RJB leads coal delegation to Downing St three decks

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The Independent Online
Britain's coal industry, led by the biggest producer RJB Mining, has told the Government it should be allowed to take over and operate coal-fired power stations that are under threat of closure.

Michael Harrison reports on the latest attempts to provide a lifeline for the country's coalfields.

The Government was warned yesterday that eight pits and up to 4,000 jobs could disappear unless it acted to support the coal industry. A delegation to Downing Street, led by RJB's chief executive Richard Budge, urged officials to impose a temporary ban on approvals for further gas-fired stations and provide financial support for a new generation of environmentally friendly clean coal power stations.

However, the industry is also drawing up plans to save redundant coal- fired generating capacity from being mothballed and dismantled. Industry executives believe that before being allowed to close coal-fired stations, the three big fossil fuel generators should be required to offer it to other parties.

"If there is coal burning capacity that is coming off the system that has useful life, then it makes sense to offer it to someone else to operate. It would also help stimulate competition," said one executive.

Later, Mr Budge said the 90 minute meeting with Geoff Norris, who advises the Prime Minister on energy, as "useful" but refused to be drawn further.

The plea for support coincided with news that another gas-fired station is to be built. GEC Alsthom has won a pounds 140m order to construct a 380 megawatt combined cycle power plant near Manchester for the US-owned group AES Partington.

In the last week the go-ahead has been announced for 2,700MW of gas-fired capacity. This will reduce demand for coal by nearly 5 million tonnes a year - equivalent to the output of three large collieries.

A fortnight ago PowerGen announced the closure of a 400MW unit at Ferrybridge C power station in Yorkshire, reducing the market for coal by a further 1 million tonnes a year.

The delegation from the Confederation of UK Coal Producers told Downing Street that a fundamental review was now needed of the UK electricity generating market, arguing that it was increasingly biased against coal. While the review is being conducted, it wants a moratorium on any further consents for gas-fired stations.

The incoming Labour government angered the coal industry in August when it gave the go-ahead for a 1,200MW gas-fired station at BP Chemicals' Salt End works near Hull.

Kevin Barron, the Labour MP for Rother Valley, attacked the decision yesterday. "It's sad about the recent permission to build a gas-fired power station - we said we weren't going to do that," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

"What we need to do in this country is to have an energy policy that is sustainable, that is diverse and is secure. Deep mine coal is an essential part of that, and I think everybody understands that."