The mystery is why mining veteran Owen Hegarty, from EMR Capital, is bothering with such a nonsensical venture. “There are technical challenges digging under the sea off Cumbria.
It is far less expensive to mine coking coal in other parts of the world,” said Dave Jones from Ember. Mr Hegarty’s swashbuckling fellow Australian, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, is making the opposite bet after his Damascene conversion. The ex-Fortescue tycoon and epic carbon emitter aims to produce gargantuan quantities of green hydrogen from arrays of wind and solar across the outback of north-west Australia.
Twiggy calls it a “clear cut economic choice” regardless of climate science. There is nowhere cheaper on the planet to make power and therefore to make clean steel in situ. He thinks Australia can corner a large chunk of the $12 trillion (£8.7 trillion) hydrogen market worldwide, rendering the country’s current coal industry trivial to the point of irrelevance.
For starters, he plans an annual output of 15m tons of green hydrogen by 2030, with 50m later. Green steel, here we come.
The Cumbrian colliery is supposed to create 500 jobs, if workers can be found for underground toil in a region facing a labour shortage. If employment is the objective it might better be met by engineering and technical support jobs for the offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea. Each new gigawatt requires 1,500 workers.
The service hub for BP’s three gigawatt joint venture off Anglesey will probably go to Wales but there will be plenty more coastal jobs as the UK leads the world with 40 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
While this wind power will never be as cheap as Spanish or Australian solar, it will be very cheap and effectively free for large chunks of each 24-hour cycle, nicely adapted for green hydrogen production at prices that will outcompete Cumbrian coking coal.
The Whitehaven Colliery is never going to happen. But the fiasco has dragged on long enough to leave Britain with an excruciating diplomatic embarrassment. Worse yet – unless you are a climate denialist – it has intruded on the delicate chemistry of Cop26. One weeps at the ineptitude.