Kent's Medway Council has controversially voted in favour of building the UK's first new coal-fired power station for 24 years at Kingsnorth, near Rochester.
The application by E.ON UK proposes two new "cleaner" coal units to replace the existing station on the site, which would be supplying electricity to 1.5 million homes by 2012. The company claims its new facility would be 20 per cent cleaner than the current plant, and chief exec Paul Golby stressed it had "made a public commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by half by 2030".
Golby told BBC Radio 4 the new station "would hopefully become the UK's first clean carbon demonstration plant, with carbon captured from it and stored in depleted oil fields under the North Sea". He stressed: "This particular investment is significantly more efficient than conventional coal plants and that is equivalent to taking about half a million cars off the road."
Greenpeace has rejected these planet-hugging claims, with the organisation's communications director, Ben Stuart, slamming E.ON as "the largest polluter in Britain and being reckless in building the power station".
He described the carbon capture plan as "not viable in the first half of the 21st Century", claiming that the plant would in fact pump out 8.4 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
Stuart told the BBC: "A new generation of coal-fired power stations in the UK beginning with Kingsnorth would quite simply end any hope we have that Britain can meet its long-term climate change targets."
Since Medway Council does not have the authority to approve the application, and was simply "asked to give its views to the government", the latter will have the final say. In considering its opinion, the local authority received 9,000 objections to the plan, "more than 8,000 of them in the form of emails, postcards and letters in standard Greenpeace wording", as the BBC notes.
Whatever the eventual outcome down at Kingsnorth, environmentalists will also have to confront reported government plans for a new generation of UK nuclear power plants.
According to the Independent, Gordon Brown's first cabinet meeting of 2008 will firm up proposals next week, with an announcement to Parliament due on 7 January.
The paper quoted a "senior source" in the new UK gov Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform as saying: "Given the circumstances we will be facing over the coming years, it is inconceivable that we should prevent nuclear from being part of our energy mix." ®