Reclaim the Power’s 2016 camp focussed on the issue of coal with a mass trespass against Ffos-y-frân coal mine closing it for the day. But that was far from the end of the story…
Ffos-y-frân is the UK’s largest opencast coal mine, it is very close to Merthyr Tydfil and is operated by Miller Argent. The main consumer of the coal for most of its existence has been Aberthaw power station near Barry in South Wales.
The first action against Aberthaw was a short and creative blockade of the only access road. Check it out in this short film which shows what happened and explains why we are targeting Aberthaw.
Aberthaw power station was the dirtiest power station in terms of nitrogen oxides in the UK, with the UK government allowing it to breach European Union air quality standards. The levels of toxins were more than double those from other power stations because Aberthaw burnt Welsh coal which is less flammable but supported Welsh mining jobs. In 2016 environmental lawyers, Client Earth, brought a case to the European Court of Justice which ruled against the UK government for allowing Aberthaw to kill 400 people a year through poisonous emissions.
2. Aberthaw Blockaded
Within two weeks of the opening action activists were back at Aberthaw, this time with a more serious blockade of the power station’s only access road. For four hours, the power station’s access road was entirely blocked with two tripods, causing a large tail back of lorries, before campaigners left with no arrests. It was unclear whether Abethaw’s operators actually asked the police to remove the blockade as its workers and bosses were absent from the protest, remaining inside the power station instead.
3. Office visit in Swindon
Aberthaw is run by the utility company RWE nPower whose head offices in Swindon. In January 2017, we held a visual presence at this enormous heaquarters which resulted in a security shut down (although one person still managed to get inside). The protest raised awareness of the opposition to the power station amongst employees and in the local media.
4. A public protest at Aberthaw Power Station
The next action in January 2017 in part organised by Reclaim the Power involved many more people; 150 made it to a stony south Wales beach in January to show their opposition to the power station. Marianne Owens from the PCS union said, “It’s working class people who suffer from this dirty energy,” as she addressed the crowd from the sea wall. At the demonstration demands were made for a Just Transition for coal workers to sustainable jobs.
RWE was obviously concerned about blockades and stopped road deliveries during the day, making a family friendly event an effective yet non-confrontational direct action. As we filled the access road Chris and Alyson Austin said, “no amount of deaths from this dinosaur of a power station are acceptable.” RWE had previously said it intends to address the issue of air pollution, but for those of us breathing the filthy air from Aberthaw only closing the power station is acceptable.
5. Occupation of Ffos-y-fran
The next action widened the circle of criticism of the power station by returning to the point of extraction, Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine. On the morning of the 21st April 2017 a small group of people from Earth First! and Reclaim the Power stopped operations for the day. Two people and a canary sat on one of the massive excavators, stopping it from operating. At the entrance to the mine, used by HGVs to take coal from the mine to the rail head terminal, two people locked to a cattle grid. Clearing both parts of the action took 10.5 hours!
While the action was a great success the court case proved tricky. All five arrested pleaded guilty, but were harshly sentenced to 18 months conditional discharge, £105 court costs and £2,000 compensation to the mining company! The ridiculously high court sentence has gone against the company as there have been a large number of media articles about the injustice of the sentencing and spreading our crowd funder to raise the money for the compensation order. The real criminals are Miller Argent who are destroying habitat, covering local houses in dust and until recently have been supplying the dirtiest UK power station.
RWE also operates three lignite mines and associated power stations in the Rhineland, Germany, extracting approximately 100 million tonnes of coal annually. Lignite or brown coal is a poor quality fossil fuel which is burnt close to the point of extraction to make it financially viable. The Hambacher Forest occupation has been on going for five years fighting against RWE’s destruction of the forest. This August there were action camps against coal mining in the Rhineland where thousands of people took action against the mines as part of the ‘Ende Gelände’ mobilisations.
So what has been achieved? Natural Resources Wales has decreased the emissions permit for the power station to 500mg/m3 to be in-line with other power stations. Aberthaw is currently off and has been since the spring. Ffos-y-frân is no longer supplying Aberthaw with coal, but perversely Miller Argent is pushing ahead with its plan to appeal against the June 2015 rejection of a new opencast coal mine adjacent to Ffos-y-frân at Nant Llesg. Even though the coal Miller Argent wanted to extract coal from Nant Llesg was to supply Aberthaw, which is not using Welsh coal any more. The power station was burning its stock pile which is running low. RWE nPower say that it is going to burn imported coal, expected to be from Russia and Colombia.
Aberthaw has been breaching EU air quality limits and killing people in Wales and beyond. All coal power stations need to close now. Aberthaw is in some ways the worst and so should be closed first. Aberthaw has effectively already burnt its emissions allowance up to 2025, when the government are saying they will end the coal industry. Coal mining was once an important part of British communities but things have changed and local communities no longer support mining.
It is expected that Aberthaw will be operating again in the colder months of this winter. The fight to close the power station has not yet been won, there are opportunities for you to get involved in closing it contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in working with the local communities to push for reparations for the communities who have suffered as a result of opencast coal mining contact email@example.com. The battle continues…