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Coal can keep energy prices down

World Coal,

The Association of UK Coal Importers (Coal Imp) has said it believes there is a “huge continuing potential” for dependable coal to play a secure, flexible and cost-effective role as part of a diverse and balanced energy mix.

The recent and well-publicised debate on energy prices in the UK has led the country’s energy mix to be scrutinised by both politicians and the public. However, the role that coal can play in this mix has not been addressed, Coal Imp argues.

The association said that while the fossil fuel will once again be integral to keeping the lights on in the UK this coming winter, EU and UK policies rick a dramatic reduction in the use of the world’s most low cost fuel.

Role of coal

The leading industry voice insisted that “the role of coal as a vital energy source has never been more relevant” as the UK moves from one of the hottest summers in a decade into a winter tipped to be one of the coldest.

Coal Imp, which represents major coal users, rail companies, ports and other infrastructure operators in the UK coal supply chain, said that in order for coal to continue in the energy mix, there must be a better use of common sense in terms of climate and emissions policies.

“Attitudes towards coal in the UK have suffered in comparison with other countries that value its security, affordability and flexibility, but with growing concerns about energy prices, there has never been a better time to place it back at the centre of the debate,” Nigel Yaxley, managing director of Coal Imp, said.

“Unilateral UK action, such as the steep rise in the Carbon Price Floor, continues to pose a threat to competitiveness and will do little to enhance the government’s aim of decarbonising our electricity supplies.”

Affordable electricity

“Affordable electricity from existing coal plants, with their tried-and-tested infrastructure, can play a key role as we make the transition to a low carbon future,” Yaxley added.

Just as Henry Hely Hutchinson, managing director at Coaltrans conferences, stressed that the future of both coal and global energy policy relied upon the development and commercialisation of clean coal technology – including carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) – so too does Coal Imp see CCS as playing a vital role in bringing coal into the UK’s energy mix.

In today’s energy mix, Coal Imp said that coal currently generates 40% of the UK’s electricity. The association insisted that coal can and should fuel the CCS equipped coal-fired power plants of the future.

The key objectives of energy policy are often described in terms of the so-called ‘energy trilemma’ of security, affordability and sustainability. Yaxley said that coal can play a key role in resolving this situation, especially when used alongside other fuels in a balanced way.

“As electricity customers become increasingly concerned about their bills this winter, the affordability of coal is a key factor in keeping costs under control.

“Furthermore,” Yaxley continued, “coal-fired electricity is the most secure and flexible low-cost capacity on the system – and with coal less than half the price of gas, and it is a key element in managing energy bills, fuel poverty and UK energy competitiveness.”

With coal resources in the UK totaling around 4.5 billion t, the country is well placed to make use of this resource base with its good access to imported supplies through well-developed port and rail infrastructure, Coal Imp said.

Coal sector employment

Over 10,000 people are directly employed by the coal sector, including production, utilization and infrastructure, with a similar number of jobs dependend on the sector.

“We believe that international coal supply compliments indigenous supply with the security, flexibility and quality attributes of a highly liquid and diverse international market, while boosting UK jobs,” Yaxley said.

Cheapest fuel

“Coal is the world’s fastest growing and cheapest fuel, reflecting its abundant supply across all continents – and it can still have a role in the future low-carbon energy mix through CCS.

“For a long time, UK consumers have been protected from the full impact of high prices of gas-fired electricity by the diversity of our power generation system. And as electricity customers become increasingly concerned about their bills, coal is a key factor in keeping energy costs under control.”

Similar sentiments were echoed at the recent Coaltrans world coal conference in Berlin, in which Pawel Smolen stressed the need for a common sense approach to keeping coal in the energy mix: one which saw coal as a vital component of energy policy, rather than one that should be excluded. “I’m not a coal lobbyist, I’m a lobbyist for common sense,” Smolen told delegates.

Adapted from press release by Sam Dodson

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