From the TUC

UK pit closes, global coal booms, where’s carbon capture?

18 Dec 2012, by in Environment

Today’s announced closure of Maltby colliery, Yorkshire, one of the last six deep coal mines in the UK, with the loss of 540 skilled jobs, is a bitter blow to the NUM. Chris Kitchen, NUM National Secretary, said, “If we want to preserve the UK coal industry for security and diversity of supply, and not rely on imports, the remaining UK deep mining industry need to be recognised as a national asset. People need to realise that in the winter coal is generating 50% of our electricity. Obviously, the coal industry’s future lies with carbon capture technology. But delays in the CCS pilot projects are now putting an entire mining industry at risk, with 6,000 jobs at stake. We urgently need a transitional plan for coal, and measures in the Energy Bill to provide a place for UK coal in the future energy mix.”

Hargreaves Services said Maltby Colliery, near Rotherham, was no longer viable on safety, geological and financial grounds after producing coal for more than 100 years. About 540 staff at the mine were issued with redundancy notices. About one-third may be transferred to the nearby Hatfield mine.

At peak times in winter 2011, coal generated 50% of UK electricity. Coal power underpins the UK’s electricity supply system. It provides stable and flexible baseload energy. It’s a cost-effective and responsive balance for the intermittent supplies of electricity that flow from renewable energy. Coal’s share of electricity generation increased from 28% to 30% between 2010 and 2011, as it substituted for gas generation. Gas’s share of generation in the UK fell to 40% in 2011.

Globally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says coal production passed 7.3billion tonnes in 2011, and that world is lamentably failing to invest in carbon capture technoogy. The UK is missing a major new technology opportunity.

Coal heap IEA report

A TUC briefing note makes the case for a place for coal within the Capacity Mechanism outlined in the Energy Bill, as part of a transitional plan for clean coal with CCS in the UK energy mix. This plan will help secure jobs, skills and investment in the UK coal and coal power sector, and ensure that when the UK’s CCS strategy does reach commercial scale around 2018-2020 it is not then dependent on imported coal.

Coal power station closures from Large Combustion Plant Directive

Site

Operator

Capacity MW

Million tonnes*

Load Factor

(approx)

LCPD status

Closure date

Cockenzie

Scottish Power

1152

1.7

42%

Opted out

Mar 13

Didcot   B

RWE

1958

1.7

25%

Opted out

Mar 13

Ferrybridge   “C”

SSE

1960

2.1

30%

 Half in

Ironbridge

E.ON

970

0.6

17%

Opted out

Kingsnorth

E.ON

1940

1.3

19%

Opted out

Mar 13

Tilbury

RWE

1063

1.2

31%

Opted out

Mar 13

Total

29352

41.5

Chair of the TUC Clean Coal Task Group, Michael Gibbons, said: “The future of the UK coal and coal power industry and its 10,000 direct employees hangs in the balance. Actions taken now to invest in carbon capture& storage (CCS) technology and reform our electricity market can secure this core industry in a low carbon economy for the long term. Delays will drive investment and dependency on gas fired power without resolving the challenge of CO2 capture, whilst losing a once-only opportunity for global leadership in the vital CCS industry.”

To maintain an on-going market for UK-mined coal until CCS is available, one optiion is to ensure that existing coal plant participates within the new Capacity Mechanism in the Energy Bill on a level playing field with gas plant.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that carbon capture technologies “are not taking off as once expected. The result is that, without serious constraints on coal consumption by climate change policies in most places, demand and CO2 will continue to grow. Yet without progress in CCS, coal is at risk to a potential climate policy backlash and rising concerns over emissions.”

Key facts from the IEA:

  • the shale gas revolution in the United States has resulted in a significant gas-to-coal switch in Europe, due to offloading of cut price US coal in Europe, accompanied by mine closures in the US.
  • Coal was the largest growing source of primary energy in 2011.
  • Coal demand grew by 4.3% to 7.3 billion tonnes in 2011, determined by China and India.
  • China is by far the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, and accounts for more than three-quarters of the increase in coal production in 2011.

What better opportunity to demonstrate world climate leadership than for the UK to steam ahead with investment in carbon capture technology for this seemingly unstoppable global drive for coal-fired energy?


[i] Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics, 2012.