Britain, birthplace of coal power, has first coal-free week in over a century

It plans to wean itself completely by 2025

LONDON — Britain, the birthplace of coal power, has gone seven days without electricity from coal-fired stations for the first time since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the country's power grid operator said on Wednesday.

Britain was home to the world's first coal-fueled power plant in the 1880s, and coal was its dominant electricity source and a major economic driver for the next century.

However, coal plants emit almost double the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) — a heat-trapping gas blamed for global warming — as gas-fired power plants, and were moved out of Britain's cities starting in the late 1950s to reduce air pollution.

As part of efforts to meet its climate target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared with 1990 levels in the next three decades, Britain plans to wean itself completely off coal-fired power generation by 2025.

Low power prices and levies on CO2 emissions have also made it increasingly unprofitable to run coal plants, especially when wind and solar power production are high.

The National Grid, Britain's power transmission network, said coal-free runs like the one this week would become a regular occurrence as more renewable energy entered the system.

Britain's independent climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, last week recommended that it deepen its climate target to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This would require even more renewable electricity production, an earlier phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars, and lifestyle changes such as lower beef and lamb consumption.

Britain's last deep-cast coal mine closed in North Yorkshire in 2015, marking the end of an era for an industry once employing 1.2 million people in nearly 3,000 collieries.

"Just a few years ago we were told Britain couldn't possibly keep the lights on without burning coal," said Doug Parr, policy director at environmental activist group Greenpeace.

"Now coal is quickly becoming an irrelevance, much to the benefit of our climate and air quality, and we barely notice it."

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sounded the death knell for the industry in the mid-1980s when she defeated a bitter year-long miners' strike against plans to close collieries and eliminate jobs.

Last year the government rejected plans from Banks Mining to develop a new coal mine in northeastern England on the grounds it could hamper efforts to curb climate change.

However, the company won a High Court challenge to fight the decision and the application is now back with the current local government minister, James Brokenshire.

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