Is it too late for the government (any government!) to consider an integrated energy policy, which has aims other than just allowing the markets to dictate the future? Perhaps it’s time to start the argument from the other end. We want to cut emissions. We want security of supply. How can we do that? Build power stations with carbon capture & storage (CCS) technology. Supply these with indigenous fuels. But we need to start building them now.
GMB Congress at Plymouth in June this year supported key motions on the future of the coal industry and CCS technology. Not just debating motions related to coal, but having the support of other delegates, whatever their region and industry, was very heartening.
With an audience of about 600 in the hall, and webcast online, the energy debate was an opportunity to educate and inform. Do the other delegates know that the UK only has three operating deep mines left? That the electricity generators increased their coal burn last winter in response to the cold weather, the higher cost of gas, and because coal can always respond to demand? My seconder on the motion asking for government support for the UK coal industry was an ex-miner. Any renaissance of an indigenous coal industry could have a positive impact on employment as well as help with the regeneration of manufacturing industry.
In the CCS debate, our branch chose to juxtapose it with fracking. This appears to be looked on favourably by the government, despite recent comments by the Climate Change Committee that it wouldn’t bring down gas prices and that the Treasury shouldn’t be basing their energy strategy on fracking gas. The downside of fracking may not just be the negative environmental aspects and concerns about earthquakes, but that countries will choose to use the cheap fracking gas rather than implement CCS or renewables, and may therefore miss their emissions targets. And in 16 years of campaigning for CCS, and despite successive governments apparently supporting the initiative, we still don’t have any CCS implemented, bar the pilot project at Ferrybridge which, having nowhere to transport and store their captured CO2, they just put it back into their flue gases and vent to atmosphere.
The same lump of coal has accompanied me to GMB Congress for over 12 years – I think it might be trying for a long service award, but it’s also a great ice-breaker. Yup, that is what coal looks like! It’s amazing how many delegates have links to the coal industry. But many of the younger delegates don’t even know we still have a coal industry, and may not realise that coal is still such an important part of our electricity generation.
While we still have members working in the industry, our branch will continue to send delegates to Congress and try to raise the profile of coal. Part of that will always be CCS. It is surely the best way to ensure we can meet emissions targets, as well as (since we have all this coal, if we can continue to access it!) we would be able to maintain security of supply. I watched the chief executive of iGas on BBC TV news the evening before I gave my fracking speech. He asserted that the fracking gas would help to de-carbonise the UK. However, I would suggest that is only true if it is used in conjunction with CCS – after all, gas is also a fossil fuel. It is so frustrating that after all these years of campaigning, we still seem no nearer even to a demonstration plant for CCS, let alone a full-sized plant which could make a real indent in our carbon emissions.
GUEST POST: Pamela Ross is a former Deputy Chair of the Yorkshire Coal Taskforce Group. She is the GMB’s Branch Equality Officer for the Yorkshire Coal Staff Branch, and a delegate to GMB annual conference.