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UK Coal: Which power stations are still operating and what’s happening to them?

UK coal is nearing an end after the government's announcement earlier this year to stop all coal-fired power stations from operating by 2025, a move which will result in thousands of job losses but set Britain on a path towards a renewable economy. At the time, there were eight plants still in operation but what will happen to them?

The UK coal industry dates back to the Roman times but it has been in terminal decline for decades.

In the past five years, the use of coal power, mainly for electricity, has collapsed - falling from 157 million tonnes of consumption in 1970 to 18 million tonnes in 2016.

In 2012, coal power provided two-fifths of electricity but this year it has supplied less than 6%.

For the first time since the industrial revolution, the UK went a day without coal in 2017, and this year it managed three days in a row. A milestone was reached today (13 July) when the country was powered without the polluting fuel for 1,000 hours in total.

UK coal’s decline is bad news for the thousands of people employed by a sector closely tied with the economies of the North of England, Midlands, Scotland and Wales, but it has been welcomed by green groups who say it harms the environment and want to see a transition to clean energy.

Now, after several decades of uncertainty, the future of UK coal has been rubber-stamped after the government confirmed it will shut its remaining coal-fired power stations by 2025, with their use restricted by 2023.

When the announcement was made in January, there were eight coal power stations in use but already two of those have shut down.

More will follow, although a handful will convert to produce greener energy. Here we look at the status of the eight plants.

It is expected to slowly decrease before the end of the year, as two more UK coal power plants are due to close in September, leaving six.

As the end of coal nears, here’s what the future holds for them.


UK coal: Aberthaw B power station

The 1,725-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station was designed to burn semi-anthracite, low-volatile coal - a fuel that gives the most energy and has the least pollution.

Aberthaw, in South Wales, opened in 1971 at a cost of more than £50m. As of February 2017, it employed 235 people, plus contractors, and can generate around 1,555MW of electricity.

This is enough power to meet the needs of about three million households.

The power station consists of three 575MW sub-critical units and runs for 24 hours a day, with its employees working across four shifts.

In 2013, Aberthaw B used 3.5 million tonnes of coal and, in 2017, it was awarded a £10m state subsidy to produce electricity for a single year.

In addition, it announced a change to its operating regime, which will focus on ensuring secure capacity is available when needed but with lower energy generation operations.

Energy firm RWE plans to continue operations until an unspecified date in the 2020s, saying the government’s coal policy has no impact on its intentions.


UK coal: Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station

The coal-fired power station owned and operated by German utility company Uniper is located in Nottinghamshire, and has previously claimed to be the cleanest coal plant in the UK.

The 2GW plant was opened in 1968 by the Central Electricity Generating Board.

By 1981, it was burning around 5.5 million tonnes of coal a year, consuming 65% of the output of South Nottinghamshire’s coal mines.

Now, it emits between eight and ten million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, making it the 18th highest CO2 releasing power station in Europe.

No announcements have been made on the station’s potential future uses or whether it will close, but Uniper suggested in 2016 that it wants to keep it running beyond 2025.

UK coal


UK coal: West Burton power stations

The first of the two West Burton’s power stations was commissioned in 1968.

It wasn’t until 2013 when the second, which is a combined cycle gas turbine power station, began generating electricity.

Both stations, in North Nottinghamshire, are owned and operated by EDF Energy, a subsidiary of the French company EDF.

West Burton A, which supplies 2,000MW of power to the national grid, employs about 250 staff and 175 contractors, while there are about 50 employees plus contractors at West Burton B, which has a 1,332MW output.

The power stations, which feature a 200m chimney, are located within a deserted medieval village.

They provide electricity for two million people within the National Grid, like most similar sized coal power stations, via a transformer and substation at 400 kilovolts (KV).

Last month, a 49MW battery storage facility was opened at the B plant. It was an indication that EDF, which says it has no intention to close its stations, could convert the site for renewable energy generation.


UK coal: Fiddlers Ferry power station

The coal-fired power station is located in Cheshire, North West England, very close to popular tourist attractions the Peak Districk and Pennines.

The eight 114m-high cooling towers and 200m chimney is now a prominent landmark.

It opened in 1971 with a generating capacity of 1,989MW.

The station generates electricity using four 500MW generating sets, it consumes 195 million litres of water every day from the River Mersey and about 16,000 tonnes of coal is burnt every day.

The station is currently operated by various companies, since the privatisation of the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1990.

One of the companies is Scottish and South Energy plc (SSE), which took over operations in 2004 after buying the station for £136m.

SSE secured a £350m contract for the station to provide electricity to a combined cycle gas turbine station in Keadby, North Lincolnshire, that runs until September this year.

Beyond that, it’s future is uncertain. Staff numbers have already been on the decline, dropping from 213 last year to 160 in March this year.


UK coal: Cottam power station

Cottam has two power stations. The larger station, which was commissioned in 1969 by the Central Electricity Generating Board is coal-fired.

It generates a capacity of about 2,000 MW and is now owned by EDF Energy, employing  220 permanent staff and 175 contractors.

The smaller station is Cottam Development Centre, a combined cycle gas turbine plant launched in 1999.

It produced a capacity of 400MW and is now owned by Uniper.

Both plants are based near Retford, in North Nottinghamshire.

Since 1968, Cottam has generated 482 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity.

In more recent years, it has also used 845,000 tonnes of biomass, representing a CO2 saving of 1.2 million tonnes.

The four operational units have been started 12,637 times, and operated for more than one million hours.

EDF Energy, which runs two coal-fired stations in the UK, has no plans to close them.

It says it will continue to operatethe plants while it remains safe and economic to do so, and to contribute to security of supply during the transition to a decarbonised generation mix.

UK coal: Kiltoot power station

Kilroot power station was a coal and oil power station based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The plant was commissioned in 1981 solely as an oil burning station, but later converted to dual fuel firing with coal.

The station generated 520MW of electricity from dual coal and oil-fuelled generators, with around 140MW using four gas turbines and 10MW of battery energy storage.

Kilroot, which was owned by Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), closed in May 2018 after it failed to win a major contract under the Single Electricity Market (SEM).

About 270 employees lost their jobs as a result.


UK coal: Eggborough power station

The most recent power station to close was North Yorkshire’s Eggborough.

It was a large coal-fired power station capable of co-firing biomass.

The station had a capacity of 1,960 megawatts, which could power two million homes.

After opening in 1966, it began generating electricity a year later.

The station comprised of four 500MW coal-fired units, giving it a total electrical output of 1,960MW.

In August 2016, it proposed to develop a new Eggborough gas-fired power station on the same location as the existing coal-fired station, but two years later it was shut down.