Scargill Is Right - for 25 Years Labour Has Failed to Appreciate King Coal

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 12, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Scargill Is Right - for 25 Years Labour Has Failed to Appreciate King Coal


Byline: ROBERT LEA ENERGY ANALYSIS

IT WAS always going to be Arthur Scargill who would reopen the deep wounds that have scarred the Labour movement in this the week of the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the miners' strike.

Scargill's claim is that it was not Margaret Thatcher who killed the coal industry but Neil Kinnock; that Thatcher's administration had been close to an agreed settlement with Scargill's National Union of Mineworkers, and it was Kinnock's failure to back the miners that fired up the Tory leader toward her collision course with, and ultimate destruction of, the British coal-mining communities.

Whatever the historical revisionism, the evidence is that it is Kinnock's heirs in New Labour who are hammering nails in the coffin of coal, the Dark Lord of the energy sector.

The UK coal industry may be a shadow of its former self but the dark stuff remains critical to keeping the lights on.

It is little appreciated that coal remains the fuel of choice for more than 33% of the UK's generated electricity, with official figures showing it was only eclipsed as the single largest source of fuel in 2006, when it was overtaken for the first time by gas.

The fact that coal five years ago fired more than 40% of our electricity output shows the fuel's decline, but coal from British mines is still important.

UK coal production has remained steady for much of the last four years, and the Yorkshire behemoth Drax, the country's single largest power station -- capable of generating up to 8% of the country's daily consumption -- sources half of its coal supplies locally.

Inefficient, dirty coal-fired power stations have been sentenced to death by the European directive against big polluting facilities and the system of financial penalties for plants that emit carbon dioxide.

The existing coal-fired stations have three options. The first is closure, an option already taken up by a third of the stations. The second is to co-fire biomass, the burning of wood chippings or peanut husks with coal, the road that Drax is going down in a bid to reduce the financial penalties for burning coal.

The third option is carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology for the 21st century whereby carbon dioxide is substantially extracted from coal during or after combustion, liquefied and stored in spent oil or gas fields under the sea, or in an old coal mine.

CCS is reckoned to be so serious a tool in the battle against climate change that it was once improbably described by the former Government chief scientist Sir David King as the only hope for mankind.

But the short history of CCS and its (non-)adoption by the UK Government is, like the rest of New Labour's energy policy, a litany of obfuscation, indecision and missed opportunities -- to the point where Britain's leading energy boss has now all but written off the technology.

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Scargill Is Right - for 25 Years Labour Has Failed to Appreciate King Coal
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