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Britain gets no power from coal for 'first time on record'

Coal plants are increasingly unprofitable to run CREDIT: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS

Coal plants are increasingly unprofitable to run CREDIT: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS

Published on The Telegraph website on the 10th May 2016

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Britain generated no electricity from coal on Tuesday morning for what is believed to be the first time since the 19th century, in a major milestone in the decline of the polluting power source.

National Grid confirmed that none of Britain’s coal stations were running between midnight and 4am. Experts from Argus Media and Carbon Brief said they believed this was the first time there had been no coal running since the era of central electricity generation began with the construction of the UK’s first coal plant in 1882.

Coal was Britain’s biggest power source as recently as 2013 but is becoming increasingly unprofitable due to the carbon tax and low gas prices that favour burning gas, and the expansion of subsidised renewable sources like wind power.

The UK Government has announced plans to phase coal out entirely by 2025.

Jon Ferris, of Utilitywise, said that the “complete absence of coal generation in the UK for the first time in the electricity era” marked a “paradigm shift” that would have been “unthinkable” even two years ago when oil and gas prices were high.

As a result of the poor economics for coal, many plants are now shut down for maintenance over summer months.

It also emerged that on Monday evening National Grid was forced to issue an urgent call for more electricity to keep the lights on after a series of coal and gas power plant breakdowns and the partial failure of a power import cable.One plant was paid £1,250/MWh – more than 30 times the usual price of power – after the Grid issued the “Notification of Inadequate System Margin” (Nism) requesting more electricity be generated between 7pm and 9.30pm.

A Nism alert has not been issued in summer months since 2008 as the warm weather means power demand is normally lower.But the combination of the large number of coal and gas power plants shut down for maintenance, the series of unplanned shutdowns and wind power being lower than expected together forced Grid to take the unusual step.Peter Atherton, analyst at Jefferies, said the decline of coal power made the UK less able to cope with unexpected shutdowns or drops in wind power output.An industry source said even if the coal plants had not broken down they would not have been profitable to run in the early hours of Tuesday, as they lost out to a combination of gas, nuclear and wind power.A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “Delivering energy security for our families and businesses is non-negotiable.”

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