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France's Coal Mining Industry To Get Second Wind With New Power Project

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by Celine Le Prioux
Paris (AFP) Aug 20, 2006
More than two years since France brought up its last lump of coal and turned its back on three centuries of mining industry, a new consortium plans to reopen a pit and resume excavations. As the world faces spiralling energy costs from record high oil prices, a group of French investors has placed their bets on the black rock that powered Europe's Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

Coal began to fall out of favour in France in the 1960s and a programme to close down all the pits came to an end when the last shovelful of coal reached the surface in April 2004.

But now the Nivernais energy resources company (Seren) plans to crank up the machines again at France's biggest opencast mine in Lucenay-les-Aix in the Nievre area of France's central Burgundy region

"Coal that comes out of the mine will have a cost price significantly lower than that of South Africa, which arrives by boat in French ports, and it will be of comparable quality," said Francois Jaclot, president of Seren, a holding created for the project.

South Africa is one of the world's top five coal exporters.

Seren's workers will excavate a seam of an estimated 70 million tonnes. The fossil fuel will be poured into a thermal power station with an annual capacity of 1,000 megawatts that will be built at the site "This corresponds to one percent of France's electricity production, which is not an insignificant figure," Jaclot said.

Seren filed a request for the concession with the industry ministry on July 27. The cost of the project is estimated at 1.4 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars), including one billion for the power station.

The construction phase is due to last five years and is expected to create 1,000 jobs. Once up and running, the business will employ 400 people -- 300 in the mine and 100 at the power station.

The station is due to come on line in 2011 and should run for at least 35 years.

The project comes at a time of renewed interest in energy sources that are not derived from oil, which hit a record high of 78.64 dollars a barrel earlier this month and which has put the economies of developed nations under pressure.

Projects for coal-powered stations with low carbon dioxide emissions have already been announced in France's northern city of Le Havre, albeit powered by foreign coal, as well as in Britain, Germany and the United States.

They are due to come on line between 2012 and 2015.

Coal reserves across the globe represent 64 percent of the world's fossil fuels, compared with 18 percent for oil and gas each.

At the moment, 90 percent of coal production is destined to generate electricity but once transformed, it could be used in manufacturing fuel.

If the industry is to flourish, however, it must find a way to limit pollution inherent to coal.

Burning fossil fuels releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gases and accelerating global warming which is responsible for changes in weather and ecosystems around the world.

"Coal is dirtier than the other two fossil fuels -- oil and gas," warned Jean-Marie Chevalier, a member of the Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Seren sought to play down concerns over air pollution.

"The station that will be built will be much less pollutant that the factories that were criticised in the past," Jaclot said.

"For the same level of electricity, it will give off 20 percent less carbon dioxide than the old power stations," he stressed.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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