After some 115 years, Scotland has burned its last lump of coal for electricity.
The Longannet power station, the last and largest coal-fired power plant in Scotland, ceased operations Thursday. What once was the largest coal plant in Europe shut down after 46 years before the eyes of workers and journalists, who gathered in the main control room.
“Ok, here we go,” said one worker moments before pressing a bright red button that stopped the coal-fired turbines that generated electricity for a quarter of Scottish homes.
— ScottishPower (@ScottishPower) March 24, 2016
Longannet’s closure comes as Scotland, a country of some 5 million people, aims to have enough renewable energy to power 100 percent of its electricity demand by 2020. And while Europe has lowered its investment in renewables recently, Scotland seems well on its way to meeting its green energy goals. Renewable electricity output has more than doubled since 2007 and is equivalent to half of the electricity consumed. This surge in renewables follows a massive investment in onshore and offshore wind, which has established Scotland as a renewable energy leader in the region. In fact, Scotland’s largest wind farm is also the largest in the United Kingdom. Whitelee Windfarm near Glasgow has a 539-megawatt capacity and generates enough electricity to power just under 300,000 homes.
The end of Longannet was long expected. Two years ago, Scottish Power, which owns Longannet, said regulations made the plant too costly to operate. According to the Guardian, the plant bowed to a mixture of old age, rising transmission costs and higher carbon taxes. The energy burden will now fall on the shoulders of nuclear and gas plants, as well as renewable energy, particularly wind farms.
“Coal has long been the dominant force in Scotland’s electricity generation fleet, but the closure of Longannet signals the end of an era,” Hugh Finlay, generation director at Scottish Power, told the Guardian. No decisions have been made on what will be done with the site, though several proposals are under discussion, including one that would make Longannet a center for renewable energy expertise. Scottish Power said they will outline a plan before the end of the year.
For their part, local environmentalists welcomed the end of Longannet, noting the station burned around 4.5 million metric tons of coal a year, and was responsible for a fifth of Scotland’s climate change emissions. “For a country which virtually invented the Industrial Revolution, this is a hugely significant step, marking the end of coal and the beginning of the end for fossil fuels in Scotland,” Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said in a statement. With the closure of Longannet, the only major fossil fuel plant in Scotland is a gas plant at Peterhead, in the northeast.
In the United States, the Sierra Club also praised the plant’s closure. “Scotland is done with coal,” Maura Cowley, director of the Sierra Club’s International Climate and Energy Campaign, said in a statement. “The U.S. is moving beyond coal with 232 plants announced for retirement, and just today China announced new measures to stop unnecessary new coal plants.”
Indeed, China’s National Energy Administration ordered 13 provincial governments to stop approving new coal-fired power plants until the end of 2017, according to published reports. Yet even approved coal-fired power plants aren’t safe there, as 15 provinces were told to stop building new plants. A Greenpeace analysis says this could affect up to 250 Chinese coal plants.
Coal may be under stress in much of the world, yet the role of fossil fuels is expected to remain strong for some time, according to multiple reports. That’s despite scientists saying global emissions need to substantially drop to avoid the most dramatic effects of climate change. Renewable energy is, however, expected to continue the surge it has been enjoying. In fact, a new United Nations-backed report found that coal and gas-fired electricity generation drew less than half the investment made in solar, wind, and other renewables in 2015.