Monthly Archives: October 2012

The latest Coal news

Obama damned as regulator-in-chief as anger runs high in Ohio coal country

Republicans stoke emotions in vital battleground as miners accuse president and his ‘tree-huggers’ of killing king coal

It’s the afternoon shift change at the Harrison Resources mine, and about 30 miners are heading home after 10 hours shovelling for coal on an exposed hilltop in eastern Ohio. The men are dressed in an unofficial uniform of jeans, T-shirt and hard hat, and they speak in unison, too, when asked about the presidential election, now less than a week away.

“Obama’s done more damage in the last three years than anyone in the last 50,” said Brad Knight. “He and his advisers are a bunch of tree-huggers, east coast and west coast”.

“The way Obama’s handling the coal business,” said Lanny Stephen, “it looks like he’s trying to fade it out.” A third miner, Trent Sigman, chimed in: “They ought to raise the standards in China before they come after us – their standards are much less strict than ours”.

Anger is running high in the coal country of Ohio. With the final countdown to election day under way, front yards in Cadiz, the nearest small town to the mine, are stacked with placards promoting the Romney-Ryan ticket alongside signs saying: “Stop the war on coal – fire Obama”.

The Republicans and their Super Pac supporters have been aggressively stoking emotions within Cadiz and neighbouring mining communities, bombarding the area with TV and radio adverts on the theme of the “war on coal”. The intention is clear: in an election as razor-close as it looks to be in Ohio, a swing towards Mitt Romney in coal country could be enough to tip the entire state – and with it the US presidency – in his favour.

That’s why Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, was in the coal town of Zanesville on Saturday telling a rally that “here in this part of Ohio, we have so much energy, let’s use our coal.”

That’s also why outside lobbying groups with links to energy interests have been hammering the area with adverts accusing Obama of destroying jobs. One such ad, put out by Americans For Prosperity, a group partly funded by the energy billionaire Koch brothers, says that Obama is trying to do away with coal that has provided “opportunities for our children and our communities”.

Another, put out by the American Energy Alliance, accuses the Obama administration of causing coal mines to close all across the country through the imposition of environmental regulations. “The president and his Washington cronies have declared war on affordable energy and American jobs,” the soundtrack says.

A similar strategy is being pursued throughout the Appalachian coal areas. A new advert implying that Obama was responsible for the imminent closure or conversion of 22 coal facilities in Pennsylvania was just launched on the TV screens of that state’s coal communities this week.

In 2008, Obama won seven out of the 18 Ohio counties that produce coal – an achievement that surpassed the record of any of his Democratic predecessors. In Harrison county, which covers Cadiz and the Resources mine, Obama polled 47% four years ago to John McCain’s 50%, a near-parity that reflected a strong Democratic tradition in the locality strengthened by a vibrant trade union membership among coal miners and steel workers.

Romney’s challenge is to beat back Obama’s showing in the region on 6 November. Hence the focus of the Republican campaign on the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations introduced in 2010 by the
Obama administration
.

The regulations are designed to reduce pollution and global warming emissions from coal-fired power plants, and to limit the damage to rivers and scenery caused by mountaintop mining, or surface mining as locals prefer to call it: the crude technique of blasting out hundreds of feet of hillside to reach seams of coal. The method is heavily used in the Appalachian coal areas that cross Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Some of the new regulations have already been put on hold as a result of legal challenges. Local coal mines and coal-burning power plants are also facing fierce competition from natural gas production that is booming in Appalachia as a result of the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

But the Romney campaign has glossed over those inconvenient truths, blaming recent closures of coal-fired stations entirely on Obama’s fetish for regulation. There are signs that the strategy might be working.

For the first time since 1972 the United Mine Workers of America has decided not to endorse a presidential candidate this year, having backed Obama in 2008. In Cadiz, the mantra of the “war on coal” appears also to be enjoying some purchase.

Ed Sobolawski, a retired steel worker, has voted as a Democrat all his adult life. This year though, for the first time, he is having doubts.

“To tell you the truth, I haven’t decided what I’m going to vote. I keep switching back and forth,” he said.

We meet in a barn on the outskirts of Cadiz where Sobolawski is having an annual “fry” with friends from the neighbourhood. A group of about 10 men – mainly retired coal and steel workers – have assembled to eat side bacon, drink moonshine that one of them procured on the black market in Kentucky, chew on chewing tobacco and talk about the much-vaunted war on coal.

“I feel bad for the coal miners. So many are losing their jobs. Kids round here don’t stick around – they all leave the area to find work,” he said.

Among the lunch gatherers is Bill Spiker, who used to be chief executive of a local coal mine. He says he is sympathetic to the idea that mining has to be regulated – he remembers in his youth how the open strip mines around here tore up huge swathes of countryside without any attempt to reclaim it; and he approves of the federal government’s insistence on returning spent mines to something approximating a natural condition.

But he argues that Obama has taken the regulations too far. “He’s regulated the coal industry just about out of existence. He doesn’t like the coal industry so he’s regulating it to death,” Spiker said.

There’s a common sentiment that connects the mine workers of the Resources mine and the retired friends gathered at their annual fry: they all feel got at. Their way of life is under siege, as they see it, from tree-hugging environmentalists and coastal do-gooders, with Obama cast in the role of regulator-in-chief.

That sense of beleaguerment is being put to powerful political use by Mitt Romney, backed by his supporters in the coal industry. Lost in the argument is the fact that the number of workers employed in the coal mining industry, contrary to the message being delivered locally, has actually gone up since 2008, from 77,000 to 82,000.

Lost, too, is Obama’s attempt to promote new technologies behind clean coal, and Romney’s own record of flip-flopping on the issue. As governor of Massachusetts he insisted on a coal-burning power station abiding by strict emissions rules, saying: “”I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant kills people.”

Lost, above, all is any talk about climate change and the long-term need to reduce emissions caused by non-clean coal. Back at the coal mine, Trent Sigman said emphatically that he doesn’t believe in global warming: “It’s just something that occurs naturally over so many years, so they are using that for political reasons.”

The group of miners around him nodded in agreement.

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Hitachi energises future of low-carbon power in the UK

New player to nuclear race was announced as the government signalled funding for carbon capture and storage projects

The future of low-carbon energy in the UK became a little clearer on Tuesday when a new player entered the nuclear race and the government published a shortlist of four potential carbon capture and storage projects that will compete for funding.

The Japanese industrial company Hitachi has agreed to buy the nuclear consortium Horizon, a former project of the German utilities RWE and E.ON, which they put up for sale when they decided to bow out of UK nuclear energy in March.

Hitachi, which faces a nuclear shutdown in its home market after the Fukushima incident last year, will pay £700m and hopes to construct up to four nuclear reactors across the country. Horizon plans new reactors at Wylfa on Anglesey, north Wales, and Oldbury in Gloucestershire.

The Japanese company’s move means EDF, which last week threatened to hold the government to ransom for higher subsidies for its nuclear plans, will face competition in constructing new reactors. David Cameron said: “This is a decades-long, multibillion-pound vote of confidence that will contribute vital new infrastructure to power our economy. It will support up to 12,000 jobs during construction and thousands more permanent highly skilled roles once the new power plants are operational, as well as stimulating exciting new industrial investments in the UK’s nuclear supply chain.”

At the same time, a pot of £1bn in government funding will be made available to up to three projects that promise to be the first major demonstration of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in the UK.

The four shortlisted projects – chosen from eight submissions – are made up of two in Scotland (one at Grangemouth and another at Peterhead), along with one in Teesside and a project connected to the UK’s biggest coal-fired power station, Drax in Yorkshire.

Edward Davey, secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “[This] is an important step towards an exciting new industry, one that could help us reduce our carbon emissions and create thousands of jobs.”

But critics complained that the government had merely put off its decision on CCS, as the precise details of the funding will not be announced until next year.

Tom Greatrex the shadow energy minister, said: “Yet again Ed Davey has kicked a decision about support for CCS into the long grass, creating more uncertainty for the industry. We are now at risk of losing our competitive advantage in developing low-carbon technologies, engineering expertise and valuable skills that we could export around the globe.” owing to the difficulty of putting together a business plan that would satisfy investors.

The scale of the energy challenge facing the UK is daunting. John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Council, said it was the equivalent of having to run an operation the size of the Olympics every two years for the next two and a half decades. He said every CCS plant would cost about £1bn for the carbon capture technology alone, in addition to the money needed to build the power plant, and about $70 per tonne for dealing with the resulting carbon dioxide on an ongoing basis.

Stuart Haszeldine, an expert on CCS at University of Edinburgh, said the announcement had injected momentum into the important task of developing technology that will be needed to meet the UK’s carbon targets. “It is unexpectedly good news. We now have four plausible designs. It’s about [the Department of Energy and Climate Change] knocking heads together to see if the companies can improve the commercial terms of the deals by co-operating.”

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UK shortlists carbon capture projects competing for £1bn fund

Four schemes shortlisted for the final phase of a government competition to develop the technology

Four schemes have been shortlisted for a £1bn competition to develop technology to capture and permanently store emissions from fossil fuel power plants.

Plans for new coal-powered stations with carbon capture and storage (CCS) at Grangemouth, Scotland, and Drax, North Yorkshire; a coal-powered project on Teesside and a bid to fit the technology on to an existing gas plant at Peterhead, Scotland, are on the shortlist, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said.

The £1bn government competition had to be relaunched earlier this year after previous plans for the technology at ScottishPower’s coal plant at Longannet, Fife, were abandoned.

Ministers are depending on getting the technology working at scale as a major part of decarbonising electricity generation by 2030 in order to meet targets to tackle climate change.

It is hoped carbon capture and storage will be able to capture up to 90% of carbon emissions from fossil fuel power stations and store them underground in places such as old oil fields so they do not pollute the atmosphere.

Energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, said: “The projects we have chosen to take forward have all shown that they have the potential to kickstart the creation of a new CCS industry in the UK, but further discussions are needed to ensure we deliver value-for-money for taxpayers.

“Today’s announcement is an important step towards an exciting new industry, one that could help us reduce our carbon emissions and create thousands of jobs.”

Three of the shortlisted bids have also applied for European commission funding to develop carbon capture and storage, with the commission making a final decision on whether to support a UK project by the end of the year.

The bids were chosen from eight submitted. The four shortlisted schemes will be in negotiation with the government before a decision on which projects to support further is taken in the new year, Decc said.

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