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Government keeps coal power station open to boost security, in spite of lobbying to 'consign coal to history'

The business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said an extension would help bolster supply amid uncertainty in Europe after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but dismayed climate campaigners.

Image:West Burton A and B power stations
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The British government has extended the life of a coal power plant in a bid to "bolster" energy security, even though it last year lobbied other countries to "consign coal to history".

The business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed on Twitter that the government had struck a deal with EDF to keep West Burton power station online this winter, rather than closing it down in October as planned.

Mr Kwarteng said discussions to keep two further plants open were "ongoing". Sky News understands the extension will last until March 2023, with no further extension expected beyond that.

"With uncertainty in Europe following the invasion, it's right we explore all options to bolster supply," the business secretary tweeted.

"If we have available back-up power, let's keep it online just in case. I'm not taking chances.

"For our long-term energy security, we're accelerating renewables and nuclear - while maximising North Sea oil and gas production," he said.

Last year as host of the COP26 climate summit the government lobbied other countries to "consign coal to history," as it is the most polluting fossil fuel.

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"Cash, coal, cars, trees", was oft repeated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a mantra summarising the UK's priorities to tackle at the international talks in Glasgow.

Since then Russia's latest invasion of Ukraine has changed the energy and geopolitical landscape significantly, shaking energy security around the world, with the European Union in particular feeling the squeeze on its gas supplies and prices.

Some hope the disruption will accelerate the shift towards renewables, as climate and geopolitical goals of getting off gas align, while others fear it will hinder climate action as countries fall back on dirty energy sources like coal.

Gas use had surged as countries searched for a replacement to highly polluting coal.

Campaigners have accused some countries of doubling down on fossil fuel production under the pretext of energy security.

"Unless the UK wants an international reputation as a hypocrite, these coal stations must lie idle unless there's a genuine emergency shortage of gas," Greenpeace UK's policy director, Doug Parr.

"Had successive Conservative governments not hamstrung onshore renewables then continually refused to remove the planning laws that still block their development to this day, maybe we wouldn't be so reliant on gas - and now potentially coal - for our electricity," he said.

He urged acceleration of renewable projects on and offshore, as well as the ramping of home insulation to cut demand.

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