Useless, buried and, till a number of months in the past, sure to stay that means: Britain’s coal business. However some FT readers have lately taken to posting the response “reopen the coal mines” underneath articles in regards to the present UK power disaster. How sensible is that suggestion?
Coal did greater than maintain the lights on for Britain over the previous few centuries. Mining was an enormous employer in lots of elements of the nation. Manufactured “city fuel” was a staple home gas till pure fuel took over within the 1960s.
The nation’s three remaining coal-fuelled energy stations principally purchase their shares from overseas. Till lately Russia was the largest provider. British mines produced solely 1mn tonnes final 12 months. That was lower than 1 per cent of peak manufacturing earlier than the primary world struggle.
The power disaster has pushed up coal costs sixfold for the reason that begin of the 2020s. However centuries of extraction imply most remaining thermal coal lies deep, making it economically unviable for energy technology even at present costs, in response to Steve Hulton, of consultancy Rystad Vitality.
Britain’s “proved” reserves of coking coal — which could possibly be economically extracted — had been estimated at simply 26mn tonnes final 12 months by BP. That compares with virtually 250bn within the US.
Complete British coal in existence could be as a lot as 190bn tonnes, in response to estimates made by British Coal within the 1990s. About 45bn tonnes of which may be extractable, cash no object. The latter would cowl Britain’s whole power consumption for 2021 about 75 occasions over, Lex calculates.
Excessive coal costs will need to have simplistically elevated the small slice of that 45bn tonnes which is now economically viable. However a multiyear extraction plan must recognise that the business doesn’t count on excessive costs to persist. Firms are usually not altering their funding plans to focus on areas the place coal was beforehand uneconomic.
The true sticking level within the UK is the harm coal mining wreaks. Coal produces noise and dirt when it’s dug up and hefty emissions when it’s burnt. Since 2014, West Cumbria Mining has been attempting to open the primary new deep coal mine in 30 years. Ministers as soon as once more postponed a call on that earlier this month.
For environmentalists, coal mining actually is the pits.