Why Is The U.K. More Dependent On Dirty Coal Now Than They Were 10 Years Ago?

Even as the idea of sustainable energy gains momentum in the U.K., British Gas and SSE, two of the country’s largest energy suppliers, are using more coal to produce electricity than they did ten years ago, according to The Independent.

The two companies are part of the ”Big Six” energy suppliers, providing gas and electricity to more than 50 million homes and businesses in the U.K. (The other four are EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, and Scottish Power.) Between them the two companies share over 40 percent of the U.K. energy market.

The Independent reports that “while the Big Six energy companies are now buying more than a third of the energy that they sell from polluting coal-fired power stations, they have cut back on buying power from more expensive but greener gas-fired power stations.”

At a time when the last deep coal mine in the U.K. is scheduled to be shut down later this year, why is the country’s dependence on dirty coal increasing? 

The Last Deep Coal Mine

A century ago, more than a million miners were employed at 3,000 pits across the U.K., with entire towns and villages in the north of England dedicated to the mining industry. Now the Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, the last deep coal mine, will close in December, 2015, marking the end of an era. There are several reasons for the decline, but one big factor is that coal from several other countries is much cheaper.

But instead of using the closing of coal mines as a reason to stop producing energy from coal, Britain has instead turned to other coal suppliers. As of 2013, the country imported over 60% of the fuel it needed to generate electricity: coal from Russia, gas from Norway and uranium from Canada and Australia.

Blame Big Coal And The Government

Why is this happening? The blame lies squarely with the government, according to Joss Garman, associate director for energy and climate change at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

In the absence of rules to cut pollution from the dirtiest coal stations it has been very profitable for the big energy companies to burn more coal,” said Garman.

“This has been hugely damaging to Britain’s efforts to build a cleaner economy because it has cancelled out some of the carbon savings brought about by the growth in green energy. Amber Rudd [the Energy and Climate Change Secretary] should introduce targeted pollution controls on coal stations of the type that Barack Obama has begun using in the US. This would force the Big Six to cut their carbon footprints without raising energy bills.”

Remember, there is no such thing as clean coal. Burning coal produces lots of carbon emissions and, of all the fossil fuels, coal is the worst for climate change, emitting 1.3 times more carbon pollution than oil and twice as much as natural gas, according to the EPA emissions calculations. Beyond carbon emissions, burning coal produces lots of other toxic chemicals and particles that harm human health, including soot and smog, a leading cause of asthma.

Presumably the Big Six energy companies don’t care about any of that, since their chief goal is to make the profits that Garman refers to.

But maybe the government is stepping up. A new plan, backed by Members of Parliament from the Labor Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (but not the Conservative Party), seeks to use consumer power to get better deals on renewable energy than are currently available. The plan is called “38 Degrees Clean Energy Switch” and the idea is to bring together enough customers to put pressure on companies to lower the cost of sustainable energy.

It will be wonderful if consumer power can overcome the power of the Big Six energy companies. Let’s hope the Clean Energy Switch plan succeeds.


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

John W.
2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

caroline lord
caroline lord2 years ago

dirty coal- dirty govt

John W.
2 years ago

Mary B,
Typical authoritarian reply one would expect from a Cultural Marxist 😝

John W.
2 years ago

Thatcher only planned on closing unprofitable mines. The miners would still be mining in most of Britain's coal mines if it wasn't for their union making unreasonable demands. Which we now know was funded by the Soviet Union.

As for this article:
With filtration and buying offsets (namely prevention of deforestation and reforestation of rainforests) coal is still a cheaper and more efficient way of generating electricity.

Corey Brideau
Corey Brideau2 years ago

you know we could cripple this system by living minimalistic lifestyles

Maggie W.
Maggie D2 years ago

We'll see what happens.

Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray2 years ago

I thought UK mines were shut down by Thatcher already.. or most of them.. mmm