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.

10 thoughts on “The threat posed by Aberthaw power station

  1. Good idea!!. Lets lose the electricity produced on a virtually 24/7 basis and create more ‘useless’ green energy structures which only work when there is wind/sunshine etc etc. Lets hope TRUMP starts to reactivate the coal industry/energy in USA rather than let the assets in the USA wither on the vine. The gap between energy production/demand at peak time in UK has narrowed over years,and according experts is quite dangerous and we need to get back to guaranteed energy production,and if that means retaining/expanding coal fired power stations then lets get on with it.

  2. Battery technology is the answer. It is proceeding apace. You can already buy a battery for a house for £5000 and that price will fall fast with scale. Solar is now the cheapest form of energy and with a battery you can store the power until it is required. Howell Morgan apparently accepts breathing in NO2, SO2 and other pollutants from coal-fired power stations. Well if he doesn’t care about lung disease he can take up smoking and let the rest of us choose to be healthy.

  3. I worked at Aberthaw in the 90’s, on a trial plant for energy storage, sadly it didn’t work. Instead of campaigning for it to be closed down, for its high emissions, why not campaign to get it to clean up and keep the jobs?

  4. @r.tredwyn. I live less than 20 miles from Aberthaw and so do thousands of people,but no evidence that I and others have suffered from any ‘problems’ created by power station.Nextd door to (literally) to the power station is the loss making airport which is owned by WAG,so perhaps that should be shut down as well,along with airbus plant as aeroplanes cause massive ‘pollution’ ???.

  5. The threat of grid failures from closing Aberthaw appear to be much greater than any imagined threat from the nourishing plant food it produces.

    ‘Aberthaw is a coal-fired power station, located in Wales, United Kingdom. With a capacity of 1550MW, Aberthaw can produce enough power to meet the needs of 1.5 million households.’

    At a time when National Grid is experiencing a winter electricity supply security position it describes in terms such as ‘tight but manageable’ the idea of closing a cost effective coal-fired station that can produce 1.55GW more or less 24×7 is verging on insanity. Sure, power is available from other contingency generators but it often comes at a very high price.

    I can’t help wondering how many of the alleged 100+ protestors who turned out at the weekend will have left the comfort of their highly polluting woodburners and/or climbed into their highly polluting diesel cars to waste their time and ours?

    Hardly a day goes by without further disembowelment of the global warming/carbon fraud which has underpinned far too much expensive and damaging public policy since the late 1980s. The world isn’t overheating it is absolutely normal.

    Robust Evidence NOAA Temperature Data Hopelessly Corrupted By Warming Bias, Manipulation

    Meanwhile, the current Sunspot Cycle remains the 3rd weakest at this point in the cycle since records began with the next cycle widely tipped to be colder still – in other words from ~2020 the northern hemisphere is likely to enter a solar grand minimum or mini ice-age for which the majority of governments are seriously unprepared. France looks like the only European country with a secure enough electricity supply to cope, and yes it’s mostly nuclear, though whether they will want to provide the UK with up to 2GW via the French interconnector is quite another issue. I wouldn’t if I was French…

  6. Good point Howell. But I’m a pragmatist. There is currently no alternative to the jet engine for powering long distance aeroplanes so it’s that or nothing. And I don’t argue for nothing. But generating electric power? There are any number of ways to do that without emitting CO2. I know you don’t believe emitting CO2 raises global temperatures but ask yourself this question: what are the chances that you are wrong and the mainstream scientists are right? Is it 10-1, 5-1 or even money? And if they are right we are inviting disaster. So just to be on the safe side why don’t we generate electricity without CO2, even if it costs a bit more? We’ve got wind, solar, tides, hydro and nuclear. We’ve got battery technology and Dinorwig-style pumping arrangements to spread the load. We really don’t have to burn coal in the 21st century.

  7. JWR is living in a post truth world of his own, quoting highly selective statistics from notoriously biased, cranky websites. Given all the big money tied up in fossil fuel production and distribution and the political power it has (Donald Trump?) JWR can’t explain why the vast majority of qualified scientists should engage in a “conspiracy” to mislead. And I can’t explain why he should have such a bee in his bonnet.

  8. As stated by JRW our electricity ‘supply’ is augmented by contribution of French nuclear power plants,which for years was hated by left/green politicians,however we have now seen sense and early stages in our own plants,with one in Wales. Just read the diaries by Lord Donoghue and in 70’s the opposition to nuclear power was led by Tony Benn (Lord Stansgate) in order that the multi millionaire could be supported by Arthur Scargill of the NUM in the internal affairs of the Labour Party.This was the greatest policy ‘error’ this country in the energy field has ever made,particularly as the ‘green’ lobby has become too important,but thankfully common sense is taking over.

  9. Technology and economics is overwhelming the coal industry. Renewables are just cheaper as evidenced by the solar power plant beating oil and gas in the Gulf,
    Combined with battery technology, which is also plummeting in cost and destroys the intermittancy argument, and the world changes at a dizzying pace.
    Aberthaw is a giant of 20th century technology and has had its day, once alternatives are in place it will close.

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