It’s been interesting following the recent debate about our future energy policy and the price of bills; they are way too high, with the energy companies given carte blanche to charge astronomical amounts.
Yet it could all be so different. How stupid and short-term we have been in formulating energy policies. We have to pose difficult questions because the obvious answers have been dismissed for too long. Coal may no longer be king, but it shouldn’t have been consigned to the history books. Ludicrously that’s the position we are in. Instead of looking to our future energy needs, Governments have obsessed about fighting past battles.
In 1992 about 30 million tonnes a year of coal were produced at our power stations; there were over 50 deep coal mines – many in the Yorkshire coalfield providing much needed jobs and keeping communities intact.
Yet in 1992 along came Michael Heseltine – his name much dirtier than coal around pit villages – to butcher the heart of the industry. It was a political, not economic decision.
Twenty long years on, we still burn about the same amount of coal at power stations; imported through ports like Immingham to keep the lights on in many a home. Can we really continue to rely on coal from many fragile foreign economies to produce much of our energy? It would appear so. It could have all been so different; had we invested in our coal industry; invested in the workforce and protected the proud communities that helped keep the lights on. Our energy bills would certainly be lower.
We are now facing start choice; gas is not an endless supply; nuclear brings its own dangers; the arguments about wind power show what people think of the turbines stuck on the tops of moors. Yet, it has come to the stage where all options for our future energy needs should be explored, for example looking at the potential of shale gas.
We have a handful of deep coal mines remaining, and every effort should be made to invest in new seams at pits like Kellingley near Pontefract.
The ideologically driven privatisation of coal in the 1990s was the start of the coal end-game; the light on the industry may only be flickering, but it has not quite gone out yet; former miners quite rightly rage against the butchering of their industry. So, what is to be done? Firstly we need to step up our investment in clean coal technology to ensure our power stations to protect our environment; we need to step up research and development in alternative energy sources and ensure our future provision does not rely solely on nuclear.
There should also be a long term plan that brings together all energy providers to ensure the lights don’t go out in future years.
These are dark and worrying days for energy policy and, in the meantime, Halifax and Calderdale residents will see their bills going up and up; it’s time to act in the long term interests of people and communities who quite rightly want assurances that there is a light that never goes out.