Britain this week approved its first new coal mine in 30 years, sparking the ire of environmentalists who say the move is a step backwards for the country’s clean, renewable energy ambitions.
The decision on the mines in the Cumbria region of northwest England comes hours after the Conservative-led government lifted a ban on building new onshore wind farms in the UK. Some opponents saw it as a cynical attempt to neutralize criticism of the mines decision.
At the same time, proponents say the mine will bring much-needed jobs to a region hit hard by mine and factory closures in recent decades.
The mine decision comes as energy bills for many households and businesses have doubled, and in some cases tripled, over the past year. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February also sent UK gas prices soaring, prompting the government to boost domestic energy supplies.
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Wind power will account for more than a quarter of UK electricity in 2021. But the Conservative government has opposed installing new wind turbines on land since 2015 because of opposition from locals. Most of the UK’s wind farms are offshore.
In running for the Conservative leadership this summer, Sunak, the current prime minister, pledged to keep the ban. But amid growing calls for change from Conservative lawmakers, the government said on Tuesday it could allow wind farms in areas with community support pending “technical advice”.
“Decisions on onshore wind farms will continue to be made at the local level, as these are best made by local representatives who know the areas in which they are located best and are democratically accountable to local communities,” the government said in a statement.
Britain’s sole Green Party lawmaker, Caroline Lucas, said an end to the onshore wind ban was welcome, although “the devil is in the details”.
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“But if it’s for a ‘buyout’ to Green It would be completely and utterly shameless to light the Cumbria coal mine later this week,” she tweeted before announcing the mine’s approval.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.