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Coal “as cheap as offshore wind” but ignored by UK governments

World Coal,

The energy policy adopted by successive UK governments has been “hostile” to the nation’s coal industry, MPs have been told.

A special session of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee was held, in which MPs were informed “no real effort” had been made to use coal produced in the UK to provide power and electricity – as the industry faces the prospect of having just one operating opencast mine due to new closures.

The UK’s coal industry has been effectively left to dwindle and decline, despite the fossil fuel’s potential to provide bountiful and cheap electricity and power.

Nigel Yaxley, managing director of the Association of UK Coal Importers, said that energy policy had been hostile to coal. “There hasn’t been sufficient attention to affordability and security”, he said.

Yaxley added that a package of measures has come forward for renewable energy, but efforts to boost carbon capture and storage (CCS) in coal-fired power plants had been much slower, and he added: " [coal] can be as cheap as offshore wind."

John Grogan, chairman of Hatfield Colliery in Yorkshire, said there was a strong argument for power plants "keeping alive" the British coal industry.

He told MPs that "any support" from the Government would be welcomed, stressing that hundreds of British companies supplied goods and services to British pits.

"All that supply chain could go if the three remaining deep mines close."

Hatfield will be the last remaining deep pit after the "managed closure" of Kellingley, in North Yorkshire, and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire, both owned by UK Coal.

Grogan said the only way the coal industry would survive in the UK was with Government support or long-term contracts with power plants.

Labour MP, Ian Lavery, questioned whether EU aid could be used to support the coal industry, as opposed to helping with pit closure costs. Just this week, the EU awarded a € 300 million grant to the Drax coal fired power plant for the adoption of CCS technology.

Lavery questioned the integrity of UK Coal and asked whether the company was "jumping from a sinking ship."

General secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Chris Kitchen, told the committee that coal had been left "to fend for itself."

Long-fought struggle for coal

The UK coal industry has long argued it has been targeted by successive governments. In January 2014, newly released cabinet papers appeared to support claims that the Thatcher administration in 1984 earmarked over 70 coal mines for closure in a so called “secret hit-list” – and that this list was then subject to a cover up by the Thatcher government.

The document, marked "Not to be photocopied or circulated outside the private office", records a meeting attended by key government figures, including the prime minister, chancellor, energy secretary and employment secretary, at No 10 Downing Street.

The meeting was told the National Coal Board's pit closure programme had "gone better this year than planned: there had been one pit closed every three weeks" and the workforce had shrunk by 10%.

According to Nick Jones, who covered the famous miner’s strike for the BBC at the time, said the new chairman of the board, Ian MacGregor, meant to go further.

"Mr MacGregor had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed [...] There should be no closure list, but a pit-by-pit procedure,” Jones said.

UK unions role in coal

UK Unions have consistently fought to keep the UK coal industry alive. In recent weeks, the NUM and Unite (Britain’s largest trade union) said that closures of coal mines would lead to “a devastating loss to Britain’s energy production and leave the country with just one working deep mine.”

The unions want to save UK coal-fired power plants and mines from closure, and for new and mothballed pits to be opened through the use of British deep and surface mined coal. 

To achieve this, the campaign calls for the immediate introduction of CCS technologies to protect the environment and ensure Britain’s energy future. 

“CCS technologies enable the return of carbon dioxide emissions from the power stations safely back underground, where they can be permanently stored and monitored to ensure they do not re-enter the atmosphere,” Unite said in a statement.

Written by Sam Dodson

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