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ScreenshotIt was revealed last week that the application submitted to the Energy Consents Unit by Ayrshire Power (100% Peel owned) for a new coal-fired power station on Scotland’s West Coast, is riddled with errors mostly to do with its estimated captured carbon emissions and imports to the Clydeport coal terminal (also owned by Peel). With the application in, Communities Opposed to New Coal at Hunterston are gearing up for a show-down with the company as the consultation period approaches.

Counting Carbon

The NGO’s have jumped on a series of errors in Ayrshire Power’s application, saying that the technical expertise that Dong took away with them when they pulled out of the partnership with Peel is showing. This power station will be the first to be built in the UK after Westminster and Holyrood brought in new regulations. The company claims that 25% of the new plant’s CO2 emissions will be caught by its carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment when it begins operations, and aims to have nearly all of its CO2 emissions (90%) captured by CCS within five years of the technology being proven.

From the Guardian:

Dr Richard Dixon, the director of WWF Scotland, said his analysis of the planning application suggested that Hunterston would only initially capture up to 22% of its carbon emissions.

The firm’s project description states it will capture 327MW equivalent of CO2 when it first starts operation, while the electricity sent to the grid would total 1,625MW – 20.1%.

There were other errors in the planning application, Dixon said. It mistook kilograms for grams in its “CO2 emissions study”. In one passage, it gave the carbon intensity of overall UK electricity supplies as 560kg per kilowatt hour rather than 560g/kwh. It also gave confusing and apparently contradictory figures on the number of bulk container ships bringing in coal and biomass fuel from abroad.

It said there were either 40 ships or 40 shipping movements involving biomass fuel. Dixon said a shipping movement was a one-way trip either in or out of port, so 40 shipping movements would involve just 20 ships. On coal deliveries, it talked about 40 ships docking each year in one part of the document, leading to 80 shipping movements, and 40 shipping movements in another.

Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said

it was very surprising the errors identified in the application had not been picked up by Scottish government officials in the “gatekeeping” document verification stage before Ayrshire Power filed its planning application.

“It’s surely indicative that this is a small organisation relying on other people for the data and figures,” he said. “If this application shows such gross errors, then the Scottish government should’ve just said ‘go away’.”

Ayrshire Power refused to respond directly to these criticisms, but said in a statement it was “100% committed to the use of carbon capture and storage technology.”

22% however, is still going to be an over-estimate. And the fact that they say 90% will be captured 5 years after the technology is proven is a convenient get out clause, as if the technology ever does exist, its still a good 15 years away. Will 90%, twenty years from now be good enough? Nowhere near.

Coal Action Scotland reported last year on the realistic estimates from CCS technology, after the 90% reduction figure was so liberally banded about by David Miliband. Carbon capture and storage itself consumes a huge amount of energy, anything from 10 to 40% of the energy produced by a fossil-fuel power station.

The German Aerospace Center in Stuttgart estimate that at best CCS will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power stations by little more than two-thirds and compares that with life-cycle emissions for most renewable energy technologies that are 1 to 4% of those from burning coal.

But even this seemingly more honest estimate is probably far too optimistic. Owen Jordan says that methane, CO2 and carbon monoxide emissions start as soon as the overburden above the coal seams is stripped away, way before the coal reaches the power station. Conservative estimates suggest that these gases alone account for about twice the emissions of the burning of the coal mined.

Worse still, 98% of what is dug out in an opencast coal mine is not coal, but perhaps 25 per cent (at least 10 times the amount of coal extracted) will be shale and mudstone with a carbon content of up to 50 per cent. This cannot be burned, because of its high ash content, but it still oxidises if exposed to air.

Another conservative estimate is that this carbon source has the potential to emit three or four times as much CO2 as the mined coal.

And it doesn’t stop there – the energy used by diggers, trucks and trains to extract coal and transport it to the power station may take up to a quarter of the energy the coal produces at the power plant, and none of these emissions disappears when the CCS kit is bolted on. Scottish Coal say that 21,000 litres of diesel are used per week by HGV’s when the Mainshill Open Cast Coal Site alone.

Jordan points out that carbon capture at the point of combustion is merely a dangerous distraction, as most of coal’s short-term greenhouse gas emissions are methane and most of coal’s carbon emissions are long-term, from disturbed strata and spoil dumps.

The conclusion? Taking all of the above into account, capture of CO2 at power stations would therefore amount to a maximum of 5-10% of the emissions from the process of mining and burning coal.

Jordan had this to say about Kingsnorth: “it does not matter whether Kingsnorth’s new generation capacity is fitted with carbon capture, since most of the greenhouse gas emissions from coal (about 90%) occur at the mine or in the delivery system.”

Exactly the same can be said about Hunterston – CCS technology won’t make any significant reductions to carbon emissions and is merely a smokescreen allowing them to keep profiting from coal. So what will those 22%, or even 25% figures really turn out to be? Maybe one or two % of total emissions. Calculate again, Peel.

CONCH Public Meeting

on Monday 28th June at 7.45pm CONCH will be hosting an open public meeting to mobilise against the new power station plans.

The meeting will take place at West Kilbride Village Hall, Arthur Street, West Kilbride

Speakers confirmed so far: RSPB, Dr Mandy Meikle and local residents from Largs, Fairlie and West Kilbride.

Additonal Speakers being arranged on energy issues and health impact of coal.

Information Stalls from WDM Scotland, RSPB, CONCH, Heal the Earth Ayrshire, Coal Action Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust.

For more information, see the CONCH website here.

CONCH Briefing Paper on the application – click here

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