units for Kingsnorth. They point out that if Kingsnorth is built it will be the first coal-fired power station built in the United Kingdom in 20 years and would be the first of seven new stations. "The 50 million tonnes of CO2 that would be emitted each year from these plants will wipe out any chance the UK has of cutting its emissions by more than 40 per cent by 2020 or more than 80 per cent by 2050 as scientists say is needed," according to the World Development Movement. "In addition to locking us into high carbon electricity generation for decades, the UK will lose all political and moral authority when calling for other nations not to build new coal power stations."[17]

In an interview broadcast on Radio Four’s Today programme, James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the world's leading climate scientist, described the proposed Kingsnorth power station as "a terrible idea. One power plant with a lifetime of several decades will destroy the efforts of millions of citizens to reduce their emissions".[18]

A Greenpeace activist chains herself to the coal conveyor belt at the Kingsnorth Power Plant near Kent, England.

October 2007: Occupation by Greenpeace UK

On 8 October 2007, 50 Greenpeace UK activists occupied the plant to protest the proposed new units and the greenhouse gases they would emit. One team of people shut down the conveyor belts carrying coal into the plant, and then chained themselves to the machinery. Another team scaled the plant's chimney, upon which they painted the phrase "Gordon Bit It." Greenpeace held the action in protest of plans by the plant's owners, E.ON, to build two new coal-fired plants at the site - which would be the first coal-fired power plants built in the UK in 20 years. Police arrested 18 people during the action.[19][20]

Kingsnorth trial defendants on the day of the occupation.

The Kingsnorth Six Trial

On September 1, 2008, 6 of the activists from the October 2007 Greenpeace action against the Kingsnorth plant went to trial for charges of criminal damage.[21] The "Kingsnorth Six," as they are now called, are accused of causing £30,000 in damage at the power station. The defendants admit they caused the damage, but argue that they did so lawfully to prevent damage to another property - in this case, to save the world from further damage from climate change. The prosecution is not disputing the science behind global warming; instead they are arguing that the Kingsnorth Six illegally mounted the protest as a "means of making a political point for the means of protest, to cause deliberate and substantial damage to property belonging to someone else."[22]

The case could set a groundbreaking precedent for the climate change struggle if the court sides with the defense's argument that this action was warranted in light of the larger crime of climate destruction. An impressive list of climate experts testified for the defense. James Hansen took the stand on day three of the trial, explaining the immediate need to curtail greenhouse gas emissions to stop global warming and halt irreparable damage to the Earth and its species.[23] Zac Goldsmith, who is the former editor of the Ecologist and current environmental advisor to the Tory party, testified on day four to provide a political context for the defendants' actions, telling the court that there was "a staggering mismatch between what we've heard from government and what we've seen from government in terms of policy."[24]

In a precedent-setting verdict on September 10, 2008, the Kingsnorth Six were acquitted of criminal damage by the Crown Court jury. The verdict marks the first case in which preventing property damage from climate change was used as a 'lawful excuse' defense in court.[25]

Climate Camp

Climate Camp, which organised a mass protest action against the expansion of Heathrow airport in 2007, is organising a mass protest against the Kingsnorth power station between August 4 and 10, 2008. While the protest camp will run for an entire week, the group is organising a mass action for Saturday August 9.[26] On its website the group explains that it is focusing on Kingsnorth because "if built, Kingsnorth will emit between 6 and 8 million tons of CO2 every year. That’s a hell of a lot of CO2, more even than the proposed third runway at Heathrow would produce."[27]

E.ON's Legal Move to Shut Down Climate Camp Protests

Faced with the prospect of a mass protest action ahead of Hutton's decision on the proposal, E.ON resorted to legal action against the Climate Camp. E.ON sought and obtained an injunction from the High Court which one nes report described as "protecting operational areas of the site" from possible protest. "We're pleased the court has placed the most important operational areas of our site under the protection of a pre-emptive injunction," said Graham Clarke, who is described as E.ON UK's head of 'business resilience'.[28][29] (Both the BBC and KentOnline use the identical words from a E.ON media release though neither note that it was from a prepared statement not an interview.[30]

It is also worth noting that in July 2007 Clarke was referred to in an internal E.ON document as being the "E.ON head of security".[31]

Activist shuts down Kingsnorth Power Station

On November 28, 2008, in full view of security cameras, a single activist climbed two 10-foot, razor-wired and electrified security fences at E.ON's coal-fired power plant and crashed a huge 500MW turbine, leaving behind a banner that read "no new coal." All power from the plant was down for four hours, which cut the UK's CO2 emissions by an estimated 2 percent. Police are still searching for the activist.[32]

James Hansen takes UK to task over coal and Kingsnorth

On February 15, 2009, James Hansen - director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world's foremost climate scientists - published an editorial in The Observer lambasting the government's decision to approve the construction of a new coal-fired power plant at Kingsnorth. Hansen cites the UK, United States, and Germany as the biggest per-capita polluters of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.[33][34] Calling for a complete moratorium on new coal plants and phase-out of existing ones, he stressed the need for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to act:[33]

The Prime Minister should not underestimate his potential to transform the situation. And he must not pretend to be ignorant of the consequences of continuing to burn coal or take refuge in a "carbon cap" or some "target" for future emission reductions. My message to Gordon Brown is that young people are beginning to understand the situation. They want to know: will you join their side? Remember that history, and your children, will judge you.

10 activists board ship delivering coal to Kingsnorth Station

On June 21, 2009, ten Greenpeace activists boarded a ship delivering coal to the Kingsnorth Power Station. The group used inflatable speedboats to target the boat as it sailed up the River Medway in Kent. All 10 protesters were arrested and charged with conspiring to commit criminal damage and having an unauthorized presence on a ship.[35]

E.ON shelves plans for expansion

In October 2009, E.ON announced it was postponing plans to build a new coal plant at Kingsnorth. The company cited the economic downturn, but said that the plant could still be built if economic conditions become more favorable within the next two to three years.[36]

E.ON's PR Advisers

In February PR Week reported that "E.ON is calling in PR support as it gears up for a David versus Goliath battle with environmental campaigners over a controversial new power station." PR Week's Clare O'Connor noted that the brief would include crisis communications.[37] The electricity utility's quest for PR support followed documents obtained by Greenpeace UK revealed company's determination to get the government's approval for a new coal-fired power station.[38]

The documents, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Greenpeace reported, included one in which E.ON insisted that John Hutton "has no right to withhold approval" of the proposed new coal plant. "E.on also tells the government not to include carbon capture and storage in their conditions for building the new coal plant. It took the government just six minutes to reply: 'Thanks. I won’t include.” Just like that ... In the same email, E.on admits that carbon capture doesn’t exist (or, in their words, it 'has no current reference for viability at any scale'), exposing the government’s energy policy and E.on's media strategy – based on a faith in the potential of carbon capture technology to deliver 'clean coal' – as hollow."[38]

The following month, PR Week reported that E.ON had hired the PR firm Edelman "as the energy giant looks to develop its nuclear portfolio and counter opposition from green campaigners." E.ON UK's head of PR, Jonathan Smith, told PR Week that "Edelman will offer us support lobbying the Government and political audiences ... It will also carry out an information programme, getting the message across about the urgency to replace generation capacity. We also have plans for new nuclear stations. Edelman will be involved in work for the upcoming white papers."[39] (See also Edelman lends E.ON UK a hand on the company's global warming woes).

Internal E.ON documents obtained under Freedom of Information are:

Citizens Groups Campaigning on Kingsnorth

Project Cancelled

In October 2010, E.ON said the economic conditions were not right for the company to continue pursuing the project. E.ON's decision left just one contender in the competition: Longannet Power Station, entered by a consortium led by Iberdrola-owned Scottish Power. The government insisted the project will go ahead in spite of the withdrawal of E.ON, although £1bn announced by Chancellor George Osborne is expected to pay for just one demonstrator plant rather than the four industry had hoped for. The validation project is likely to cost £500m to build and £500m to operate, said Professor Stuart Haszeldine, FRSE, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage and Geology at the University of Edinburgh.[40]

Articles and Resources

Sources

  1. James Richens, "King coal promises to clean up", ENDS Report 396, January 2008, pp 26-29.
  2. E.ON UK, "E.ON UK applies to build new £1bn supercritical coal-fired power units in Kent", Media Release, October 11, 2006.
  3. E.ON UK, "E.ON UK organises public exhibition on proposals for new cleaner coal power units on the Hoo Peninsula", November 20, 2006.
  4. Power Technology, "Proposed Replacement Coal-fired Units for Kingsnorth Power Station: Environmental Statement", E.ON UK, page 44.
  5. Power Technology, "Proposed Replacement Coal-fired Units for Kingsnorth Power Station: Environmental Statement", E.ON UK, page 44.
  6. "Row over coal power station plan", BBC News, January 3, 2008.
  7. Power Technology, "Proposed Replacement Coal-fired Units for Kingsnorth Power Station: Environmental Statement", E.ON UK, page 26.
  8. Power Technology, "Proposed Replacement Coal-fired Units for Kingsnorth Power Station: Environmental Statement", E.ON UK, page 2.
  9. Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, "Electricity Development Consents", Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website, accessed July 2008.
  10. Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, "Applications Under Consideration", Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website, accessed July 2008.
  11. "Row over coal power station plan", BBC News, January 3, 2008.
  12. John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, "The Future of Utilities", Speech to the Adam Smith Institute, Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London, March 10, 2008.
  13. Charles Clover, "Government to approve new coal power station", Telegraph (UK), March 10, 2008.
  14. David Cameron, "David Cameron: The choice isn't between economy and environment", June 16, 2006.
  15. E.ON UK, "E.ON enters UK Government's carbon capture and storage competition", March 31, 2008.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Coal on the rocks", Power in Europe, Issue 523, April 7, 2008, page 2.
  17. World Development Movement, "Stop Kingsnorth: No new coal-fired power stations", February 2008.
  18. World Development Movement, "Development campaigners welcome the Climate Camp’s stand against Kingsnorth", Media Release, March 3, 2008.
  19. Protestors Raid Coal Power Plant, BBC News, October 8, 2007.
  20. "Greenpeace Shuts Down Coal Fired Power Station," Greenpeace UK website, October 8, 2007.
  21. ["Friends in High Places," Eco, September 5, 2008.
  22. "Kingsnorth Trial Day One: The Prosecution," Greenpeace UK website, September 1, 2008.
  23. "Kingsnorth trial day three: world's leading climate scientist gives evidence," Greenpeace UK website, September 3, 2008.
  24. Kingsnorth Trial Day 4: Zac Goldsmith Appears for the Defence," Greenpeace UK website, September 4, 2008.
  25. "Court deals major blow to to UK coal-fired power plants," Greenpeace UK website, September 10, 2008.
  26. Climate Camp, "Kingsnorth Mass Action", Climate Camp 2008, accessed July 2008.
  27. Climate Camp, "Why Kingsnorth?", Climate Camp 2008, accessed July 2008.
  28. "Energy giant seeks court protection from activists", KentOnline, July 2, 2007.
  29. " Kingsnorth gets protection order", BBC News, July 1, 2008. (The BBC report simply describes Clarke as being from E.ON).
  30. E.ON, "E.ON secures legal protection for Kingsnorth power station", Media Release, June 30, 2008.
  31. E.ON, "E.ON UK - Holford Gas Storage Project: Record of Local Liaison Committee Meeting", July 18, 2007.
  32. "No new coal - the calling card of the 'green Banksy' who breached fortress Kingsnorth," The Guardian, December 11, 2008.
  33. 33.0 33.1 James Hansen, "Coal-fired power stations are death factories. Close them," The Observer, February 15, 2009.
  34. "James Hansen takes Britain to task over coal power plants," examiner.com, February 18, 2009.
  35. "Protesters leave coal cargo ship," BBC News, June 22, 2009.
  36. "Kingsnorth power station plans shelved by E.ON," Guardian, October 7, 2009.
  37. "E.ON seeks help for green battle", PR Week, February 14, 2008.
  38. 38.0 38.1 bex, "Coal giant dictates government climate policy", Greenpeace UK, January 31, 2008.
  39. Clare O'Connor, "E.ON turns to Edelman as nuclear debate rages", PR Week, March 13, 2008.
  40. Sylvia Pfeifer and Fiona Harvey, "Competition for carbon capture project to go ahead" Financial Times, October 20, 2010.

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External links

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