Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

Plea for 'clean coal' investment

By Mark Hannaby
The Politics Show

Aberthaw power station is developing the new cleaner technology
Aberthaw power station is developing the new cleaner technology

A former Wales Office minister says the 1984-5 miners' strike "generation" will be "betrayed" if the UK government fails to restore the coal industry.

Islwyn MP Don Touhig says technology developed in Wales provides an opportunity to use coal while minimising carbon dioxide emissions.

The government said the UK would be one of the first countries to develop carbon capture and storage technology.

It also said fossil fuels remained an important part of the UK's energy mix.

Mr Touhig has told BBC One's The Politics Show Wales of his support for so-called "clean coal technology".

The great drawback of burning coal to produce electricity is that it results in damaging carbon dioxide emissions which speed up climate change.

Don Touhig MP
I think... we'll be betraying a generation of people who fought hard to protect their jobs and preserve our communities if we don't grasp this opportunity
Don Touhig MP

But scientists at the coal-fired Aberthaw power station in the Vale of Glamorgan are working on a process to capture up to 99% of those carbon emissions from the flue gas of a power station before transporting the gas by either a ship or a pipeline to a storage site.

While carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is still in its infancy, RWE npower, which runs Aberthaw, is taking part in a government competition to build the UK's first plant using it.

Senior commerical manager for RWE npower Phil Evans said: "At Aberthaw we've invested £8.4m to build a small-scale pilot project.

"But in order to get a full scale commercial operation of this type of technology we're looking at an investment of about a billion pounds, which clearly can only come from the government."

Mr Touhig said in order to revive the coal industry in Wales the UK government's financial investment would need to be significant and sustained over many years. Mr Touhig said: "I think we'll be letting down, we'll be betraying, a generation of people who fought hard to protect their jobs and preserve our communities if we don't grasp this opportunity."

Miners strike
Around 20,000 miners and police officers were injured in the dispute

Public support

He said: "This isn't a five-year or a 10-year commitment. This is a 20- or 30-year commitment. We are talking of millions of pounds.

"But nevertheless there is evidence to show that clean coal technology can work.

"It does need more investment, it does need more research, but if we don't do that the private sector, with the best will in the world, is not going to do it on its own. It does need public support."

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said the UK will be one of the first countries in the world to develop carbon capture and storage technology on the scale needed for it to become mainstream, and that the long term investment will have global benefits.

She added that fossil fuels are still an important part of the UK's energy mix and that the successful implementation of carbon capture and storage will provide longer term opportunities for the coal industry.

Friends of the Earth Cymru support the development of the technology, but its director Gordon James warned that unless and until it is available the coal industry should not be revived.

Mr James argued that coal remained the largest single cause of climate change.

The Politics Show Wales is on BBC One from 12 noon on Sunday.



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