Comment: Time to rekindle the coal industry
By Mark Spencer
I don't mean to be alarmist but there is a massive fire raging under Warwickshire at the moment. If that comes as a surprise to you, it is perhaps a sad reflection of the fact that the UK coal industry has slipped somewhat from the public consciousness. That is, unless you're within earshot of a certain Sherwood MP.
The fire in question is at the Daw Mill colliery that has forced the pit to close, and is likely to continue for several more months. While it is a testament to the UK coal's improved safety record that mercifully no one died, my next concern was the impact that this closure could have on Sherwood and on the industry more widely. Since the closure, I've been badgering the chancellor and energy minister to ascertain the threat of and contain any potential contagion from the closure at Daw Mill.
Protecting and including coal in the UK's future energy mix is something I've been harping on about since getting elected, because I believe that within a generation the lights are going to go out. I simply do not believe that our current energy infrastructure is sufficient to support our growing needs, and I believe that there is an urgent need for action.
But don't take it from me. A recent report by the Centre for Policy Studies stated: "The UK has installed electricity capacity of 77GW; it is expected that by 2016, it will face a shortfall of 32 GW as older coal, nuclear and oil plants are closed, and as demand increases."
There isn't a house in Sherwood unaware of the recent climb in energy prices.
I believe firmly that as a country we need to have a non-emotive and constructive debate on nuclear power. Although the study of nuclear energy is academic when it comes to our immediate needs, we simply wouldn't get the plants up and running in time.
For those keen on wind or solar power (currently providing just 0.4% of global energy demand), I fear their role will, at least in the short term, only ever be an auxiliary one. Similarly, while I am positive about solar power and believe it is a technology to develop, it still does not as yet address the problem of maintaining a reliable base load.
Traditionally, coal has always been criticised on environmental grounds; those criticisms were largely founded. Times are changing. Clean coal technologies are online and available to us right now. For example, in Yorkshire, Powerfuel's proposed new clean coal site is even backed by Friends of the Earth.
Domestically, embracing clean coal technologies would offer us unparalleled fuel reliability and bring down electricity bills significantly in the home. Internationally, developing countries like China and India – China is currently constructing the equivalent of two, 500 megawatt, coal-fired power plants per week – could use their own coal reserves in an environmentally acceptable way – vital since at present their projected fossil fuel usage would dwarf any carbon savings we made here in the UK.
So as I see it, the arguments for clean coal are compelling both for the environment and the economy, but most excitingly for Sherwood. Rekindling the coal industry in the UK using clean coal technology would have major benefits for our area, whether directly from employment or indirectly through cheaper electricity. The future looks a little brighter for this generation.
Mark Spencer is the Conservative MP for Sherwood
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