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 tudy.
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)