Memorandum by Association of Coal Mine
COAL MINE METHANEA GREEN FUEL
Capturing coal mine methane to generate electricity
has the double benefit of reducing at source CO2 emissions and
providing an alternative source of low carbon energy which can
replace oil, coal and gas. Its development will require government
The Association of Coal Mine Methane Operators
(ACMMO) represents 18 companies involved with the extraction and
use of methane from disused coal mines to generate electricity.
The industry has the potential of making a significant contribution
to the country's energy needs whilst also substantially reducing
greenhouse gas emissions.
2. COAL MINE
In a typical UK coal mine up to 80 per cent
of the coal may be left behind when the mine is closed. Methane
trapped in the coal is either vented to the surface in a controlled
way or escapes haphazardly to the surface.
CMM is a sustainable source of energy and there
are sufficient reserves to last for at least 50 years. Since 1999,
CMM has been captured and used for power generation and industrial
fuel on a commercial basis in the UK. The five plants, currently
operating, supply methane sufficient for around 30MW of distributed
generation and benefit the environment by capturing emissions
equivalent to the removal of around 160,000 cars from the roads.
By the end of this year, a further three plants
could be in operation bringing the total combined energy output
to about 55MW. By 2010, with some incentives, there could be an
additional 300 projects in operation with a capacity of about
1GW, the equivalent of a nuclear power plant.
3. CMM AS A
CMM has a Global Warming Potential 21 times
greater than carbon dioxide. With more than 1,000 closed deep
coal mines in the UK, from which it is estimated that a minimum
of 600,000 tonnes of CMM, equivalent to 12.9 million tonnes of
carbon dioxide are seeping into the atmosphere every year, CMM
makes a significant contribution to the UK's greenhouse gas emissions.
By capturing CMM and converting it into useful
energy, the global warming potential is reduced by 87 per cent.
This makes it more cost effective in reducing emissions than any
Currently only the larger sites in the region
of 6MW to 9MW capacity are feasible for commercial development
because of the substantial costs involved in developing a site.
The majority of the potential sites are much
smaller and will not be economically viable, but in total emit
large quantities of greenhouse gas. A financial stimulus similar
to that accorded by the Government to renewable energy sources
would enable many more mines to be tapped and so significantly
reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
5. SUPPORT FOR
The industry is looking to the Government to
encourage the development of CMM sites through providing incentives
equivalent to those available to other green energies under the
Obligation (about 3p K/Wh). This will have the
effect of increasing the realisable price for electricity generated
from CMM enabling the economic threshold to fall to 2MW or even
The industry has been advised by the DTI that
because of the way that the Utilities Act 2000 was drafted, CMM
cannot be included despite the fact that methane from landfill
and sewage sites is included and yet the source for both is similarthe
bacterial decay of organic matter, but CMM has a methane content
of around 70 per cent compared with 45 per cent for landfill gas.
By contrast, in Germany, mine gas was included
in the Renewable Sources Act 2000 and the 5p/kWh incentive given
to mine gas as a result has led to more than 80 planning applications
being made for CMM to power plants on abandoned mine sites.
Although inclusion in the RO has been ruled
out, the Government could devise an equivalent mechanism, perhaps
an Alternative Energy Obligation, which would operate in the same
way and would stimulate the development of low carbon fuels. This
would be by far the most cost effective option for boosting development
of CMM sites. It would produce at no cost to the Government a
significant financial incentive allowing a large number of CMM
schemes to go ahead which otherwise would not be possible. Development
grants and similar aid are helpful , but this costs the Exchequer
money whereas instruments such as the RO and CCL exemption ensure
that CMM receives the same financial backing as other green energies
at no cost to the taxpayer.
The Government cannot leave the free market
to maximise the development of alternative fuels alone. Without
incentives, only a minimal quantity of fuels will be developed
where it is commercially viable. To stimulate development of smaller
projects and increase the production and supply of green energy
Renewable sources on their own are not likely
to enable the Government to achieve its target for reducing dependency
on fossil fuels and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Tapping
CMM not only reduces at source the amount of CO2 equivalent escaping
to atmosphere, but also reduces the usage of oil and gas through
the power generated. This double benefit deserves recognition
The industry seeks a level playing field with
renewable energies and with its partners in the EU. The application
of similar incentives to those given to renewable energies, if
provided to the CMM industry, would go a long way to enable methane
meeting the shortfall in renewable generation. It would also provide
a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions long before other
technologies, which are still in a development phase, offer any
beneficial impact on global warming.
24 October 2001