The UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations will be shut by 2025 with their use restricted by 2023, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has proposed.
Ms Rudd wants more gas-fired stations to be built since relying on “polluting” coal is “perverse”.
Only if gas-fuelled power can fill the void created by closing coal-powered stations would coal plants be shut, she said.
Environmentalists are concerned little is being done to promote renewables.
Announcing the consultation, Ms Rudd said: “Frankly, it cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations.
“Let me be clear: this is not the future.
“We need to build a new energy infrastructure, fit for the 21st century.”
Former US vice president Al Gore, an active campaigner for clean energy, described the announcement as an “excellent and inspiring precedent”.
If coal power plants are able to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) before 2025, they would not be closed. CCS has long been mooted as the answer to cleaning up coal plants, but very little progress has been made in developing the technology, with just one commercial scale plant currently operating in the world.
Currently, coal provides about a quarter of the UK’s electricity, but Ms Rudd said: “We are tackling a legacy of underinvestment and ageing power stations which we need to replace with alternatives that are reliable, good value for money and help to reduce emissions.”
Ms Rudd also said investment in nuclear power was vital to the government’s policy.
“Gas is central to our energy-secure future,” she said. “So is nuclear.”
She believes that plans for new nuclear power stations, including those at Wylfa in Wales, Moorside in Cumbria and Hinkley Point in Somerset, could eventually provide almost a third of the low carbon electricity the UK needs.
The speech comes amid concerns in some quarters that the UK could suffer from blackouts as a result of short supplies, brought about in large part from the closure of a number of power stations that have come to the end of their working lives.
Tony Lodge, who has published a report on the UK’s energy needs for the free-market think tank Centre for Policy Studies, said Britain was on the verge of an “energy crisis” with electricity demand set to outstrip available supply in the near future.
However, National Grid and many experts have dismissed these concerns. The Grid says it has plenty of gas and enough electricity to get through the winter without any disruptions.