By Susanna Twidale
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain wants to close all of its coal-fired power plants by 2025 and lower their output from 2023, the government said on Wednesday, making it the first major economy to put a date on shutting down polluting coal plants to curb carbon emissions.
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Changel, Amber Rudd, will set out further details in a speech later on Wednesday that will seek to encourage the building of new gas and nuclear power plants instead.
Coal-fired power plants provided around a third of Britain's electricity last year but many of the ageing plants have been due to close over the next decade due to tightening European Union environmental standards.
Now a consultation starting in the spring next year will set out proposals to close by 2025 all coal-fired power stations which are "unabated" - plants not equipped to capture and store their carbon emissions - and restrict their usage from 2023.
"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," Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd will say, according to excerpts of the speech she will deliver at the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Drax Group, operator of one of Europe's largest coal and biomass-fired power plants, could see the remaining coal units close two years earlier if the government sticks to the 2025 closure date, analysts at Jefferies said.
"By putting a specific date by which coal will be phased out, the government will naturally focus attention on security of supply," the analysts said in a research note.
Shares in Drax were down 0.8 percent at 224.8 pence by 1023 GMT, having already fallen from over 600 pence in the past year.
Britain hopes to fill the supply gap with new lower-carbon gas and nuclear power plants, which will also help it to meet a legally binding target to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 to 80 percent below 1990 levels.
"One of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas," Rudd will say.
Gas plants emit almost half the amount of carbon dioxide per megawatt of power generated as coal plants.
The move away from coal was welcomed by climate change campaigners seeking a reducton in carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
Later this month, world leaders will gather in Paris for U.N. negotiations to seek an accord to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
"The UK is demonstrating the type of leadership that nations around the world must take in order to craft a successful agreement in Paris and solve the climate crisis," said former U.S. Vice President and climate change campaigner Al Gore.
However, some campaigners protested about the new emphasis on burning gas instead.
“Phasing out coal is essential for the climate. But switching from coal to gas is like an alcoholic switching from two bottles of whisky a day to two bottles of port," said Simon Bullock of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.
(This story has been refiled to fix dateline)
(Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo and Karolin Schaps in London; Editing by Greg Mahlich)