Robbie Gillett from Reclaim the Power explains why he’ll be joining a protest calling for green jobs at one of Europe’s dirtiest power stations.
16 January 2017
“Until we win!” was the cry that rang out of the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in May 2016 - when 300 climate activists from Reclaim the Power occupied the site at Ffos-y-Fran, South Wales - shutting down operations for the day. Now campaigners have re-focused their attention on Aberthaw power station, Wales, UK - which is fed by coal from Ffos-y-Fran mine. Legal rulings 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.
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 is falling on communities in Swansea, Cardiff and Newport and as well further afield in Bristol, Gloucester, Swindon and Poole and continental Europe. The impacts of this pollution over the power stations 45 year life span is estimated to have caused the deaths of 400 people per year principally in the UK. It has also contributed to 195,000 days of illness annually including asthma in children, chronic bronchitis in adults and low birth weight in newborn babies.
Coal-fired power stations like Aberthaw are part of a dying breed of power supply - emitting 8.5 million tonnes of CO2 annually and earning a place in the 30 biggest contributors to climate change of all European power stations. After years of pressure, the government is currently consulting on phasing out 'unabated' coal by 2025 - with nine 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 Russian and Colombian coal - effectively outsourcing the problems experienced by communities located next to opencast from Wales to – somewhere else.
But there are also 240 jobs currently provided on site by Aberthaw power station in an area known for suffering the impacts of de-industrialisation and job losses in the past. At an upcoming demonstration at Aberthaw power station on Saturday 28th January 2017- campaigners and trade unionists will call 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 3,000 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 2,000 jobs in Wales. However, at present these prospects are hampered by a Tory government which is pro-actively cutting support mechanisms for renewables whilst offering sweeteners to the fracking industry and £25 billion for a new nuclear at Hinkley C.
Aberthaw sits at the meeting point of all these issues: opencast coal mines blighting communities in South Wales; air pollution choking urban residents in Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and beyond; and carbon emissions from old coal continuing to threaten the global climate into the 2020s whilst government support for renewables diminishes.
Join Reclaim the Power, United Valleys Action Groups, Coal Action Network and Bristol Rising Tide for a family-friendly demonstration ‘Shut Aberthaw – Green Jobs Now!’ on Saturday 28 January 2017. Sign up for updates here.