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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Decision time

There have been widespread fears for some time that the Large Combustion Plants Directive, which will force the shutdown of nine oil and coal-fired power plants by 2015, will raise the possibility of blackouts in Britain.

A survey of energy experts by the BBC has reconfirmed this fear. Although the shutdown of such a large amount of coal capacity obviously does raise the risk of the lights going out, what is most likely to happen is the rapid construction of new gas plants (which can be brought online in just a few years) to fill the generation gap. But even higher gas dependency is in itself bad news for energy security and the availability of cheap power.

Whatever happens, it is pretty clear that this Directive is a huge problem for the UK's already strained energy infrastructure.

At a conference yesterday organised in Brussels by the Major Energy Users Council, many participants were deeply concerned over the Large Combustion Plant Directive, raising the question of whether the British government should refuse to comply with the directive, or perhaps negotiate a special dispensation.

One important point that arose was that, although the Directive works towards a 2015 deadline, the British Government will have to make a decision very soon indeed if it wants to try and go down this route.

This is because, as a result of the LCPD, power generation companies are unlikely to invest to maintain the plants in the run-up to 2015, and may even begin to 'cannibalise' parts of the equipment. This means that the damage to UK coal plants may already have been done within a few years, meaning that they will not be able to stay open in any scenario - even if the Government attempted to withdraw from the LCPD in three or four years time.

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