The government’s refusal to back a clean coal project in South Yorkshire puts the country’s energy supply at risk and means jobs will be lost, claims a former mineworkers’ official.
At Hatfield Power Station, the company 2CO Energy was planning a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project. The race is on to commercialise CCS technology as it could help drastically cut CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.
2CO’s project at Hatfield, near Doncaster, would involve constructing a large underground pipeline to transport CO2 emissions out into the North Sea, where scientists believe it could be buried safely. 2CO had been granted £160 million from the EU and was earmarked for a further £250 million grant next year after it was chosen as the best scheme in Europe.
But in October the government announced it would not provide UK funding for the £1 billion project and would be backing four cheaper CCS schemes that are less advanced. It also said it will allow energy companies to increase their charges by £100 annually to fund renewable energy.
Dave Douglass, former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch secretary at Hatfield Main Colliery, near Doncaster – which supplies coal to the nearby power station – said: “The government is driving a stake through the heart of the coal energy industry and killing off the last serious net energy supply.
“Coal is now dead. Wrecking the Hatfield project by not providing public funds for what is the most advanced CCS project and then bringing the tax on coal power to over £9 billion a year wrecks all prospects of developing what is currently the cheapest form of energy generation.
“The prospect of saving the eight deep coalmines in existence is certainly being killed off. Yet we have thousands of years of coal underneath our feet. Digging it up will provide jobs. Developing clean coal technology will protect the environment. Throw in the fact we can have cheaper energy as well and I’d hope some MPs would see sense.”
The mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, said: “The government’s decision was beyond belief as the project would have created over 7,000 jobs, opened up new export markets and have significant environmental benefits.”
The TUC regional secretary, Bill Adams, said he feared the mine at Hatfield “could now be at risk”.
Coal continues to provide 30 per cent of the country’s electricity, a figure that jumps to over 50 per cent on many days. But European legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions is forcing the closure of five of the country’s remaining 19 coal-fired stations by 2015.
In a bid to close the resulting energy deficit the energy minister Ed Davey has announced that switching the UK to a low-carbon economy will be encouraged by allowing energy firms to raise the “green levy” on bills from £3 billion to £7.6 billion a year by 2020.
This will increase household energy bills annually by £100 – money that would be used for investment in wind, nuclear and biomass projects. The move has all-party parliamentary support.
Douglass and the NUM had previously backed the National Coal Board’s Coal Research Establishment, where 200 engineers, scientists and technical staff developed a global lead in CCS technology. But the research establishment was closed in the early 1990s, since when carbon CCS development has been led by private companies.