Coal May Day
2,000 coal mining jobs are at risk as UK Coal, Britain’s largest coal producer, is reported to be seeking voluntary liquidation after the devastating fire that closed its Daw Mill colliery. The company was hit by the loss of £100m of equipment, £160m of coal and incurred £35m in costs. Yet the government position appears to focus on “managing short term challenges.” Is this managed collapse? There’s no strategy for a UK domestic coal industry with carbon capture and storage technology. Its absence reinforces insecurity felt first and foremost by the 6,000-strong workforce directly or indirectly employed in the coal industry, including transport and supply chains. Letting go of UK coal will also boost our dependence on energy imports. Does that make sense?
Coal, it seems, is the forgotten fuel in the UK. It generates 50% of our electricity in the winter, about half from domestic coal production. Our biggest importer is Russia. Good idea? Coal may be forgotten in the UK, but not in the rest of the world. Compare our 50 million tonne footprint with the 7.8 billion tonnes of coal consumed globally each year, driving planetary C02 densities to the new threshold of 400 parts per million.
The TUC’s Clean Coal Group wants the UK to be the testbed for carbon capture technology. So do the CCSA and UK Coal Forum. Last winter the Forum wrote to the government making a number of practical suggestions to ensure a place for clean coal and UK coal mining in the future energy mix. Securing European funds to support CCS development. Allowing room in the government’s energy market reforms to support clean coal plant. Challenging the “dash for gas” with no obligation to capture CO2 from gas power plant, etc.
The key demand was for a coal strategy. In response, the government states: “We believe that the interests of the industry at this point are best served by concentrating our efforts on supporting companies to manage the shorter term challenges they currently face.”
So meanwhile, HMRC is apparently pressuring UK Coal for its tax arrears – no sweetheart deal there, then. There are serious concerns about the security of pensions and redundancy payments for the 650 miners laid off from Daw Mill, one of the current sources of tension with the company.
We need a sustainable future for coal with CCS, including a clean coal roundtable involving unions, employers and government. Its remit should be securing skilled jobs, safeguarding our indigenous energy supplies, meeting our climate change objectives and building in the UK a world class carbon capture technology export industry. Because for sure, the rest of the world hasn’t forgotten coal.