A former energy minister has warned against the perils of snubbing coal use in the UK – including the possible loss of 20,000 jobs.
Former Labour MP Brian Wilson who was energy minister between 2001 and 2003 claims most of the UK’s remaining coal producers are “facing parlous circumstances” while the largest, UK Coal, believes the next six months are “absolutely critical” to its survival.
Noting the future of coal is “not a popular subject in polite society”, Mr Wilson suggests this ignores the fact almost half of the UK’s energy generation comes from coal.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph yesterday Mr Wilson, who is a director of the Scottish Resources Group which works with coal and renewable energy technology, said: “Nobody doubts that coal’s future prospects are inescapably tied up with stringent carbon reduction measures and progress towards carbon capture and storage. But the short-term imperatives involve the geographic source of the fuel rather than the principle of its usage – there will be significant national downsides to total import reliance.”
He suggests it is better for coal in British power stations to come from the UK and keep thousands of skilled jobs in places where there are “precious few other options”.
With Chancellor George Osborne favouring gas so highly, plus coal plants closing to conform with EU law, Wilson argues “the prospect of 70% gas dependency” could leave the UK “hostage” to overseas prices.
The warning came the same day as energy supplier ScottishPower’s representative Rupert Steele reminded peers in the House of Lords how coal has often “ridden to the rescue” of the country at times when there was a problem with gas supply.