The reign of King Coal

Yesterday I met leaders of the NUM, Unison and the carbon capture industry, to discuss the future of coal along with some other MPs.

They made a good case, urging that we expand production of domestic coal, both to substitute for the large quantities of imports currently coming into the country and to fuel a new generation of cleaner coal power stations.

They argued that there is a lot more coal for us to mine and quarry, that at present coal prices that production could be economic, and the government should accelerate the pace of development of clean coal technology and carbon capture.

Some looked back nostalgically to the age of the nationalised industry, without any great belief that the present Labour government would want to revisit that approach. It is curious how nationalisation still has a grip on their hearts, when the nationalised industry under governments of both parties so let down the mining communities. The 1970s Labour government was in the business of closing mines and sacking miners, just as the subsequent Conservative government was. Each of those governments did so on the advice and at the command of the nationalised industry, which systematically failed to make mining economic enough to sustain a decent sized industry in the UK.

The miners of Tower Colliery proved the Coal Board wrong when they took over their mine and worked it profitably when the Coal Board management had wanted to close it on the grounds that it was uneconomic. Why would we want to go back to management like that? Isn’t the future a more mechanised, safer industry where those who mine the coal share in the profits?


  1. adam
    July 2, 2008

    Are we even allowed to go back to mining coal.
    In mid 2007 The EUs Regional development Agency in the SW was working hard to stop new tin mines opening on environmental grounds, i dont know what became of that.

    I imagine other RDAs, working off Agenda 21 as they do, will react similarly.

  2. Mark Wadsworth
    July 2, 2008

    I'm a big fan of coal, I must say (privately owned, of course, by miners' co-operatives if they so wish, seems fair enough to me), but whose side would you take in this spat between John Hutton and Alan Duncan?

  3. Neil Craig
    July 2, 2008

    I think carbon capture is one of these nostrums the Luddites always like because they aren't currently feasible. They love nuclear fusion but not fission for the same reason. Nobody in the world is using carbon capture in a commercial way & to work in Britain would require us to dispose of about 150 million tons of compressed CO2 every year. For renewablists who say that disposing of a cubic metre per reactor year of radioactive waste, which loses almost all its radiation in 50 years, is dangerous is hardly consistent with saying that 150 million tons of gas for each year kept underground & subject to what is called catastrophic release, forever, is safe.

    The degree to which CC would increase costs is unknown but, by the laws of thermodynamics it would certainly be significant & nuclear is already capable of producing far cheaper than coal.

  4. APL
    July 2, 2008

    JR: “The 1970s Labour government was in the business of closing mines and sacking miners,”

    A bit before my time, but didn’t that firebrand of workers rights Wegie Benn, close more than his fair share of coal mines during his tenure as energy minister?

    JR: “They made a good case, urging that we expand production of domestic coal .. ”

    Not possible! Such a policy is in direct conflict with the European Union carbon emissions requirements. They want to reduce carbon emmissions by 20% by 2020.

    If you burn coal you get Carbon dioxide or Carbon monoxide if you do not burn it properly – an elementary law of chemistry, if we increase Coal fired power stations we increase carbon oxide emissions.

    Of course a 20% cut is an absolutely CRAZY target!

    For those of us who don’t care about ‘carbon emissions’ or the ‘Carbon capture industry’, we would be quite happy to see more coal fired power stations.

    By the way, ‘Carbon capture industry’ is a misnomer, the Tories slashed and burned their way through the subsidised Nationalised industries during the ’80s, why do you advocate creating another subsidised industry now?

  5. mikestallard
    July 2, 2008

    What exactly is the EU saying?
    1. EU energy policy objectives are to promote the use of coal and make domestic production capacity more competitive to achieve a notable increase in solid fuel consumption .
    So they are not completely anti-coal.
    2. However, ( European Union has recognised the urgent need to tackle the climate change issue. It has also adopted a negotiating position of 15% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for industrialised countries by the year 2010 from the 1990 level.
    Promoting renewable energy is one of the main objectives of EU energy policy. As stated previously, the aim is to double renewables' share of total energy consumed to 15% by 2010 and increase renewable energy sources for the internal electricity market to 22,1% of the total production (Directive 2001/77).
    In order to achieve such a reduction, the Union will require major
    energy policy decisions, focusing on reducing energy and carbon intensity.

    Just thought we ought to get the argument straight……

  6. RJ
    July 4, 2008

    "Are we even allowed to go back to mining coal?"

    Germany burns coal in its power stations. It must have enough clout to protect the coal industry. In any case, one would expect a Conservative government to actually be able to do something other than roll over and die in the face of EU diktats.

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