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After 115 years, Scotland is coal-free

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Climate Progress

For nearly 50 years the Longannet power station in Scotland burned coal for energy. The plant, the last of its kind in Scotland, closed Thursday.

For nearly 50 years the Longannet power station in Scotland burned coal for energy. The plant, the last of its kind in Scotland, closed Thursday.

After some 115 years, Scotland has burned its last lump of coal for electricity.

The Longannet power station, the last and largest coal-fired power plant in Scotland, ceased operations last Thursday. What once was the largest coal plant in Europe shut down after 46 years before the eyes of workers and journalists, who gathered in the main control room.

“Ok, here we go,” said one worker moments before pressing a bright red button that stopped the coal-fired turbines that generated electricity for a quarter of Scottish homes.


Longannet’s closure comes as Scotland, a country of some 5 million people, aims to have enough renewable energy to power 100 percent of its electricity demand by 2020. And while Europe has lowered its investment in renewables recently, Scotland seems well on its way to meeting its green energy goals.

Renewable electricity output has more than doubled since 2007 and is equivalent to half of the electricity consumed. This surge in renewables follows a massive investment in onshore and offshore wind, which has established Scotland as a renewable energy leader in the region. In fact, Scotland’s largest wind farm is also the largest in the United Kingdom. Whitelee Windfarm near Glasgow has a 539-megawatt capacity and generates enough electricity to power just under 300,000 homes.

The end of Longannet was long expected. Two years ago, Scottish Power, which owns Longannet, said regulations made the plant too costly to operate. According to the Guardian, the plant bowed to a mixture of old age, rising transmission costs and higher carbon taxes. The energy burden will now fall on the shoulders of nuclear and gas plants, as well as renewable energy, particularly wind farms.

“Coal has long been the dominant force in Scotland’s electricity generation fleet, but the closure of Longannet signals the end of an era,” Hugh Finlay, generation director at Scottish Power, told the Guardian. No decisions have been made on what will be done with the site, though several proposals are under discussion, including one that would make Longannet a center for renewable energy expertise. Scottish Power said they will outline a plan before the end of the year.

For their part, local environmentalists welcomed the end of Longannet, noting the station burned around 4.5 million metric tons of coal a year, and was responsible for a fifth of Scotland’s climate change emissions. “For a country which virtually invented the Industrial Revolution, this is a hugely significant step, marking the end of coal and the beginning of the end for fossil fuels in Scotland,” Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said in a statement. With the closure of Longannet, the only major fossil fuel plant in Scotland is a gas plant at Peterhead, in the northeast.

In the United States, the Sierra Club also praised the plant’s closure. “Scotland is done with coal,” Maura Cowley, director of the Sierra Club’s International Climate and Energy Campaign, said in a statement. “The U.S. is moving beyond coal with 232 plants announced for retirement, and just today China announced new measures to stop unnecessary new coal plants.”

Indeed, China’s National Energy Administration ordered 13 provincial governments to stop approving new coal-fired power plants until the end of 2017, according to published reports. Yet even approved coal-fired power plants aren’t safe there, as 15 provinces were told to stop building new plants. A Greenpeace analysis says this could affect up to 250 Chinese coal plants.

Coal may be under stress in much of the world, yet the role of fossil fuels is expected to remain strong for some time, according to multiple reports. That’s despite scientists saying global emissions need to substantially drop to avoid the most dramatic effects of climate change. Renewable energy is, however, expected to continue the surge it has been enjoying. In fact, a new United Nations-backed report found that coal and gas-fired electricity generation drew less than half the investment made in solar, wind, and other renewables in 2015.

Source: Climate Progress. Reproduced with permission.

  

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  • Chris Fraser

    The Scots are killing the baseload myth. Well Done !

  • For readers interested in seeing the energy generation mix in different parts of the world (with more being added, and data audited) the following will be of interest:
    http://data.reneweconomy.com/LiveGen

    It’s our new LiveGen widget – a (big) step up on our NEM-Watch Widget focused just on Australia.

    • D. John Hunwick

      A great resource BUT does it occur to you that it can get VEERY difficult to distinguish the various colours??

      • Thanks John

        We have a number of jobs logged to help users with the proliferation of columns that the growing number of locations is causing

        Unfortunately transmission system operators, or market operators, don’t always use the same categorisations!

        Paul

    • A terrific at a glance review of the world energy, congratulations reneweconomy and the clever people that work there.

      Consider trying to break the world list into better scaled groups, for example a top 10-15 group, medium sized countries, and the remaining, smaller generators. This would enable better detail.

      I’d like to see solar PV include all solar PV: large (like Moree and Nyngan) and small (under 1MW) solar PV and rooftop and everything. It is a bit confusing having 3x solar PV columns, just make it 1.

      The -1 ‘other’ generated in QLD is curious, but I am sure programmers have their reasons, for this.

      I assume ‘SORT BY’ the column headings is coming soon? That would be sweet.

      Also a detail page to compare 2-3 countries after selecting only them?

      Keep up the great work!

      • Thanks for the compliment – we’re happy to be working in partnership with RenewEconomy to develop this as an extension to our NEM-Watch Widget.

        You’ve listed some good suggestions which we will take on board for future enhancement opportunities (currently working on some other extensions to this service that will come to light in the coming months…)

  • Rob G

    Could somebody please fax this to Josh Fredenberg’s office (I believe he still uses a fax machine and besides that I doubt his internet is fast enough…).

  • solarguy

    Best news I had all day!

  • Ian

    The Scots now need to make a huge trebuchet to fling any unused lumps of coal at the English!

  • Geoff

    well done Scotland for raising the bar and showing other countries how it’s done. next stop is gas then nuclear!

    • Mike Dill

      I think nuclear will go first, as it is very hard to stop and start, and more expensive overall. Gas will continue with peaker plants, but those will continue to be used less and less as renewables and batteries take away the peak and the so called ‘base-load’.

  • Mick Perger

    Bloody marvelous , well done ……