Right of Reply

The President of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers argues that the coal industry should be saved
Click to follow
YES, IT does matter if our coal industry dies out. Not just for our mining communities, who have suffered enough with the closure of 200 collieries and the loss of 250,000 jobs in the past 20 years, but in the interests of electricity consumers, who are paying at least pounds 240m a year in higher-than-necessary bills.

For years now, the coal industry has sought fairness, not favours. Up until now, it has had neither. The botched privatisation by the Conservatives of first electricity and then the coal industry gave Labour an energy industry legacy which it will take years to unravel.

Coal has had to "compete" in the electricity market against a high-cost nuclear industry which, until recently, received a subsidy of over pounds 1,000m a year from a tax imposed on the domestic electricity bill of every domestic consumer in the UK. The same tax today still provides a financial prop for high-cost "renewables". Coal has had to compete with state-subsidised French electricity being cabled into the UK, and with subsidised imports.

Coal has lost over half of its share of the electricity market to gas in the past seven years. This was not because gas costs are cheaper - but because the price of electricity from coal has been kept artificially high to protect the investment of the generators in their new gas plant with its attendant ring-fenced sales contracts.

If costs were the determining factor, coal would remain the dominant fuel for power generation. It generates the cheapest electricity. That is a fact now accepted by the Government and the electricity industry's regulator. Margaret Beckett should not bow to the legal threats of the American companies which now control so much of the UK's generating and distribution market. Overhauling the electricity trading arrangements will peg back the gross profits they are in a frenzy to protect, give consumers a better deal, and provide the fairness the coal industry has been seeking.