UK weaning itself off of coal. And electricity.

As we move closer and closer to final decisions on the Obama administration’s new rules on things like cross state emissions limits and new standards for energy facilities which will essentially shut down coal fired plants in the United States, there are some valuable objects lessons to observe. Not all of them are coming from North America, either. Across the pond, our former Special Relationship partners in the UK have been busy complying with European standards to reduce coal energy in the interest of curbing climate change. And so far, they have achieved a smashing level of success, shutting down coal production at a brisk clip. This is no doubt producing much rejoicing among climate change warriors, and they’ll probably be planning some parties to celebrate… assuming they can still turn on the lights.

In June, Ofgem released a capacity assessment warning that “risks to electricity security of supply over the next six winters have increased since our last report in October 2012.” The report warned that Britain’s ability to provide spare electric power capacity could plunge to between 2 to 5 percent, about half what it is now.

The main reason for the possible crunch: Britain is closing a number of aging coal-fired plants—as well as some oil and nuclear ones—to meet European Union environmental laws. One fifth of the existing power stations are scheduled to close over the next ten years. According to Reuters, the U.K. is set to lose more than 12 gigawatts of generating capacity in the next two years. Currently, the country operates 13 coal plants, but nearly half are slated to close by 2015, and all of them could be shut down by 2023, according to government figures.

As the report notes, the Brits are facing the immediate penalty of higher prices long before really wide spread blackouts would take place. It’s the law of supply and demand in action. To meet the demands of the European Union’s liberal climate change laws, their generating capacity is being slashed with no plan in sight to replace the lost supply to the grid with “green” alternatives in the needed amounts. This will come as a huge surprise to anyone who failed to complete elementary level math classes.

The UK is a useful laboratory when looking at what will happen in the United States over a slightly longer period of time. Their nation is much smaller, both in terms of land mass and population, so the effects they feel from changes and the speed with which those take place are on an accelerated curve. It will be interesting to watch, and could give a clue to the long term effects of energy policy here in the United States. Stay tuned, and keep an eye on the UK… assuming anyone has power to operate cameras and broadcast the news to us.

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