British "dash for gas" gets new lease of life

Lifting of government "moratorium" on new gas power stations criticised by CHP industry

The UK government today reopened the possibility of significant extension of natural gas-fired power generation by lifting a two-year "moratorium" on building of new plants. The move could herald further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from the UK power sector if coal-fired capacity is replaced, but has been heavily criticised by the combined heat and power (CHP) industry.

Introduced in 1998, the controls on new gas-fired capacity were designed to protect Britain's dwindling coal industry. The policy marked a break in a massive "dash for gas" which largely enabled a 26% cut in electricity industry carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions between 1990 and 1997. The UK's overall progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has to a large degree depended on this trend.

The government now says that EU approval for a new aid scheme for the coal industry - also announced today - plus near finalisation of new electricity trading rules to be implemented next spring, mean that gas station controls are no longer needed. The industry ministry announced approval for six new schemes totalling 3,500 megawatts (MW) of capacity.

Twenty seven new gas plants were in fact approved during the moratorium, but 22 of these were for CHP cogeneration whereas none of the six stations approved today will be CHP. The UK's CHP Association has reacted angrily, saying that 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions could have been avoided if CHP had been required. The government's target for increasing CHP capacity to 10,000 MW electric "now appears even less likely to be met," it added.

Follow Up:
UK industry ministry, tel: +44 20 72 15 50 00; CHP Association, tel: +44 20 78 28 40 77.

Correction: 16/11/00 The UK government actually cleared applications for seven new combined cycle gas turbine power stations rather than six as we reported here, with a combined capacity of 4,840 megawatts rather than 3,500.

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