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Eastern offers customers scheme to aid coal industry

Electricity customers will be able to make an individual contribution to the battle to save the British coal industry under a scheme unveiled yesterday by Eastern Group, the largest regional power supplier, and RJB, the company that bought most English pits at privatisation.

Eastern has promised to buy 1.5 tonnes of additional coal for every customer who signs up to the offer, called Lionheart. In its first year the group said it expected 100,000 households to take up the package, which will cost the same as its national electricity tariff, translating into 150,000 extra tonnes of RJB coal.

However, the offer only applies to customers outside Eastern's existing franchise area, which covers 3.2 million homes in East Anglia and north London. It means the scheme cannot start until the domestic electricity market opens to competition, a move which was due in April but is now likely to be delayed for several months.

An Eastern spokesman said the company had wanted to offer its existing customers the opportunity to sign up to the scheme, but were prevented by the terms of the group's operating licence. The company expected the offer to appeal most to customers in coalmining areas or former coal communities.

Eastern, which bought five coal fired power stations from National Power and PowerGen, has signed contracts to buy four million tonnes of RJB coal a year from April. The company said any further coal bought from RJB would displace imports, expected to reach 1 million tonnes a year, rather than some of its 14 other UK suppliers apart from RJB.

The power group late last year became the first to offer a green tariff. Households, including those in its franchise region, can opt to pay 5 or 10 per cent more for power, cash which the company will match and invest in renewable energy projects.

- Chris Godsmark