Britain Vows To Shut Down Coal By 2025 As It Pivots To Fracking

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Britain announced plans to close all coal-fired power plants by 2025 in a move to ditch coal and green energy for natural gas-fired electricity.

The U.K.’s Minister for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said Wednesday the country is pursuing cheaper energy options ahead of the upcoming United Nations climate summit in Paris. Britain will move away from coal and rely increasingly on natural gas-fired plants to power the nation’s grid, according to Reuters.

“It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations,” said Rudd in a statement. “Our determination to cut carbon emissions as cost effectively as possible is crystal clear and this step will make us one of the first developed countries to commit to taking coal off our system.”

Britain currently gets one-third of its electricity from coal power, but ever-tightening European Union environmental regulations are forcing coal plants to close down in the coming years. The U.K.’s plan will force coal plant operators to drastically scale back usage beginning in 2023, and fully shut down operations by 2025.

The proposal shows a new willingness within the British government to focus on economically sound energy policies over ones aimed at just the environment. The Global Warming Policy Forum heaped praise on Britain’s decision in a press release Wednesday, and noted that coal plant closures are conditional on building new gas plants within the given time frame.

“In a strong signal to the British public and the forthcoming UN climate conference in Paris the Government has announced it will from now on prioritize energy security and affordability of energy over the climate agenda,” the group said in a statement released Wednesday.

Critics of the proposal warn that moving away from coal could strain the country’s already unreliable electrical grid. Britain’s grid has become increasingly reliant on wind and solar power, reducing reliability and causing blackouts across the country. Renewable sources fluctuate with available wind and sunlight, unlike coal power which is much more flexible and dependable.

“We firmly believe that coal-fired power stations which meet rightly rigorous UK and European standards should remain an important part of the UK’s energy mix,” said a spokesman for E.ON, a German utility which operates a coal-fired plant in England, to Reuters.

The British government has committed to meeting legally binding carbon reduction targets which seek to reduce CO2 emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

“One of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas,” said Rudd.

Some environmental activists have applauded the British government’s pivot away from coal. Former Vice President Al Gore, who has been championing the U.N. climate summit, said the U.K.’s bold proposal should be a model for the world as they head to Paris.

“The UK is demonstrating the type of leadership that nations around the world must take in order to craft a successful agreement in Paris and solve the climate crisis,” said Gore.

Many in the environmental community are critical of the decision, however, arguing it will lead to more fracking in Britain. Last week, the U.K. was criticized for planned cuts to solar and wind subsidies. Environmentalists say replacing coal power with natural gas will just shift emissions from one industry to another. Gas powered plants generate roughly half the emissions that are released by coal power plants.

“Phasing out coal is essential for the climate,” Simon Bullock, senior campaigner at the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said to Reuters. “But switching from coal to gas is like an alcoholic switching from two bottles of whisky a day to two bottles of port.”

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