This is a Crunch Year for Coal and the UK Coal Industry


LAON PR 2013 – 19                                                             1/1/13


In 2012, coal as source of energy for power generation purposes has gone through a period of resurgence. Recent statistics from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show a near 50% increase in the use of coal for power generation purposes so far in 2012 when compared to 2011. By October, the consumption of coal for power generation purposes for the first 9 months of 2012, at 44.3m tonnes, had already exceeded the total amount of coal, 41.86m tonnes, used in 2011. However, what we could be witnessing is coal’s swan song.

Fast forwards to 2022 and things could be looking very different. Whereas in 2011, 19 UK power plants were dependent on coal, by 2022 only one may be left, Ratcliffe Power Station on the Trent, which at the most, can burn 7.0m tonnes of coal a year.

Due to the first stage of the EU improving the quality of the air we breathe through the Large Plant Combustion Directive, six coal fired plants are due to close by the end of 2015, Didcot, Tilbury (already converted to biomass) Ironbridge (to be converted to biomass), Kingsnorth, Ferrybridge and Cockenzie. 

Of the remaining 13, the companies which operate them have until the end of 2013 to decide on whether to either invest money to upgrade the plants to meet the new pollution standard set by the EU, the Industrial Emissions Directive, or to convert the plant to burning biomass or close the plant. So far the owners of Drax and Eggborough have indicated full or partial conversion to biomass and there are signs that Lynmouth and Rugeley will follow suit.

Decisions still have to be made on the remaining 9 coal fired power stations. The owners have to decide, by the end of this year, if they intend to upgrade their plants to meet the new standard or not.If they take the latter course, then between 2016 and 2020, they can be utilised for another 20,000 hours.

At the same time, the Energy Bill now going through Parliament has, at its heart, the intention to phase out the use of coal for power generation purposes, at least until Carbon Capture and Storage becomes a proven commercial system. It is going to introduce a carbon floor price and provide subsidies for the development of low carbon methods of electrical generation, making the burning of coal a less profitable source of energy production.

This is why it is a ‘Crunch Year for Coal’. Decisions are going to be made in this year which will dictate what the future demand for coal will be in 10 years time.

Those of us in the Loose Anti Opencast Network will be watching closely the decisions to be made about the future use of coal . Today, LAON published its latest review of possible new opencast sites, which can be accessed here:

In it, LAON identifies 26 possible new opencast sites across the UK, 13 in England, 6 in Scotland and 7 in Wales. If some gained planning permission soon, they could be worked long after 2023, when the demand for coal may be a fraction of what it is now.

Future news then, of what is to happen to the remaining 9 coal fired power stations in the UK in 2013 will be watched with interest as campaigners across the UK battle to try to prevent planning permission being given for any new opencast coal site in 2013.

Steve Leary, for The Loose Anti Opencast Network, commented

“Last year may have seen a temporary surge in the use of coal for power generation purposes, but this boom is not reflected in the state of the UK Coal Industry, which ended the year on very low note. The relatively low world price of coal has wreaked havoc across the UK Coal Industry, with deep mines such as Aberpergywm and Maltlby being temporarily closed, an opencast mine, Blair House in Scotland, being mothballed  and the four opencast mines worked by ATH Resources facing an uncertain future as the Company went into administration  In addition, the UK’s largest coal producer, UK Coal plc was only saved from a similar fate by speeding up a restructuring process – which saves the Company, but leaves the fate of the UK’s largest remaining deep mine, Daw Mill in the balance .

This means that two trends are evident; the domestic coal industry share of the UK coal market for generating electricity continues to shrink,  whilst the industry itself becomes more and more dependent on surface mined coal which now supplies two thirds of the UK coal production.

Whilst it seems the UK Coal Industry struggles for survival and looks to the future, it too will be keenly watching to see if the market for coal continues to decline.

The Loose Anti Opencast Network will continue to remind planning authorities who vet new planning applications on two things, that the need for coal for power generation purposes is to decline sharply and that granting new planning permissions risks leaving mothballed opencast sites scattered across the countryside if the price of coal does not improve and the market for coal shrinks. Given the present financial state of the Coal Industry, this is a very real risk.”

A referenced copy of this press release is available from

About LAON

The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It functions as a medium through which to oppose open cast mine applications. At present LAON links individuals and groups in N IRELAND (Just Say No to Lignite), SCOTLAND (Coal Action Scotland) and (Saline Parish Hub). WALES (Green Valleys Alliance, (The Merthyr Tydfil Anti Opencast Campaign and Llwdgoed Action). ENGLAND (Coal Action Network), Northumberland, (Whittonstall Action Group) and  North Pennine Protection Group ) Co Durham (Pont Valley Network), Leeds, Sheffield (Cowley Residents Action Group), Kirklees, (Skelmansthorpe Action Group)  Nottinghamshire (Shortwood Farm Opencast Opposition), Derbyshire (West Hallum Environment Group, Smalley Action Group and Hilltop Action Group) , Leicestershire (Minorca Opencast Protest Group) and Walsall (Alumwell Action Group).

Contacting LAON

Steve Leary LAON’Ss Co-ordinator, at

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