Environmental groups have accused the government of going “backwards”, after ministers delayed plans to introduce an Environmental Performance Standard (EPS) for power companies.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats backed the introduction of the EPS while in opposition. But the government has now said that the EPS will not form part of this autumn’s Energy Bill, as had been expected.
By restricting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the EPS was intended to encourage power companies to develop more environmental technology. This was expected to prevent the opening of new coal-fired power stations.
The Environment Secretary Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat, insisted that the government is “moving as quickly as possible”. He said that a white paper would be introduced to Parliament next year.
"We are shocked that the Government has gone backwards on plans for a tough environmental performance standard that would have stopped more dirty coal-fired power stations being built,” said Mike Childs, Head of Climate at Friends of the Earth.
In response to criticism, Huhne insisted, “The view that this might raise the possibility of new coal-fired power stations ‘slipping through the system’ is ludicrous. We consider planning applications thoroughly and will not allow any new coal power station to be built unless equipped with carbon capture and storage”.
He added, “an EPS on its own is not a magic bullet to decarbonise our economy”.
But Childs suggested that the government decision sent out the wrong message. "If the government fails to make it clear that polluting coal power stations cannot be built in this country, we will go back to the bad old days of being the Dirty Man of Europe,” he said.
Friends of the Earth reminded the government that its own advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, has repeatedly said that the UK's power generation needs to be virtually carbon-free by the 2020s if the UK is to meet its targets under the Climate Change Act.
“Shifting to renewables would also provide energy security and create tens of thousands of green jobs,” added Childs.
Joss Garman, Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace, accused both Liberal Democrats and Tories of a “U-turn”.
She pointed out, "David Cameron made the introduction of new rules to stop the most polluting power stations one of his flagship green policies, and Nick Clegg helped ensure it was a key part of the coalition agreement”.