A new report has been published today highlighting the thirty power stations in the EU with the highest CO2 emissions. Nine of these thirty are in the UK, including our own Aberthaw. The report itself, plus additional maps and graphics, can be downloaded from this page.
In terms of polution, burning coal is just about the worst possible way of generating electricity. Coal-fired power stations are the single biggest global source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 40% of global energy production, but fully 70% of global energy sector emissions.
Burning any fossil fuel to produce electricity is bad, but burning coal is much worse than burning gas for these reasons.
• First, burning gas typically emits about 400g CO2/kWh, but burning coal typically emits 780-990g CO2/kWh (see p41 of this document).
• Second, as well as CO2, burning coal also releases nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, dust and heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic into the atmosphere, which are major causes of acid rain and ground level ozone (smog), and are associated with a range of human health problems including asthma and cancer. Although the EU has gone some way towards limiting these other emissions, they are an inherent part of burning coal.
• Third, coal is not a particularly flexible way of generating electricity in response to changes in the pattern of demand at different times of the day. This makes it (and of course nuclear) unsuitable to use alongside renewables, most of which are intermittent.
For these three reasons, we must wean ourselves away from using coal to generate electricity, especially as we can easily produce more than all the electricity we consume in Wales from renewable sources. We must be looking to close coal-fired power stations such as Aberthaw, and we must make the decision to keep the coal reserves we have left in Wales in the ground. There is no reason at all for Wales to be among the dirty countries of Europe.