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Kingsnorth debated

On 2 August, as the Camp for Climate Action began to get under way, Radio 4’s flagship news programme, Today, held a debate on the proposed new Kingsnorth power station. Dr David Brown, of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, supported building the new coal-fired station, on the basis that it would eventually be a “clean coal” project, using carbon capture and storage technology to bury CO2 emissions safely rather than releasing them to contribute to global warming. He was challenged by the Radio 4 presenter, and by Dr Simon Lewis, of Leeds University.

Presenter: And to be clear, you would be in favour of saying to E.ON: “If you want to build this station, you have got to provide carbon capture and storage for it, for the emissions.”
Brown: There’s work to be done, to scale up carbon capture to the level you would be able to use it on a power generation plant. We don’t want to stop building the Kingsnorth station until everything is ready. We build Kingsnorth, and then, at the earliest possible date, we’d retrofit it with carbon capture and storage.

Presenter: Simon Lewis, would you be in favour of building this coal-fired power station if we could capture the carbon we were emitting?
Lewis: If we could, but the proposal for Kingsnorth is just for an unabated coal-fired power station, which is why it’s causing all the fuss. I’m personally not against experiments to reduce emissions. They’re essential. But if we want to test a carbon capture and storage unit at 300 megawatts, which is what the proposal from the government is, then we should build one at 300 megawatts, and not a plant that’s five times the size. To emit six million tons of carbon dioxide every year - the amount a country like Costa Rica or Cameroon emits in a whole year - that’s really unacceptable at this time.

Presenter: So is the issue really just one about sequencing? One of you is saying “We need to get the carbon capture first, before we licence the station”, and the other saying “Look, let’s start building the station and then sort out the carbon capture later”. Simon, is that what it’s all about?
Lewis: If one of the richest countries in the world can’t stop using the most polluting fuel to produce electricity, which is what the Kingsnorth proposal is to do, then how are we going to get an international agreement on climate change that’s due to be signed in Copenhagen next year?

Presenter: David Brown, do you want to answer that point?
Brown: Agreements are all very well, but we need to keep the lights on, we need the technology rolled out quickly, and above all we need the people - the chemical engineers – who will implement this technology. We need more of them, and fast.

Presenter: Your colleagues. Well Simon Lewis, we’ve heard the phrase “Keep the lights on” quite a bit this week. What’s your proposal for keeping the lights on if we don’t build Kingsnorth and the other stations like it.
Lewis: It’s fairly straightforward. If we meet the energy efficiency commitments of the government, and if we meet the renewable energy commitments of the government, then the third stage is to use the cleanest fossil fuels in the most efficient way, which is gas, where we capture both the heat and the power it produces, then we don’t need these new plants to fill the energy gap.

Presenter: I heard some “ifs” there. I mean, if we hit the government renewable target, how much will power, how much will electricity cost? It’ll be quite expensive, won’t it? They are quite challenging targets. Quite a few people think there’s no hope of meeting them.
Lewis: They certainly are challenging, but we need to meet them. We have to remember this is about energy security, but climate change is also a serious security issue, a threat greater than global terrorism, according to David King. We really have to get our priorities straight here. We need social policies to keep fuel prices low for those who can’t afford them, but we need to keep a stable climate. As Jim Hansen says, who is chief scientist at NASA on climate change: “You know, this decision on Kingsnorth is at a political tipping point” because if we don’t say no to unabated coal here, then how can we say anything to China, India or anyone else. No one will respect the UK’s opinion, and it’s essential we get a global agreement on climate change.

Presenter: David Brown, finally, your comment on the idea that we should not be building coal-fired stations, but we should look to renewable energy to fill the gap.
Brown: It’s not either/or. We need all the energy components we can get. We’ve pushed in the chemical engineering community, for a wide mix of renewables, of new nuclear, of clean coal, of carbon capture and storage, we need the lot…

Presenter: If we meet the targets, we don’t need to build Kingsnorth, if we meet the renewable target?
Brown: It is incredibly risky to rest all our hopes on renewables. Renewables are intermittent, they are not going to provide the energy capacity we need to replace a third of the UK’s generation within the next decade. So we need all the sources we can get. It’s not an either/or choice.

The full debate can be heard at http://tinyurl.com/peacenews002

Topics: Climate Change