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End of an era? Two large coal-fired power stations in the U.K close down on same day

Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station, Warrington, Cheshire.

Christopher Furlong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A coal-fired power station in the U.K., which had a capacity of 2,000 megawatts (MW) at its peak and could power roughly two million homes, officially closed on Tuesday.

The shutdown of Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station, which is located in Cheshire, came on the same day that another coal-fired facility, RWE’s 1,560 MW Aberthaw Power Station in Wales, also closed down.

Provisional statistics released by the U.K. government last week showed that electricity provided by coal-fired generators dropped by nearly 60% in 2019 compared to the previous year.

According to the figures, the 6.9 terawatt hours of electricity supplied from coal-fired generators in 2019 represented a record low. The latest Energy Trends report on U.K. electricity put this down to plant closures and coal-generation becoming “less economically favourable” than gas-fired generation.

On a larger scale, last December the International Energy Agency said that cheap natural gas had “shattered coal’s competitiveness in the European Union in 2019.”

The U.K. government is aiming to remove coal from Britain’s energy system by 2025. It recently announced it would consult on moving that deadline to October 1, 2024. According to the government, Britain’s reliance on coal for electricity has fallen from 70% in 1990 to under 3% today.

Changing times

Fiddler’s Ferry commenced full operations in 1973 and was energy firm SSE’s last coal-fired power station. The firm closed the site’s first unit in March 2019.

In November, the company confirmed that the remaining three units would also close, noting that the facility’s financial performance had “deteriorated to unsustainable levels, with losses of around £40 million ($49.5 million) in SSE’s last financial year.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday Stephen Wheeler, SSE Thermal’s managing director, described the closure of Fiddler’s Ferry as a “landmark moment” for the company.

“It’s made a huge contribution to the local area, but it’s the right thing to do as the U.K. continues to move to cleaner ways of producing energy and take action on climate change,” he added.

The closure of Fiddler’s Ferry comes after energy firm Drax confirmed in February that coal-fired electricity production at Drax Power Station, the U.K.’s largest power plant, was expected to end in March 2021.

The U.K. is not unique in shifting away from using coal. In January, Germany’s federal government and the four German states where lignite – or brown coal – is mined agreed on “a way forward” to phase out coal-fired power stations.

In an announcement at the time, the federal government said it would provide 40 billion euros (around $44 billion) to the federal states affected by the transition.

In addition, it said operators of power plants would be provided with 4.35 billion euros across the next 15 years to compensate for the shutting down of their facilities.

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