As of today, coal mines that receive public funds but do not turn a profit must cease production, according to a European Union directive.
Those uncompetitive mines include 26 ones in Spain, around 14% of whose energy needs are provided by coal. According to a deal with the EU, Spain will also close nine of its current 15 coal-burning plants by 2020 as part of the country’s ongoing efforts to wean itself off fossil fuels in electricity generation.
Some 90% of coal burned in Spain for electricity generation comes from imports from Russia and Colombia so local mines have had relatively little import in recent years.
Owing to high extraction costs, Spanish coal mines, which are primarily located in the northern regions of Asturias, Castile and Leon and Aragon, have long been largely unprofitable. The mines, of which 12 were active last year, employed slightly over 2,000 people, from the industry’s heyday with a 100,000-strong work force back in the 1950s. Even in the 1980s, the local coal mining industry boasted a workforce of more than 50,000 people.
The only functioning coal mine remaining in the northwestern province of Leon now has a workforce of 70 people and produces 7,000 tons of coal a month. Many of the employees who have lost their jobs at other mines have opted for early retirement. Others can take advantage of the €250 million that the government has allocated for the launching of new businesses and repurposing of the land around the inactive mines.
The EU struck a deal in 2010 with coal mine operators in several member states that they would receive financial aid, which benefitted mines in Spain, Germany and Rumania. There was a string attached, however, which was that all mining operations would have to cease by the end of 2018 unless they could turn a profit.
In Germany too, an old black coal mine called Prosper-Haniel was closed on December 21 after operating for 155 years. “The decision to close the mine was taken in 2007, when there were 30,000 coal miners in Germany, compared with 5,700 miners at the end of last year,” the news agency UPI notes.