In his blog Roger Helmer sets out his view of the future of the coal industry in the UK.
UKIP is strongly pro-coal — as we have clearly set out in our energy policy
Coal must be a major factor in our generating mix. And we want it to be clean coal – taking out the SOx & NOx and particulates as far as possible. Where we disagree with the orthodox view is that we do not regard CO2 as a pollutant (if you do think that CO2 is killing the planet – please stop breathing now! With every breath you are exhaling CO2). Accordingly, we think that Carbon Capture and Storage — CCS — (even if it works – and many people including Greenpeace think it won’t) is simply a waste of money, and pointless. Most of the estimates I’ve seen indicate that CCS will add around 20% to the cost of energy (or reduce efficiency by 20%, which amounts to much the same thing). So we don’t want it.
They will tell you that CCS plants are operating in Canada. But it’s not CCS – it’s CCU – Carbon Capture and Use. And the use is to pump it into old oil-fields for “Enhanced Oil Recovery”. So far as I’m concerned, if there’s a commercial use for the CO2, then CCS may make economic sense. But not if you’re going to bury it (insecurely) in old coal mines or oil wells.
However, if we face a situation where we’re not in government, and where the Establishment insists on its suicidal green policies, we’d rather have coal with CCS than have no coal generation at all. I can quite understand why the British coal industry (what remains of it) is pro-CCS – because they think that’s the only way that coal-powered generation will survive.
Of course we in UKIP would love to see a renaissance of British coal. But the problem is that right now, American coal is very much cheaper than British deep-mined coal. We’re free-traders – I don’t think we can countenance protectionist tariffs on imported coal, or a requirement for a percentage of coal usage to be British. But it may well be that American coal will get more expensive in the medium term, when we’re through the first flush of shale gas and oil. And secondly, we in UKIP have agreed to press for a special Commission to look at future opportunities for British coal. I’m hopeful that new ideas might come out of it.
In addition to conventional mining, there are new techniques like Underground Coal Gasification that could be used to generate electricity from mines which are too difficult or expensive to access through conventional means – including under the North Sea, which could bring work to the North-East.
I was at a debate organised in London last Tuesday by the Energy Institute. Discussing the cost of renewables, where DECC always assumed that rising fossil fuel prices would rapidly increase, making renewables competitive, Tory MP Dr. Philip Lee observed that in any case fossil fuels were finite, so prices would inevitably increase. I responded that we had coal in Britain for two hundred years, if we chose to use it.
And I didn’t mention it, but it remains a fact: we probably also have decades of shale gas, and when the time comes, centuries of methane hydrates. To quote an old adage, the Stone Age didn’t end when we ran out of stones. So it will be with fossil fuels. Their use will end not because of climate hysteria, and not because we run out of fossil fuels. It will end when we have better technologies. But it will be there for us — and for our grandchildren.