Coal power plant closure ‘postponed to ward off winter blackouts’

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The closure of a coal power station in Nottinghamshire is expected to be postponed as part of plans to ramp up domestic energy production in a bid to prevent winter blackouts, reports suggest.

The National Grid’s electricity system operator (NGESO) is in the midst of finalising a deal with German energy company Uniper – which owns the Ratcliffe-on-Soar site – to keep the station on standby should it need to run at full capacity over the winter months, according toThe Guardian,

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent havoc wreaked on global energy supplies, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng implored NGESO executives in May to work with Uniper, Drax and EDF to put the brakes on plans to decommission their coal power stations.

The German energy giant had been set to close one of its 500-megawatt units at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar site at the end of next month, followed by the eventual decommissioning of the remaining three units two years later.

NGESO is expected to pay a fee to Uniper to keep its Nottinghamshire operations running and offer compensation for any costs incurred.

The deal with Uniper – falling in the wake of agreements with Drax and EDF to keep open two units each from October to the end of March – stokes fears that the government’s commitment to end the use of coal power in the UK by October 2024 could be in peril.

The UK remains dependent on gas to fire home-heating systems and for cooking, as well as for electricity. Some 37 per cent of electricity demand in 2021 met by gas power stations.

One source with knowledge of the deal said officials hoped not to have to employ the coal plants and that the agreements were a contingency plan.

“It is not the base case assumption that they will be turned on,” one told the newspaper.

A spokesperson for Uniper said it was “continuing discussions with National Grid ESO in line with the government’s request to keep our unit at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, which is due to close in September 2022, available if needed during the winter. We cannot comment further at this time”.

A government spokesperson said: “While there is no shortage of supply for both the immediate and long term, we may need to keep other remaining coal-fired power stations available to provide additional backup electricity this coming winter if needed, in light of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

“However, it remains our firm commitment to end the use of coal power by October 2024.”

A NGESO spokesperson said it was conducting negotiations as requested by ministers.