Thursday, 21 June 2018

Unions' disputed call to make coal cleaner

Big Issue North article from September 2017 

Claim that carbon tech could renew industry 
Environmentalists say focus on renewables 
Trade unionists have urged the government to fund carbon capture technology that would make coal a cleaner fuel, insisting it will also help protect local jobs. But environmental campaigners say it would be a distraction from an urgent need to end the use of fossil fuels completely. 
Human activity is annually generating billions of tonnes of waste carbon dioxide (CO2), which is helping to warm the climate. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a process that aims to collect the CO2 from power stations and factories before burying it securely underground. 
No government interest 
Although the technology has existed for decades, there are few examples in the world of large-scale CCS plants. The National Coal Board led the way in CCS research until the 1990s, when most of Britain’s remaining mines were closed. 
Bill Adams, secretary of Yorkshire and the Humber Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the government should respond positively to a report earlier this year by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on CCS. 
The report criticised David Cameron’s government for withdrawing in 2015 £1bn
of funding to develop the technology, and said CCS “had the potential to help the UK achieve its ambitious targets to reduce CO2 emissions, if it is used in the power and industrial sectors”. 
Adams said: “Government is being very shortsighted. Across Europe, trade unions and governments are combining in a partnership model on CCS. But when we approached the then energy secretary Amber Rudd she showed no interest. 
“I recently attended a House of Lords reception at which the chief executive of Gassnove, the state-run Norwegian company, was telling everyone they would welcome possible projects being sent to them for funding. 
“They see this as an opportunity to decarbonise. Our government is saying let’s leave it to the market and that is not having it. In comparison our governnment are spending billions on Hinckley Point nuclear power station, which seems a lot for a project that also won’t do too much to ensure we have a secure energy supply in the future.” 
“Devastating for region” 
According to Adams around 28,000 jobs in Yorkshire and Humber could be affected by the 2016 Paris Agreement to restrict global temperatures by limiting the amount of CO2 generated by human activity. They include jobs in ceramics, cement, glass, food and beer, all of which use coal. 
“Losing so many jobs would be devastating for the region. It would be like the pit closure programme again of the last century. 
“The TUC welcomes any moves towards a green economy. We are encouraging trade unionists to discuss with their employers technological changes to reduce CO2 but solar and wind are not yet ready to supply all our energy needs. They won’t be for a few decades and so CCS needs developing now and quickly.” 
In 2012, 2Co Energy proposed a large clean coal CCS power station at Hatfield Colliery in South Yorkshire. This would have involved constructing a large underground pipeline to transport CO2 out into the North Sea. Despite the promise of considerable EU match funding, the UK government refused to back the £1bn project, which had the potential to create an estimated 7,000 new jobs in the Doncaster area. 
In late 2015, the government withdrew promised funding for two CCS projects. One was at Peterhead and the other in North Yorkshire at Drax, the UK’s largest power plant, which currently relies on coal and biomass to generate electricity. 
Cost must come down 
The decision broke a pledge in the Conservative party’s 2015 election manifesto and the move was criticised by Shell, the CCS Association (CCSA) and the TUC, which argued that it would make it difficult for the UK to meet its carbon cuts target and to create a diverse energy mix. 
The PAC report is also critical of the 2015 decision to withdraw the funding, saying: “Many potential stakeholders now think the government should bear more risks, particularly over stored C02.” 
Adams said that if Labour won the next general election and carried out its commitment to set up a new national investment bank, the TUC’s first request would be for funds towards a major CCS project. 
He stressed that the TUC is not expecting the development of CCS to lead to the opening of coal mines here. But Dave Douglass, former National Union of Mineworkers branch secretary at Hatfield Main Colliery, wants to see CCS developed for just such an eventuality. “Government backing for CCS projects would mean coal can be used for energy generation. We are importing coal that is being mined in locations where workers are being badly exploited. 
“We have thousands of years of coal underneath us and it should be used, especially as renewables are not reliable and they have resulted in higher energy bills. 
“Coal fired power stations are still being built everywhere and 41 per cent of electricity worldwide
is germinated by coal. By cleaning coal through CCS then it should be burnt. This can help create 70,000 new jobs at 70 mines across Britain. This will help revive parts of Yorkshire where unemployment levels are far too high, especially amongst the young.” 
Alasdair Cameron, Friends of the Earth’s renewables campaigner, disputes this view. “CCS may be a useful technology for some industrial applications that are hard to switch to electricity or which have CO2 byproducts, such as steel manufacture or cement production,” he said. “But it is unlikely to play a major role in electricity generation. 
“Renewables can keep the lights on and have jumped from 7 to 26 per cent of our electricity supply in the last few years. The government’s projections show the figure will be 40-50 per cent by 2030. With the right investment it could be 75 per cent. 
“And to avoid catastrophic climate change we need to largely decarbonise our electricity system by 2030. Renewables are the most reliable way of doing this. 
“The direction of travel is clear and the age of fossil fuels is simply coming to an end. Even in India and China they are reducing their reliance on coal. India has this year cancelled coal power plants in favour of solar.” 
Asked about when it might respond to the PAC report a Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Department spokesperson said: “The UK is the third best country in the world for tackling climate change, but we have been clear that the costs of CCS must come down if it is to play a role in reducing the UK’s carbon emissions. 
“We are considering options for CCS in the UK and intend to set out our approach in due course.” 

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