UK climate protesters await coal showdown with E.ON

KINGSNORTH (Reuters) - Armed with compost toilets, solar panels and vegan food, around 700 activists are preparing to disrupt a coal-fired power station in England on Saturday in a protest against plans for two new units.

The new coal facilities, at Kingsnorth in Kent in southern England, will be operated by German utility E.ON, which manages the site’s existing coal-fired power station, and will be Britain’s first coal power plant for 30 years.

“The idea is people from this camp will head down to the power station and, using various peaceful methods, will close it down for the day,” Stephen Milligan, a Climate Camp organizer and Environmental Researcher said on Tuesday.

The climate camp, which resembles a music festival but with climate change workshops and discussions replacing live musicians, wants to disrupt output at the existing coal power station to make a stand against the use of fossil fuels.

The protesters say coal emits unacceptably high levels of carbon dioxide, the gas held responsible for climate change.

They are not convinced by E.ON’s assurances its emissions will be cleaner than currently, or by its hopes eventually to bury the plant’s emissions underground using so-far commercially unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.


“We’ve been doing our best to go round the villages and talk to people ... we’re planning to disrupt the power station, not the local people,” Milligan added.

Of the 700 who have pitched their tents, about 30 live nearby and belong to a local group, Kingsnorth Climate Action Medway, but locals have not shown much support so far.

“It’s fluctuated but the tide is turning as people are actually realizing that we are here to protest peacefully ... numbers are going up all the time,” said Andy Rogers, a 34-year-old furniture maker who lives near Kingsnorth.

“We’ve got a petition going locally and have about 1,500 signatures,” he added.

A survey by E.ON, which plans to close the existing plant at Kingsnorth in 2015 and replace it with the new facility, has found that 57 percent of people how live nearby favor building the new unit.

But Rogers challenged the findings.

“That survey was kind of a joke really. The question to people was “do you like cleaner coal?” to which most people would answer “yes” so the survey is really a moot point,” he said.

E.ON says the Kingsnorth facility is needed to meet demand and make up for capacity that will be lost through the planned decommissioning of power stations across Britain.

“The fact of the matter is a third of British power stations are going to close in the next 10 years, we have to provide that capacity and probably a bit more,” Jonathan Smith, spokesman for E.ON, said.

He said the company wanted to fix CCS onto Kingsnorth as quickly as it became possible and stressed that the company’s energy plans for Britain also included nuclear and renewables.

“Kingsnorth is not the main plank of what we plan to do in the future, the majority of the replacement is nuclear,” he said.

E.ON operates Britain’s largest biomass power station in Scotland and runs 21 wind farms, as well as a marine power generator off the Cornish coast.

But the climate campers are as opposed to nuclear energy as to coal and say the idea of one day introducing CCS does not equate to a solution either.

“Even if one day we can make it work ... where are you going to put the (carbon)? If you think nuclear waste is a problem, CO2 has to be kept stored forever and if it escapes, bang! Good bye climate,” camp organizer Stephen Milligan said.

Reporting by Golnar Motevalli, editing by Anthony Barker