With trumpeting and fanfares from the government, some of the press and even green groups, Ed Milliband the UK’s ‘Climate Change’ Secretary announced the construction of up to four new coal-fired power stations, but with the proviso that each must capture a ’substantial’ amount of the CO2 generated (estimated at around 25%) and store it underground. He also made it clear that no coal-fired power stations will be built in the future without carbon capture.

This obviously does represent a step, if not a leap forwards, and puts the UK in a leadership position in this area, but I can’t help questioning how much it will contribute to actually reducing the UK’s CO2 emissions, especially in the short term? The issue is with the phrase ’substantial’, which I would normally have expected to mean at least over 50%, but actually means between 20% and 25%. Apparently it is just not possible to capture 100% of emissions from the get-go as the technology has not yet been proven. According to Mr Milliband, ‘2025 is a practical’.

I am supposing that these new power stations will be replacing older, less-efficient ones, so that even without CCS each one would not represent a 100% additional weight on the UK’s CO2 emissions. However, I am struggling to understand how, even with the predicted 25% of CO2 collected, these plans can constitute anything but an increase in emissions between now and 2025, when we hope that 100% can be collected. If the glummest of doomsayers are right, this is not a good thing, as we need to be focusing everything we do on reducing emissions every year, and can’t allow for any further increases.

Conclusion? It’s a huge step forward to see the government insisting on and investing in new, CO2 reduction solutions, but the question has to be asked: could the estimated £4 billion of investment (not including further increases in fuel bills) be better spent on zero-emissions energy solutions? To me it’s a step-forward in thinking, but we are no nearer the desired results.