The threat posed by Aberthaw power station

Patrick Lanham explains why he’s campaigning for the closure of Aberthaw power station.

Campaigners from South Wales have re-focused their attention on Aberthaw power station – which is fed by coal from Ffos-y-Fran mine, near Merthyr Tydfil. Legal rulings, Climate Change and air quality concerns are leading to calls for the power station to be promptly closed – and for investment in green jobs at the same time.

The 45 year old coal-fired power station is part of a dying breed of yesterday’s power supply.  Aberthaw emits 8.5 million tonnes of CO2 annually, 16% of the CO2 emissions from Wales. It is one of the 30 biggest contributors to climate change out of all of Europe’s power stations. Aberthaw’s green house gas emissions are sufficient reason alone for it to shut it as the world struggles to respond to the 20 C limit to global warming called for in Paris in 2015.

However it is focus on other significant pollutants that has recently drawn criticism.

In September 2016, the European Court of Justice ruled that Aberthaw power station has been in breach of air quality limits for a number of years.  According to research outlined by Friends of the Earth Cymru, air pollution from nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are falling on Swansea, Cardiff and Newport and as well as further afield in Bristol, Gloucester, Swindon and Poole and continental Europe.

The research notes that the impact of this pollution over the power station’s life span is estimated to cause the deaths of 67 people per year in Wales, and to cause the deaths of 400 people across the UK . It also contributes to 195,000 days of illness annually including asthma in children, chronic bronchitis in adults and low birth weight in newborn babies.

After years of pressure, the UK Government is currently consulting on phasing out ‘unabated’ coal by 2025 – with seven large coal-fired power stations still operating across the UK.  At the same time, the owners of Aberthaw are looking to decrease emissions by upgrading some of its boilers and switching from Welsh coal to imported coal.  Coal imported to Wales’ power stations – Aberthaw and Uskmouth is most likely to come from Russia and Colombia.(7) This effectively outsources the problems experienced by communities located next to opencast mines in Wales to – somewhere else.

But there also 240 jobs currently provided on site by Aberthaw power station in a region known for suffering the impacts of de-industrialisation and job losses in the past. Campaigners are calling for a just transition for coal workers currently employed in high emissions industries towards jobs that provide for our needs without harming us or the planet. This means that the government must have a meaningful dialogue with the unions and industry about re-skilling existing coal workers for high skilled jobs in a clean energy future. Tidal lagoon schemes such as those recently backed at Swansea Bay could provide up to 3000 long-term jobs in England and Wales, according to industry figures.   And if Wales were to meet Scotland’s ambitions on renewables, onshore wind could provide up to 2000 jobs in Wales.

Aberthaw sits uniquely at meeting point of many issues: carbon emissions from old coal continuing to threaten the global climate; opencast coal mines that  blight and pollute communities in South Wales; air pollution choking urban residents in Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and beyond.  

Patrick Lanham is a Cardiff based campaigner for Reclaim the Power.

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