Plans for construction of the UK’s first new coal fired power plant in nearly 30 years have cleared a major hurdle with the decision by local government to approve the project. The 1600 MW plant could be on line by 2012 but is facing fierce criticism from environmental groups.

E.On Energy plans to replace its ageing Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent with a new state-of-the-art power plant. Plans for the project have now been sent to central government, which will make the final decision.

Medway Council, the local authority for the Kingsnorth site, said that it raised no objections to the project, which is one of the biggest planning applications it has ever received. But the project has sparked a debate over the use of coal and the impact that this project might have on the UK’s carbon emissions.

E.On says that it hopes to start construction in 2009 and that the plant will be made carbon capture-ready. Its design will be based on other advanced supercritical coal fired power plants operating in Germany.

E.On intends to invest £1 billion in the new facility, which it says would cut carbon emissions by almost 2 million t per year.

Environmental group Greenpeace has warned that approval of the Kingsnorth project by the UK government would “lock Britain into huge carbon emissions for decades and signal prime minister Gordon Brown’s surrender on the UK’s long term climate change targets”.

E.On is one of several companies planning to apply for funding to build the UK’s first carbon capture and storage (CCS)-equipped power plant under a competition launched by the government in late 2007. The new Kingsnorth plant could be a central part of E.On’s proposed CCS project.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made the fight against climate change a central part of his premiership and is expected to make an announcement soon on the future of nuclear power in the country. Under his CCS competition plans, participants will compete for government funding to construct a CCS plant to start operation by 2014.

Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said: “Gordon Brown recently promised this country he would lead the fight against climate change. Well very soon we’ll know if he meant it. The proposal for a new coal-fired power station that has now landed on his desk represents what could be the defining climate change decision of his premiership.”