Old King Coal is back in Cumbria as the wind blows in favour of turbines

Old King Coal was a merry old soul,
And merry for coal was he,
He called for his mine, and he sold his soul,
Saying climate change is not for me!

(Misremembered nursery rhyme.)

Tim Farron said:

This decision cancels out all the progress Britain has made on renewable energy. The Government’s environmental credentials are yet again left in tatters.

Rishi Sunak’s Government is trashing our country’s reputation as a world lead in cutting emissions. He does not represent the views of the public who want green, clean projects.

After being dragged kicking and screaming to permit more onshore wind they’ve now lost all their goodwill by allowing this deeply damaging coal mine.

Liberal Democrats have long called for this project to be cancelled and we hope the government will reverse their decision.

There are Lib Dems who support the Woodhouse Mine, including Tim Farron’s former campaign manager John Studholme who argued in favour here on LDV last year.

The £165m investment will produce about 2.8m tonnes of coal a year, ceasing production in 2049. The coal is expected to be high in sulphur and unsuitable for steelmaking. At least two steelmakers have said they will not use it and it will not displace coal from Russia and other sources. It is anticipated around 83% of the coal will be exported along with CO2 in transport and use. Importing coal, of course, imports CO2. But at least we are taking responsibility for the carbon, not sending it offshore.

The motivation for yesterday’s decision was more political than of necessity. The scheme was initially approved by Cumbria County Council but called in by ministers. After an inquiry, a decision was delayed to avoid embarrassment at COP26 and delayed again this year until after COP27. The very fact that the decision was delayed twice to save embarrassment in international environment meetings demonstrates how damaging this decision is to Britain’s reputation as a global leader on climate change. But Tory backbenchers have to be appeased, and the mine has been approved. Undoubtedly, it will now go the courts.

There is an argument the creation of more than 500 mostly local jobs will contribute to levelling up. But it is a retrograde move to level up by investing in the fuel that fired the industrial revolution and kicked started global warming. In the north, we should be investing in the energies and technologies of the future. Otherwise, we are in danger of perpetuating the divide between the industrial north and high tech south, though this is something of a myth.

If there is anything we can learn from the government’s decisions on energy projects and policy in recent years is that there is no coherent policy or strategy. Decisions are as chaotic as the weather. Policy directions change as often as the wind, being blown this way and that by the political maelstrom within the Tory party.

Rishi Sunak was a Cameron-style opponent of onshore wind farms but reversed his position earlier this week. The ban was never rational and wind farms can be aesthetic. Writing in 2012 for CPRE, I suggested that Bryn Titli wind farm in Radnorshire “is so aesthetic it should have won the Turner Prize for art.”

We have yet to see the new planning policy on wind farms but local consent will be required, whatever that means. If a council planning committee for a unitary council approves a wind farm is that local consent? Even though some councillors might live 50 miles away and may only have visited the area for a few minutes on a planning visit? Or does it require parish council consent? If a council turns down an application, will an appeal to the planning inspectorate will be disallowed to ensure the decision is local? If so, that would require primary legislation and there is little hope of that unless it is included in the levelling up bill. That is unlikely because it will set a precedent for vetoing referrals to the planning inspectorate. Though there would be joy from communities around the land if that happened.


* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

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  • George Thomas 8th Dec '22 - 2:49pm

    There may be an argument that coal in the right circumstances and in a limited way still has role to play in our future, but i) they haven’t made a convincing argument in this instance and ii) the UK is more forward thinking on climate emergency that likes of China, India, Australia, USA, Brazil etc. and this headline gives cover for other nations to make globally destructive decisions in much larger way.

    It’s a bad political move as a headline, it’s bad in the details and there is high risk that it has a really horrible outcome.

    Michael Gove put his name to this decision. Why?

  • A timely example of the Government’s commitment to UK self-sufficiency (not) and a warning to those who want fracking in some mistaken belief it will make the UK less dependent on foreign energy sources: the government doesn’t care about UK self-sufficiency what is more important is jobs at any cost and the monies to be gained from exporting the coal.

  • The Woodhouse Mine is a classic case where dogma and political posturing has drowned out any rational debate over the pros and cons for this mine.

    This mine will produce coking coal, which is used for steel production rather than electricity generation or heating. Therefore, the key issue is the different ways of producing steel, and their need for coal. It is argued that arc furnaces are increasingly used for steel production, and they do not require coal. That is true, but they do require scrap steel or direct-reduced iron as a raw material. The production of direct-reduced iron still requires coal or natural gas as a raw material, which is released as CO2.

    Steel manufacture accounts for 7-9% of global CO2 emissions, so it essential to reduce the use of fossil fuels in its manufacture. However, alternative manufacturing methods require vast amounts of electricity, which is probably only economic where there is a surplus of generating capacity. And they still require some fossil fuel as a chemical ingredient in the process.

    It is unlikely that the UK will have a surplus of electricity from renewables for many years. Until then, steel production using arc furnaces would be located elsewhere, raising questions of security of supply.

    Therefore, I do not have enough evidence to assess the case for the Woodhouse mine – unlike most of the commentators, who do not see the need for evidence to support their opinions.

  • @Simon – you raise an interesting point.
    I suggest, unless the UK wants to reopen the Northamptonshire iron ore industry and recreate the Corby steelworks, the best source of iron in the UK is scrap steel, supplemented by the import of direct-reduced iron (from Europe?).
    Also given prior to Brexit the EU were having problems maintaining a market large enough to support two blast furnaces and associated works, and the UK weren’t consuming (or exporting) sufficient steel to maintain a single last furnace, the UK has little need for the amount of coal that is intending to be produced from this mine.
    These giving further reasons why this mine isn’t needed (at this time) for the security of UK steel supply…

  • David Garlick 9th Dec '22 - 2:41pm

    Coal is Not good in any way. Steel manufacture is moving away from coal and by the time this mine is in full production there is a real risk of it being redundant if not straight away then soon afterwards.
    I would urge all Lib Dem Members to join the Green Lib Ems and help the Party make a real Green Difference.

  • David Garlick 9th Dec '22 - 2:42pm

    Sorry. Dems of course

  • Jenny Barnes 9th Dec '22 - 3:01pm

    “by the time this mine is in full production”
    it can supply our last 2 coal fired power stations, as the steel makers don’t want it.
    (W. Burton 1GW, Ratcliffe on Soar 2GW, both in Notts)
    Not to worry, Indonesia has nearly 300 coal fired power stations.

  • nvelope2003 9th Dec '22 - 3:32pm

    George Thomas: It is unlikely that the countries you mention would be influenced by what an old colonial power would do, more likely it would make them more determined to do what they considered was in their national interest as we did for hundreds of years, often at their expense as they would see it. Please do not be so patronising, it is embarrassing.

  • @Jenny – Perhaps a more environmentally beneficial use of the coal would be as a replacement for the wood pellets currently sourced from Canada and used to fuel Drax…

  • Peter Hirst 10th Dec '22 - 2:51pm

    The Conservatives must understand what signal approving this coal mine gives to the electorate and internationally. Either they don’t care or are forced to approve this for internal reasons. If a government can do this it shows how important it is for there to be a mechanism for removing an administration between General Elections.

  • Peter, there is a time-honoured method of removing democratically elected governments between elections.

    It is called a coup d’etat. I recommend the stronger younger Lib Dem branches start para-military training immediately, as I fear the national army hasn’t got its balls in the right place.

  • Jenny Barnes 13th Dec '22 - 3:22pm

    Windmills are all very well but – right now, (3pm 13/dec) according to Gridwatch, UK electricity demand is 44GW. Which is being provided by 24 GW of gas, 6 of nuclear 2.5 wind 1.3 Coal and lots of bits and pieces from hydro, interconnectors etc. If we’re going to build more windmills, we need something to drive the grid when, like now, it’s cold and not much wind, and something to use up all the excess when it’s windy. Green hydrogen electrolysis might work with something like a combined cycle hydrogen generating set to burn it when there’s no wind. But I suspect providing reliable power like that would make wind look a lot more expensive.

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