Britain will introduce an emissions limit to effectively phase out coal-fired power stations by 2025.
The move chimes with a 2015 pledge to end “unabated” coal-fired power generation by 2025 and comes after a significant decline in the amount of energy generated by coal.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) expects one of the country’s eight remaining coal power stations to close in 2018.
Most of the remaining coal generators will cease operation by 2022 and the last ones will be forced to close in October 2025 as the new pollution standards take effect.
Ahead of a key environmental speech for Theresa May next week, BEIS laid out plans for a new emission limit of 450 grammes of CO2 for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced.
This limit allows less-polluting natural gas plants to continue operating as back-up generation, but coal plants will be forced to close unless they are fitted with carbon-capturing technology.
Phasing out coal generation has been a key Conservative party pledge on the environment for some time, but coal’s days as a viable power source have been numbered for some time.
Since Britain introduced a tax on CO2 emissions from power plants in 2013, coal-powered generation has plummeted dramatically.
Last year, coal-fired power stations made up 2% of the UK’s electricity mix – down from 9% in 2016 and 22% in 2015.
Low-carbon sources of electricity have sky-rocketed in this time. For the first time
in 2017, more than half of all the electricity generated in the UK came from renewable and nuclear energy sources.
Wind-generated more than twice as much energy as coal, supplying more power in every month except January.
Britain also had its first day of coal-free power generation for the first time since the industrial revolution in 2017.
Many of the country’s nuclear power plants are also expected to close in the late 2020s and with few new plants being built, the government has had to introduce a capacity market system to ensure that more back-up electricity is available at short notice.
“Our assessment is that the Capacity Market will ensure that there is sufficient capacity in place to replace unabated coal units when they close,” BEIS said.
But some experts have argued that the Government has given the coal industry an unnecessary lifeline by offering them additional subsidies.
Dr Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a UK-based thinktank, said: “While delivering on the top line of a 2025 closure, the government’s decision to allow coal plants to compete in the capacity market on equal footing until then looks like something of a missed opportunity.”
Others have argued that the Government needs to go further if it is to meet its legally binding climate reduction target by 2050.
Sam Bright, an energy lawyer at ClientEarth, said the Government should seek to eliminate gas-fired power plants on a similar scale to coal power stations.
“The Government has kept to its commitment to phase out unabated coal generation by 2025, but we aren't convinced that this alone merits its claims to global leadership. Not only are other countries imposing more ambitious sunset dates, we are concerned that the door is left wide open for investments in new, long-term gas capacity, locking us into another generation of fossil fuel power,” he said.
“We need to see the clearest possible messages from Government on what the clean energy future will look like - beyond coal has to mean beyond gas too,” he added.