Thursday, February 01, 2007

Good news in Wales

Coal mining is making a comeback.

Coal is already being hauled out of Unity mine in the Vale of Neath, south Wales, and by March the colliery will be in full swing, producing a million tonnes of high quality coal a year.

Horizon Mining, the company behind Unity, revealed to the Guardian yesterday that it is planning to reopen four more mines in south Wales and has bought up land with the intention of building at least three small-scale "clean coal" power stations.

But mining is an incredibly hard, dirty back-breaking job - who'd want to do that?

The Unity miners, many of whom thought they would never go underground again, are delighted.

So it's actually former miners going back to the job. Good for them. But I guess that they'd rather be doing something else wouldn't they?

"It's great to be back," said mine manager Tony Roberts, who was working in a factory when he got the call to return to the coalface. "Mining is in the blood, in the genes of people round here. There's nothing like the satisfaction of getting a tough job done. Miners never say that something's impossible - they just get on and do it. You miss the camaraderie when you're away from it. You rely on your mates to keep you safe and you keep them safe. That creates an unbreakable bond. And you have a laugh. The craic is just brilliant."

Crikey! Sounds like he's actually enjoying himself. It's about time we started realising the potential we are sitting on in the UK. An estimated 1000 years of coal reserves is not something to be ignored. Tony's not alone in being pleased to be back at the coal face.

Welder Barry Jones, 69, joked that he was only there to earn the money so that his funeral cortege can be led by four horses. "No, really, it's great that this is happening," he said. "The coal is there and the need for it is there. It's got to make sense to get it out."

Keith, 55, became a support worker for people with mental health problems after his last mine closed. "I jumped at the chance to come back," he said. "My father was a miner, my grandfather was a miner. It's what I know and love best."

"It's what I know and love best". You can't help but admire people like that. It's not as if they don't have other jobs they could do. Less dirty, less back-breaking and a lot less dangerous. But there is a problem as The South Wales Echo points out.

Lack of mining skills in South Wales? Who'd have thought it? Back to The Grauniad.

The reopening of Unity and others will also provide a much-needed jobs boost in this deprived area. When it advertised for workers, more than 400 applied for the first 70 posts.

But Vernon Watkins, 60, warned that the government needed to make sure training programmes were in place for youngsters if the industry was to make a recovery. Nobody is under the illusion that the new mines will employ many hundreds of men as they used to but they can help cut local job queues.

He said: "We've got men here who can do the job now but we aren't going to be along for much longer. We need the youngsters now so we can pass on our experience to them.

Experience they can pass on to their sons and grandsons, maybe.

"It's meaningful employment. It's not like working in McDonald's."

Hear, hear. It is, as he says, vitally important that there are the required programmes and training schemes to get young people into mining - though my cynical side tells me that many young people just won't have the stomach for that sort of work. I hope I'm wrong.

It also, I think, exposes the damage our governments have done - not just this Labour government, but a succession of Labour and Tory administrations going back 50 years or so - in allowing our industries and infrastructures to decline in the face of "new" competition. Like tearing up a generally sound railway network as road use became popular or closing down farms and concreting over vast tracts of fertile land to build more motorways which clog up inside a decade.

Almost since I started this blog I've been championing coal as a source of energy and I am truly delighted to see that there is a sign that it may just be doing that - even if it is early days yet. The big danger for me is if the government decide to stick their oar in again. The government's responsibility and involvement starts and ends - in my opinion - with making sure that there are training programmes in place to provide skilled workers and maybe offering grants and incentives to local enterprises to enable them to make a go of things (not giving sweeteners to some foreign multinational corporate giant so they come in and shut it all down again).

Localisation is going to be the big thing over the next 20-30 years in my view. People - particularly in the west will start to realise that it actually benefits them to use local sources for their energy, food and employment than it is to save a few bob buying something produced many miles away or to a company in another country.

Don't expect our politicians to get that anytime too soon. They are all - certainly the major parties - utterly wrapped in grand plans for centralisation, globalisation and corporatism - a world that is interdependent and interconnected but where the power lies in the hands of a few unaccountable people and is as remote from the people as possible. The socialist dream.


Anonymous said...

I am lead to believe that we have in these islands enough coal to last 500 years. If coal fired power stations do cause pollution is it beyond our wit to put some kind of scrubbers on the chimneys to remove the pollutants?

Stan said...

I think the 500 years is probably "usable" coal reserves - i.e. coal we can reach given known technology. There is, I believe, another 500 years worth of coal which is currently not accesible - but that does not mean it could not be reached in the future.

Clean coal technology has come on a long way since we moved to gas. It is now possible, I think, to reduce enissions to that of gas fired stations making coal a far more viable fuel source IF the money were to be spent.

Coal would give us back our energy independence, would be a valuable export and - as gas and oil become scarcer and harder to retrieve - provide us with a secure energy supply.

Thanks for your comments, Malthebof.