Should the UK rely on the Russians to keep the lights on? - asks NUM

21 April 2015

The National Union of Mineworkers is calling on the new Government to help keep the last deep pits in the UK open as official figures reveal coal is still the biggest source of electricity.

Thoresby and Kellingley collieries, which are run by UK Coal, are due to close after the Government decided last month not to agree to State Aid to keep them open to 2018.

The closure of Kellingley, in North Yorkshire, and Thoresby, in Nottinghamshire, would lead to the loss of 1,300 jobs, and make Hatfield in South Yorkshire, which is run by an employee-owned trust, the only deep mine left.

Latest Government figures* show that burning coal provides 35.4 per cent of the UK’s electricity, with gas at 26.9 per cent and nuclear at 19 per cent.

Last year 40 million tonnes of coal** was burned in power stations and a further 10 million tonnes or so was used in blast furnaces and for other industrial processes, including the steel industry. About 80 per cent of the coal is imported, roughly half from Russia.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 the UK’s 200 or so deep mines produced 122 million tonnes of coal per year.***

UK Coal had asked the Government for £338m to support Kellingley and Thoresby to stay open to 2018, a figure that the NUM says could be much less. But in a written reply delivered just two days before Parliament dissolved the Minister for State, Business, Enterprise and Energy, Matthew Hancock said the request was not value for money.

Nicky Wilson, national president of the NUM, said: “We still generate more than a third of our electricity from burning coal, making it the number one fuel. We might see that renewables are the future, but right now we rely on coal to keep the lights on.

“Do we want to rely on imports from Russia when we know how volatile that country is? We need to think about security of supply in a global market.

“We also still use coal in many of our manufacturing plants and when we are looking at rebuilding manufacturing in this country, to risk that energy source is crazy.”

Other European countries, including Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic, have supported their coal industries with State Aid to keep them open until 2018. And, according to Nicky Wilson, want to keep them open until 2025.

“Shutting all our deep pits now is short-sighted and dangerous. Other countries are not thinking that coal is dead and buried, it could well have a future, especially with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

“It seems daft to build the EU’s biggest CCS plant at Drax, near Selby, and then use imported coal to power it.”

Mr Wilson said the NUM also questioned the need for £338m, pointing out the figure could have been much less if the Department of Energy and Climate Change hadn’t dragged its feet.

“The request for aid for Thoresby and Kellingley goes back to 2012, and yet it is not until now that we get a response to that request.

“An independent report**** that we commissioned said in May last year that it would cost about £70m to keep the two pits open to 2018 and there would be operating profits of £80m.

“Because of the delay in making any sort of decision, the cost has gone up, mainly because development pretty much stopped at these pits. But the figure of £338m is still misleading as it includes £80m for enhanced redundancy that may never be needed, and it doesn’t take into account the income from tax and National Insurance that the miners pay while working, but won’t if they are made redundant.

“Add to that the knock-on effect to the public purse of 1,300 people losing their jobs and it just doesn’t make sense to shut the pits.”

“Whatever colour the new government is, we want to talk to them and ask them to reverse the decision. Look at what else is happening with the coal industry in Europe and ask is it really sensible to destroy our supply of this vital fuel?”
Mr Wilson said the refusal to give state aid to the mining industry was also an insult to all the miners who had paid into former British Coal pension scheme.

“When the industry was privatised in 1994 the Government set up a system whereby it could dip into the pensions’ pot and take half of any surplus. Successive governments have over the years allocated themselves more than £6bn, including £700m in February 2014, and yet they refuse to pay a small amount of that now to keep the industry alive.”

Notes to editor

* Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/energy-trends-and-prices-statistical-release-26-march-2015

**Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/solid-fuels-and-derived-gases-section-2-energy-trends

*** Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/historical-coal-data-coal-production-availability-and-consumption-1853-to-2011

****Source: http://www.num.org.uk/uploads/26/1184.pdf

Media contact at the NUM: Chris Kitchen, general secretary on 01226 215555 or 07976 308558 or Nicky Wilson, president, on 07730 215610.

Additional media contact: Kate Betts on 01226 766900 or 07792 764891 or at kate@capitalbmedia.co.uk

This press release was prepared by Capital B Media, a public relations and media training agency based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. For more details about our PR services, please visit www.capitalbmedia.co.uk

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