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Insight | How UK power plants are going coal-free


The UK’s power plants are ramping up their efforts to go coal free. 

Within the next seven years the UK will phase out unabated coal generation, and energy companies will have to either close power stations or adapt assets for greener energy. 

A ban on coal will apply from 1 October 2025 to align with the beginning of the capacity market delivery year, and although the government has said it is not necessary to set an explicit constraint on coal generation before that date, the clock is ticking and the industry is under pressure to adapt. 

There are eight active coal fired power stations in the UK, with two of those - Eggborough and Kilroot -  set to close by the end of the year.

Other stations have begun the process of adapting and constructing infrastructure for cleaner power generation, while some plants plan to remain open right up until the ban comes into force.

“The change has been set in motion,” says ECIU head of analysis Dr Jonathan Marshall.

“It’s policy having an effect, changing the economics of gas and coal generation, which starts leading to the downfall of coal and its replacement with other fuels. It is the market reacting to a decent set of policies.” 

So what are the UK’s eight coal-powered plants doing to prepare: 

Drax Power Station, Drax Group

Drax Power Station 3x2

Drax Power Station 3x2

Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire has plans to replace its two remaining coal generating units with gas power generation and battery storage units. Proposals include the construction of two new gas-fired generation units with the combined capacity of up to 3,600MW, with four turbines that can operate in both a combined-cycle or open cycle mode. It also proposes creating a battery storage facility with a capacity of up to 200MW and a connection to the National Transmission System pipeline. “The repower project could secure the future of the power station beyond 2025 when the government says coal must come off the system,” Drax Power chief executive Andy Koss said.

Cottam and West Burton A, EDF

cottam power station at dusk

cottam power station at dusk

EDF energy, which runs the Cottam and West Burton A plants in Nottinghamshire, said “unabated coal-fired generation has no long-term role in a decarbonised electricity generation mix” and said it supported government decarbonisation objectives.

A spokesperson added: “We will continue to operate our coal stations while it remains safe and economic for us to do so, and to contribute to security of supply during the transition to a decarbonised generation mix”.

Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Uniper

Ratcliffe on Soar

Ratcliffe on Soar

No plans have been announced to close the coal-fired power plant at Ratcliffe-on-Soar and no decision for future uses for the site post-2025 have been made. A spokesperson for Uniper Energy, which runs the Nottinghamshire site, said “the station is reliable, flexible and meets all environmental standards on emissions – making it best placed to continue to play an important role in meeting the UK’s energy challenge for as long as it is needed”.

Fiddlers Ferry, SSE

fiddlers ferry power station   1696162

fiddlers ferry power station 1696162

SSE confirmed it is moving its generation assets from a portfolio weighted towards gas and coal to one weighted towards gas and renewables, and has invested £350M in the construction of a combined cycle gas turbine power station at Keadby, North Lincolnshire. Fiddlers Ferry coal power station secured a contract to provide electricity until September this year but its future is unclear beyond this point. 

Aberthaw, RWE

aberthaw b power station   414146

aberthaw b power station 414146

RWE plan to continue to operate Aberthaw power station in South Wales on coal until closure in the 2020s and said the governments policy will not affect existing plans. A spokesperson said: “This station has been providing secure capacity for almost 40 years and has been successful in recent Capacity Market auctions. It will continue to have a valuable role in helping to ensure security of supply until closure in the 2020s.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Philip Alexander

    Madness. Fancy substituting cheap coal fuel with woodchip pellets imported from the USA. How green is that?

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