Britain's efforts to fight climate change suffered an embarrassing setback yesterday when the Government abandoned plans for the UK's first coal-fired power plant fitted with technology to capture and store carbon emissions.
The flagship project at Longannet, the huge power station on the Firth of Forth, fell apart after the consortium planning to build it, headed by ScottishPower and including Shell and the National Grid, demanded considerably more investment than the £1bn which the Government had set aside for the scheme.
The project's collapse is a blow to Britain's declared aim of being the first country with a full-scale generating plant employing carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a complex new technology which takes CO2 out of power station waste gases, liquefies it, and buries it deep underground, or in this case under the North Sea. CCS is seen as a crucial technique in reducing carbon emissions, which Britain has pledged to cut by 80 per cent by 2050.
The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, was quick to point out yesterday that CCS remained a key part of Britain's energy strategy and that the £1bn would remain available for other CCS projects.
The funding had been exempted by the Chancellor, George Osborne, from his cuts programme last year, and the collapse of the deal with ScottishPower is not seen as the Government's fault, but the delay in CCS coming on stream will add to the impression that the UK is slowing down on its efforts to tackle climate change in a time of recession.