Does the UK really need coal to be extracted from an opencast mine at Druridge Bay?
In only nine months the face of UK coal-fired electrical power generation has changed significantly.
Longannet and Ferrybridge C shut at the end of March, and Rugeley B announced that it is to close later this year. Eggborough and Fiddlers Ferry also announced planned closure in March. This has subsequently been postponed until March 2017 so that they are available for ‘back-up’ power generation.
Lynemouth stopped producing electrical power using coal on January 1, (currently converting to Biomass generation).
In nine months three coal-fired power stations have closed, one has stopped power production using coal, and two more are planned to be closed by March 2017. These closures reduce the number of UK coal-fired power stations from 12 to six. The indications that were apparent last year that the coal power generation companies were bringing forward their planned closure dates has become a reality.
Whilst it seems unlikely that this closure trend will continue at the current pace, it seems probable that further closures of two or three of the remaining six coal-fired power stations will follow in the next two to three years.
By 2018/19 it is foreseeable that only three or four coal-fired powers stations could still be in operation in the UK. This is likely to be before any coal could be extracted from the proposed Druridge Bay mine.
This year has also seen Banks’ turnover and profits fall by 21 per cent and 34 per cent respectively as the mining division falls victim to the world slump in coal prices. Based on the power station closures which have been announced, Banks’ claims that prices will recover in 2018 is difficult to fathom, given the market for its coal is predominantly UK power stations.
With the current rate of power station closure it is foreseeable that Banks’ market could disappear long before the planned coal extraction from Druridge Bay is completed in 2025.
Add to this the declining revenues from coal extraction and the emission problems associated with burning high sulphur content UK coal, and the economic justification for continued extraction at the expense of longer term jobs in farming and the tourism industry looks very weak.
There is also history of opencast mining companies failing as their profits and markets have diminished, leaving taxpayers with big bills to reinstate the areas their works have impacted.
Despite these factors, Banks continued with its planning application for the proposed opencast mine at Druridge Bay in the face of strenuous opposition from both local and national campaigners.
Against the background of a diminishing market from the power generation companies, the economic uncertainty surrounding opencast coal extraction and its impact on the abundant wildlife and thriving tourist economy of the Druridge Bay area, it would be a travesty if planning approval was granted to the Banks Group for this development in June.
Extraction of coal from Druridge Bay makes no environmental or economic sense.