The situation with coal production and use in the UK is changing. There are no new opencast mines proposed; only one proposed opencast coal extension and one existing opencast extraction site. However there are three new underground coal mine applications or extensions proposed and there was an increase in coal use in power stations between 2020 and 2021.
As you can see from the image above coal use in power stations has dropped dramatically since 2012, when 43% of electricity in the UK grid was produced from coal combustion, to just 1.72% in 2020.
Coal use hit a record low in 2020 supplying 253 TWh to the grid, and increased slightly the following year to 267 TWh, as the economy ramped back up from covid-19. (The data for 2022 is only for the first fortnight of the year). Thanks to MyGridGB for this data.
There are presently three applications for new/ extended underground coal mines.
Proposed underground mines
Aberpergwm Colliery (Energybuild Ltd) in Neath port Talbot had planning permission for a 40+ million tonne underground (anthracite) coal mine approved in 2018. The Coal Authority offered the coal company, a license to extract coal in January 2022. Coal Action Network are currently considering legal action against the Coal Authority and Welsh Government for failing to stop the mine being licenced.
Lochinvar (Australian New Age Explorations) are applying for licences for an underground coking coal mine at Lochinvar in three sections, on the Scottish border. If constructed the company hopes to be producing coal until 2044. The first of the three areas would supply an average 1.4 million tonnes of coal each year.
Woodhouse Colliery proposed by West Cumbria Mining had its proposal for a new 1.78 million tonne per year underground coking coal mine off Whitehaven, Cumbria called in by the Secretary of State in 2021. The Planning Inspectorate ran a Public Inquiry in September 2021 and the report is expected to be given to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove imminently.
There are four major UK steel producers, half are using coking coal and produce much higher emissions that the two which recycle scrap steel.
Port Talbot steel works, in Neath Port Talbot, Wales, is the second biggest UK single site emitter of carbon dioxide. The plant uses coking coal to make steel in blast furnaces.
Currently British steel’s Scunthorpe plant can use a maximum of 25% to 30% recycled content using Basic Oxygen Steel making. It currently uses coking coal.
Liberty Steel, which has sites in Newport and in Tredegar, has said it aims to become a carbon-neutral steel producer by 2030. The site currently uses Electric Arc Furnaces and recycles scrap metal so does not use coking coal.
Celsa’s Cardiff steelworks uses 100% recycled scrap steel in its products and so does not need coking coal.
For more details see our report Coal in Steel.
Ratcliffe on Soar power was given a contract to supply 411 MW to the grid from coal in 2022/23 at a Capacity Market auction in Feb 2022. Ratcliffe's owner Uniper plans to turn the power station into an incinerator for household waste and produce heat and electricity operational by 2026. It has secured planning permission.
Drax power station is supposed to have stopped burning coal this year. However it has offered that it could stay online until 2024 to the UK government.
EDF are closing their West Burton coal power station in September 2022.
Kilroot coal and oil power station in Northern Ireland is going to be converted to gas. It has been announced that Kilroot will stop consuming coal in September 2023.
Coal phase-out in the UK is expected by October 2024. Given that coal consumption in power stations is very low in the summer, the last generation could be April 2024.
 The Coal Authority, Production and Manpower returns for three month period January to March 2020 and other sources.
Queries and media contact: info @ coalaction . org .uk (without spaces)
Coal in Steel is aimed at those looking for background information to campaigns against proposed new coking coal mines and considering how coal needs to be phased out of steel production. The report counters the positions of companies arguing for an ongoing need for coking coal in the steel industry. Coal in Steel is UK focused, but the coking coal mines proposed would export coal, to Europe or beyond.
The report answers questions such as:
The public inquiry into West Cumbria Mining Ltd's proposed 2.78mtpa coking coal mine opened last week. After the planning inspector gives his recommendation, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will decide whether this application can extract coal to be sold predominantly to foreign markets. This report answers the arguments raised in support of this, and similar, applications.
Key facts in the report include:
Download the Coal in Steel: problems and solutions report, or our one page summary to find out more.