Coal - Clean or Dirty? IT'S RESPONSIBLE FOR MORE GLOBAL WARMING THAN ANY OTHER SOURCE OF ENERGY, BUT SOME SAY WE CAN'T DO WITHOUT IT. WE PRESENT THE TWO SIDES OF THE DEBATE OVER COAL: TONY LODGE, RESEARCH FELLOW AT THE CENTRE FOR POLICY STUDIES, THE THINK TANK PROMOTING FREE MARKET ECONOMICS

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Byline: TONY LODGE

For hundreds of years the coalfields of Britain provided abundant and valuable energy. This 'black gold' fuelled Britain's industrial revolution, satisfying the thirst for cheap, home-grown energy for the mills, factories and heavy industries that established Britain as the world's leading advanced economy.

British coal output peaked in 1913 with a massive output of 284 million tonnes.

But electricity privatisation in 1989 allowed generators to shop around for coal.

Cheaper coal from Colombia, Australia, Poland and South Africa was imported in staggering quantities. Secondly, following the 1992 Kyoto agreement to slash C02 emissions, older, dirty coal plants were closed and new gas-fired power stations were encouraged and built quickly..

During the cold snap in February of this year, Britain's electricity grid relied on coal to regularly shoulder more than 50% of demand. Gas met 30%, nuclear 16% and wind around 0.3% of the grid. Coal got us through during a wind-free, energy intensive period. The country's ongoing coal stations were ramped up to meet demand against other baseload suppliers and unreliable renewables.

Coal clearly still plays a crucial part in our electricity generation, producing more than 36% of the UK's baseload electricity during an average year. It produces cheaper electricity than gas or nuclear. It is plentiful, indigenous, flexible and responsive to peaks and troughs in demand, can be stored in huge quantities, is not prone to outages and is not vulnerable to geopolitical risk or the weather.

However, because of their substantial carbon emissions, current coal-fired power stations are considered environmentally unacceptable, irrespective of strides to make them cleaner and more efficient.

As Britain gears up to approve a new raft of cleaner coal power stations and the fuel's importance is increasingly acknowledged by policy makers, development of new mine sites to boost our security of supply is crucial. …