In 2017 Britain generated more electricity from renewable and nuclear energy than from gas and coal for the first time. The national grid have reported that as of 2nd June 2017 power from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied 50.7% of UK energy.
This figure is enhanced when one includes nuclear production, a low carbon source of energy which brings the overall percentage to 72.1% for Great Britain.
This may seem startling to some, especially since coal has historically been by far the biggest producer of electricity in Britain. However, in reality it is an expected trend predicted and decreed by the government, who have made clear that they want all coal-fired power generation to be brought to an end by 2025.
The government’s thoughts on coal production are perhaps best evidenced by politician and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who declared “Frankly, it cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive 50-year-old coal fired power stations”. She went further, stating that she wants more gas-fired stations to be built since relying on “polluting coal” is “perverse”.
So the obvious question is what will become of the companies that produced or will produce the last of UK coal?
Harworth Group PLC
Harworth were for the most part the successor of UK coal when it was privatised in 1995. Whilst the company continued mining for a number of years its endeavours became unprofitable and so they ceased mining in March 2015.
The company continue to hold over 22,000 acres of land over 140 sites and have altered their focus to developing and selling the land to developers, land which for the most part once produced a vast amount of UK power.
Hargreaves Services PLC
Hargreaves Services PLC were described by its CEO Gordon Banham as being “the last man standing” in the UK coal sector. This was so, until April 2016, when it announced it would cease UK power station grade coal production with a shift in focus to different markets.
It seems that the Hargreaves Group are following a similar path as that of the Harworth Group, looking to realise and enhance profits through the sale of its property portfolio, a portfolio made up largely of ex mining land.
It’s safe to say that the current government seem intent on moving UK energy production away from coal, to more renewable sources. This begs the question, is UK coal mining at an end? The answer is not a definitive yes or no, as though coal mining as we once knew it will almost definitely come to an end, coal is still being mined and according to local northern engineer Mr Mark Kirkbride coal is “one of the UK’s richest assets”. Mr Kirkbride is in the process of establishing his own coal mine in the north of England, with the intention that his mine will produce coking coal, a higher grade of coal than that previously mined which will be used in the steel industry.
This coal was the best performing commodity of 2016 and though it represents a huge import for Europe there is no source of it. Thus, the idea is that the coal produced will be shipped to Europe more quickly and cheaply than the current imports.
At present Mr Kirkbride is awaiting the necessary consents in order to commence the development. It is expected that a decision will be made at any time and that if this goes forward that his mine will produce more than two million tonnes of hard coking coal per year.
It seems fair to conclude that the mining industry has undergone a dramatic transformation, so much so that it is almost unrecognisable from an industry which once employed over 1 million people. However, that is not to say that coal mining within the UK is now a mere passage in the history books and this will continue to be the case whilst businesspersons such as Mr Kirkbride find alternate uses and ways to mine and sell coal.
Jordans Solicitors has a department working with ex coal miners looking into their Vibration White Finger claims as it has come to light that many miners missed out on £1000’s. If you’re an ex miner and think you may have a claim, contact a member of our VWF team free on 03303 001103.