Letter: The cost of coal

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The cost of coal

Sir: I was surprised by David Brewer's contention (letter, 16 June) that electricity from coal-fired power stations is cheaper than from gas-fired.

The Natural Gas Supply Association says: "Gas combined-cycle electric generation is 45-50 per cent efficient, while coal generation efficiency levels hover around 30-35 per cent. Additionally, coal plants are one- third to twice as capital-intensive as gas plants, primarily because of higher construction and maintenance costs. Thus, even with the higher input price of gas, combined-cycle generators can often produce electricity at a fraction of the cost of coal facilities."

Further, Powergen's environmental performance data state that in 1996 the gas-fired plants generated 24.8 per cent of Powergen's electricity, but only 13 per cent of their carbon-dioxide and only 3.5 per cent of their nitrous oxides. Also, the gas-fired plants generated none of their 2,445 kilotonnes of ash, nor any of their 512 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide. Gas seems to be a much cleaner fuel than coal.

Could it be that David Brewer is leaving the environmental, social, and health costs of coal out of his equations? Would that be because those costs are not borne by the members of the organisation he represents, the Confederation of United Kingdom Coal Producers? He calls for a "level playing field". I call for the regulator to give us a market in which the producers of each fuel bear the costs of cleaning up after themselves. Then we will see if there is a fuel that doesn't cost the earth.


Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire