Alkane hopes to win deal that will help keep UK’s lights on

Alkane Energy, which mines methane gas from redundant Yorkshire coal mines, will hear this week whether it has won a contract with National Grid to supply 60MW of standby power for this winter.

Alkane said it is confident it will win the deal, which it said would “keep the lights on this winter” as the UK faces a power shortfall.

Alkane said it hopes to hear today or tomorrow whether it has been successful.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Chief executive Neil O’Brien said if the firm wins the contract, half of the methane will come from Yorkshire mines.

“We feel extremely hopeful,” said Mr O’Brien.

“We’ve already been contacted by national grid and we’re hopeful we will hear early this week.”

He said that the standby power will be essential if the UK is to avoid power cuts.

“It’s as simple as keeping the lights on.

“The UK has been shutting electrical capacity, not building new sites. The system was beginning to get stretched and problems at Ferrybridge have made it a lot tighter.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Ferrybridge power station was ​hit by a serious fire in July which caused​​ significant damage.

​Mr O’Brien said that Wheldale, Houghton Maine and Grimethorpe will all contribute to the methane production if the group wins the National Grid contract.

All three are former mines that have no methane left but the mine workings are used to buy in gas to pro duce power to feed the grid. They are known in the trade as power response sites.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change, alongside Ofgem and the National Grid, are introducing capacity initiatives to ensure the UK has 400MW of reserve power this winter.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Three other redundant Yorkshire coal mines are being brought back to life under plans by Alkane to harness their methane gas.

Following initial teething problems at Rotherham’s Maltby colliery, Alkane said the site is now producing record levels of methane.

The Prince of Wales colliery in Wakefield started full methane production in January and Alkane said production is going according to plan.

It also has high hopes for Markham Main at Doncaster, where it is currently drilling to test for methane levels.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yorkshire’s coalfields tend to generate more methane than other areas of the country, making its former mines a rich source of future power production.

In June, Ofgem said that without action the risk of power cuts could be as high as one chance in four by the winter of 2015/16.

At a time when unrest in the Ukraine, Russia and the Middle East threatens to destabilise UK power supplies, Alkane said it is able and ready to help meet the shortfall.

At Maltby, the closure of the colliery took longer than planned, which was not within Alkane’s control.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The initial plan was that the shaft sealing operations would take five weeks, but in the event they took 13 weeks.

“We are pleased to report that Maltby returned to full production in June,” said Mr O’Brien.

“We have seen a number of record production figures for total group coal mine methane production since this date.

“In particular, current output from Maltby is ahead of expectations and we expect production in the second half to compensate for the delayed shaft sealing operations.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We should be back on track by Christmas. We’ve not lost the gas, it’s still there.”

With all eight engines running Maltby can produce 10MW.

“We always knew Maltby had some of the highest concentrations of gas to coal, but we couldn’t get at it while the miners were sill there,” said Mr O’Brien.

“Maltby will be a very good site over the years. The 15-year lease runs for another 14 years and could well be chugging along after that.”

The group is working on the drilling of new sites and it expects to know the outcome of tests at Markham Main by the end of October.

“We’re hopeful,” said Mr O’Brien.

“It could be a 4MW site.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Prince of Wales colliery, which is in a corner of the reclamation scheme, opened last Christmas and Mr O’Brien said the 2MW facility is “going well”.

It also has plans to extract methane from a fourth former Yorkshire coal mine, Newmarket in South Leeds.

Overall, Alkane’s installed capacity reached 140MW in the six months to June 30, up from 81MW in the first half of 2013.

In the first half of the year its sites delivered 85GWh, down from 94GWh in the first half of 2013.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“This was a satisfactory performance given that production was disrupted at Maltby as the mine closure operation took place,” said Mr O’Brien.

Alkane reported an increase in profit in the first half of 2014 to £7.3m for the six months to the end of June 30, up from £1.0m a year earlier, following a one-off expectational profit of £10m after it transferred shale rights to Egdon Resources.​

Today, the colliery spoil heaps that once dominated much of South Yorkshire e ast of the M1 have largely been levelled, returning sites to how they might have looked a couple of centuries ago with parks and community woodlands.

Other sites have been cleared to make way for developments such as retail parks, distribution warehouses or call centres, but all the old collieries have one thing in common.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

An industry which locally employed over 40,000 when the bitter miners’s strike began 30 years ago – there are less than 600 workers left today – has been virtually airbrushed from the landscape.

Alkane hopes to keep some of that history alive by harnessing methane gas from former deep pits.