Britain is phasing out its coal-burning power plants, with the last one slated to be shuttered by 2025, if not sooner. It is a startling development for the nation that founded an industrial revolution powered by coal.
bigger than any medieval castle, with its 12 giant white cooling towers gleaming in the sun, the Drax Power Station dominates the horizon for tens of miles across the flat lands of eastern England. For four decades, it has been one of the world’s largest coal power plants, often generating a tenth of the U.K.’s electricity. It has been the lodestar for the final phase of Britain’s 250-year-long love affair with coal – the fuel that built the country’s empire and industrialized the world.
But no more.
The coal-devouring behemoth, and the endless trains of railroad wagons feeding it with fuel from coastal ports, is suddenly a relic of the past. In one of the greatest and fastest energy turnarounds in the developed world, the country that brought the world the industrial revolution – a revolution founded and sustained by burning coal – has cut the cord.
King Coal is, almost overnight, being banished from Britain.
When Drax opened for business in 1974, Britain got 80 percent of its electricity from burning coal. As recently as five years ago, the figure was 40 percent. But last year, it was 9 percent, and this summer coal supplied less than 2 percent of Britain’s electricity. On April 21, 2017, for the first time since its inception, the British power grid went 24 hours without coal.
The zing in the power lines now comes almost entirely from natural gas, nuclear, and growing networks of giant wind turbines and solar farms. The government says all of the U.K.’s remaining coal plants will be shut by 2025 – maybe sooner. Drax will live on, but only by burning biomass – mostly wood chips imported from the southern United States.