Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Association of Coal Mine Methane Operators


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 intervention.


  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.


  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.


  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 renewable technology.


  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.


  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 Renewables.

  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 lower.

  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 similar—the 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 requires incentives.

  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 and stimulus.

  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

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