The Welsh government has used new powers to stop a Welsh coalmining site from continuing operations due to environmental concerns.
The Labour-led administration has argued that leaving the coal in the ground was in the people of Wales’ best interests, thus threatening 150 jobs at the Nant Helen site near Neath.
The decision has shocked the site’s operator, Celtic Energy, who have voiced concerns over how the immediate cessation of production may impact the local community.
Back in 2016, Nant Helen was mothballed after it stopped supplying coal to the Aberthaw power station. The site reopened in 2019 and has since provided coal to the steel industry and domestic market, among others.
Nant Helen had been operating under a licence issued by the Coal Authority - the UK body tasked with handling the impacts of mining. Celtic Energy was told earlier this month that the Welsh government had declined to authorise the licence, exercising its new remit over the production of fossil fuels.
A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: “As we move towards a low-carbon economy, we are proactively supporting a constructive transition away from coal extraction and use. Continuing coal extraction from Nant Helen would have inevitable environmental and climate change impacts.”
The spokesperson added that by refusing to authorise the licence, the Welsh government was ensuring that the coal remains in the ground: “It will not contribute to global climate change, which is in the best interest of the people of Wales.”
Since licensing powers for the extraction of fossil fuels was transferred to Welsh ministers in April 2018, this has been the first incidence of a licence being declined.
The chief executive officer of Celtic Energy, Will Watson, said: “We were shocked to receive a letter from the Coal Authority advising us of the [Welsh government’s] decision.
“We are working with the Coal Authority and local authorities to consider options for a way forward which minimises the environmental impacts and delivers the best long-term outcome for the site, surrounding communities, our employees and Wales as a whole.”
The Nant Helen site, along with an adjacent coal washery, are the preferred site for a train-testing site worth £100m. At present, the manufacturers of trains need to send their products across Europe for testing before they can be put into service in the UK.
It is hoped that employees at the mine will eventually find work at the new testing site once it is in operation.
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