COAL still has a “long-term future” as a source of energy to keep Britain’s lights on if carbon capture technology being piloted in Yorkshire proves a success, senior Government officials have said.
Jonathan Holyoak, head of CCS at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), said the proposed “clean coal” power station at Drax, near Selby, offers a potential way forward for the UK’s beleaguered coal industry if the scheme gets the final go-ahead in the next two years.
Yorkshire has borne witness to many decades of pit closures, and the shut-down of Maltby Colliery near Rotherham last year means there are now just two active deep mines left in the region – at Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, and Hatfield Colliery near Doncaster.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey told the Liberal Democrat party conference last year that the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions means “the days of coal-powered electricity are numbered”.
But appearing before the Commons energy committee yesterday, Mr Holyoak said carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology offers a glimmer of hope for the coal industry.
“The Drax (CCS) project is a coal project – so there is a long-term future for coal through that technology, potentially,” he said.
“We have been talking to the coal industry about CCS offering a long-term, low-carbon future for them. We met the UK Coal forum last week and described what we are doing with CCS and how it could be potentially useful for them in the future.”
The £2bn White Rose scheme at Drax involves the construction of a 426MW coal-fired power station which would use CCS technology to capture the CO2 emissions before they are released, and then bury them below the ground in depleted oil and gas fields off the North Sea coast. Drax has been shortlisted by DECC for supportfrom its £1bn CCS funding competition, with a final decision due next year.
While voicing his support for the development of CCS, David Cameron has repeatedly linked it to shale gas – as a possible solution to green campaigners’ concerns about the impact a future fracking boom would have on UK carbon emissions.
But Welsh MP Albert Owen, who sits on the committee, said yesterday that CCS is equally important for the coal industry.
“Yes, we could potentially be sitting on shale gas – but we know we are sitting on coal,” he said.
Energy Minister Michael Fallon insisted coal is still “potentially” part of the UK Government’s long-term energy plan, so long as the Drax project proves that CCS can work on a commercial scale.
“We have to see if the application to coal is commercially scalable – that’s the purpose of the competition,” Mr Fallon said.
“We are open to proposals from all different technologies. We have to try to be technology-neutral to start with. We can’t be sure which of these particular applications is likely to take off first, and be commercially scalable.
“But I certainty don’t rule out its application with coal.”
The Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday that the Government has just three months to give a firm commitment to the Drax project or face missing out on a £250m EU grant on offer to support CCS schemes around Europe.
Mr Fallon gave no indication yesterday that the firm assurance which EU officials require by the end of April will be forthcoming.
“I’m not sure when we’re likely to get a final investment decision – it looks unlikely within a year or so,” he said. “It could possibly slip to 2016.
“These are huge projects; there is a huge amount of public money involved – £1bn of public money – and it’s very, very important to get these projects right.”