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".