The UK government will today set out Second World War-style measures to kee
p the lights on and avert power cuts as a "last resort". The price to Brito
ns will be high.
Factories will be asked to "voluntarily" shut down to save energy at peak t
imes for homes, while others will be paid to provide their own backup power
should they have a spare generator or two lying around. And as part of the
government's wider energy market reforms, electricity producers will be ab
le to name their price for bringing mothballed fossil-fuel-powered plants b
ack on line.
The problem is that the energy plants were closed due to compliance with EU
environmental regulations, but the UK has failed to build adequate replace
ments. This means the country can barely cope with peak winter demand. Succ
essive governments have chosen to build expensive, unreliable renewables in
stead - which can't meet the nation's peak energy needs.
In an interview ahead of a speech today, energy minister Ed Davey - a Liber
al Democrat and Oxford philosophy, politics and economics graduate - said b
usinesses would be "delighted" to be paid to go dark - and said the measure
s were good value compared to building new power stations.
Davey predicted the UK would not suffer power cuts, and he may be right. Bu
t the price to consumers will be high: with the UK paying far over the mark
et rate for new fossil-fuel energy.
Gas plants have closed because they're not economical to run when ticking a
long; when demand is under 57 per cent, the operator may as well close it.
The government's complex measures include a new "Capacity Market", which en
courages mothballed gas and coal plants to be pressed into action.
Energy market experts predict that because the UK's need is so urgent, the
producers will be able to demand a high price: "existing gas and coal plant
(particularly older assets close to retirement) may have significant lever
age in negotiating reserve contracts with Grid as the system capacity margi
n tightens," consultants at Timera Energy noted this year.
Dirty diesel already contributes one quarter, or around 500MW, of the Natio
nal Grid's Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR). The cost to the taxpayer of
maintaining and using diesel backup - fleets of generators parked in shipp
ing containers - is astronomical around 12 times the market rate. The Natio
nal Grid wants to expand STOR from 2GW to about 8GW.
If Blighty's governments had opted for gas rather than wind, they could hav
e met the EU carbon-dioxide emissions targets for one-tenth of the £120bn
cost to install wind farms, calculated Professor Gordon Hughes in a 2012 s
The UK government's Department of Energy and Climate Change promised us a c
opy of Davey's speech, or excerpts of it, but much like the power stations,
it hasn't shown up. He's due to speak at 1.40pm, UK time, today.
The capacity crunch has been predicted for about seven years, with voices s
uch as Professor Ian Fells warning UK energy policy would lead to either po
wer cuts or extremely high peak prices. Everyone seems to have seen this co
ming - except the people in charge. (R)