AS a North-East port unveils plans to handle new cargoes, Business Editor Andy Richardson hears how the region's links with traditional fossil fuels are almost gone for good.

KING coal is dead - long live err, wood pellets.

While the nation's attention was fixed on the fracking debate in North Yorkshire other seismic changes were happening to the UK's energy industry that signalled the end of our region's historic links with coal.

In case you hadn't noticed it, the way that the power companies create the energy that keep your lights on is changing at a rapid rate.

A year ago almost a third of the electricity in the UK was generated by coal-fired power plants. Earlier this month, for the first time since the country’s first steam-driven power station opened 134 years ago, the grid was kept ticking over without a single lump of coal being burned.

Thomas Edison’s coal-fuelled power plant, completed in 1882 at Holborn Viaduct, was the first public power station of any size. Its 27-tonne generator was enough illuminate London streets with 1,000 lamps. The UK was the first country to build a public coal-fired power station. Now it is going to be one of the first to close them all down.

In March, two of Britain’s biggest coal power stations — Longannet in Scotland and Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire — closed altogether.

Falling prices for other fuel sources have made it increasingly uneconomical to run coal-fired stations.

The British Government's distaste for coal has also been key.

Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, announced in a speech last year that she wanted an end to coal power in the UK by 2025, as part of the country’s commitment to cutting carbon emissions. That date may be one of the very few targets the Tories achieve with ease.

Last week, Andrew Moffat, boss of the Port of Tyne, told me that he doesn't expect his terminals will handle any more shipments of coal this year. The notion of coals to and from Newcastle is a relic of the past.

In its latest results the Port revealed that turnover fell from £71 million to £59 million as the cargoes it handled fell from 5 million tonnes in 2014 to 3.5 million in 2015.

After handling record volumes of coal in 2013 the Port does not expect to import any coal at all this year.

To fill the coal hole Mr Moffat is investing in facilities to make the Port of Tyne a leader in handling wood pellets, which are becoming the fuel of choice for power plants.

"We expected that there would be a reduction in the use of coal, but what caught out the ports sector and companies in the supply chain is the rate of decline. It has fallen quite dramatically. And we don't expect that it will come back," Mr Moffat told me.

He hopes that a development in conjunction with Lynemouth Power Station in Northumberland, which is being converted from coal to biomass, will secure the Port's future and create about 60 jobs.

As part of the deal, Port of Tyne has started construction work on a 75,000-tonne storage facility, three enclosed conveyors and transfer towers, three silos, a rail loading silo and other works.

The Port is contributing £13m to the project with the majority of the investment - estimated to be about £100m - being made by LPL. The project will create about 60 permanent jobs, as well as construction work and posts in the supply chain.

"The strategy of diversification ensures that we are not reliant on any one sector," said Mr Moffat.

If one day people use the phrase 'it would be like sending biomass to Newcastle' then Mr Moffat will know that he has succeeded.

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