May 12, 2008

Protestors Say No! To New Coal

On 1 May, 2008, students and other activists at the University of Warwick protested against E.ON’s plans to build a new coal power station at the Kingsnorth site in Kent. Members of the People and Planet network were joined by others interested in the cause, and members of the local group The Rising Tide in marching from the centre of the campus to E.ON’s national headquarters, located on the edge of the university in Westwood Business Park.

E.ON Protest

In a statement released by the organisers they state: “In our view, the issue is very simple: climate change is a fact, and burning fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) for energy provision is a vast contributing factor to this, accounting for about 86% of global energy production. The UK is also obliged, under EU energy policy, to source 20% of its energy from renewable sources. For all these reasons, it seems very short-sighted and unreasonable to be investing large sums of money (£1.7 billion for Kingsnorth alone) when attention should be focussing on making renewables more efficient and wide-spread. E.ON claims that the replacement of the existing Kingsnorth coal power plant will be fitted with carbon capturing technology, which will enable it to store the emissions underground. However, research into carbon capturing is only at the trial stage and solutions will probably not be deployable until the 2020’s.”

With all this in mind, the protestors gathered at noon in the Piazza, Warwick’s central square, where they erected two 12-foot model power station chimneys. The 50-60 protestors marched across campus, chanting and handing out information leaflets, gaining momentum and attracting a lot of attention from a student population that is currently much more concerned with revising for impending summer examinations. Upon reaching the E.ON building at the far end of the business park, the group continued chanting and the staged a game “catch the carbon”. This was a playful reference to E.ON’s claims that the emissions from the coal power station would be negligible with its new carbon capturing technology, which will supposedly be able to “store the carbon underground” (E.ON website). The game involved one person with some black balloons (the carbon emission) being chased by others with fishing nets (the carbon capture). The game concluded after several rounds that the carbon capturing technology was unfit for purpose at present, thus demonstrating what the protestors were there for in the first instance.

Carbon Capture Technology

After enquiring whether he could have a statement from an E.ON member of staff, Alex Fowles, an organiser of the protest, was joined by Emily Highmore, E.ON’s senior press officer. When asked why E.ON was supporting a new set of coal power stations, she reasoned that it was their duty as energy providers to maintain a low price and a constant supply of electricity to homes and businesses. It was for the same reason that E.ON opposed a public enquiry into the governments impending decision about whether it should support E.ON’s plans. She further quoted E.ON’s commitment to an “energy mix”, in which renewable sources of energy played a part, but all in the context of guaranteeing energy supplies. She was not able to offer an explanation as to how carbon capturing was to be used if the technology was not ready yet, insisting that it would be installed from day one.

Overall, it is probably safe to say that the protest itself will probably not impact greatly on E.ON’s and the government’s decision-making processes. However, as part of the bigger movement of events, such as a protest outside parliament on April 1, and the Camp for Climate Action in August to be held at Kingsnorth, and a planned meeting with the University’s MP, Warwick University’s People and Planet society have great hope that it will have raised awareness and made their contribution to the ever louder growing voices saying “No!” to an “unsustainable and short-sighted” energy policy.

Alex Fowles
Hannah Smith

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