UK ministers have come below assault for taking a “last minute” method to bolstering home vitality provides this winter and avoiding the opportunity of blackouts if Russia cuts off fuel to Europe.
The pushback got here after EDF Energy was compelled to place out a memo final week to elucidate that point had “run out” to delay the closure of one among Britain’s six remaining nuclear energy vegetation on the finish of July.
Robert Gross, professor of vitality coverage at Imperial College London, stated there had been a way of “business as usual” from the federal government regardless that the UK depends on fossil fuels for 40 per cent of its electrical energy era, predominantly from fuel.
Gross was amongst a gaggle of lecturers who in December referred to as on the ministers to revisit the UK’s method to vitality safety, warning it had been “complacent about the supply of gas for too long”.
Extending the lifetime of the Hinkley Point B plant in Somerset was one of many choices ministers have been exploring as a part of contingency planning for potential vitality shortages later this 12 months. Whitehall’s worst-case state of affairs would go away 6mn properties dealing with partial blackouts if Moscow stops sending fuel to western Europe and Norway, which is Britain largest provider of fuel, is compelled to divert a few of its output to different allies.
Other choices embrace holding three coal-fired energy stations open — all however a type of was as a result of be mothballed by the top of September as a part of the UK’s plan to scale back carbon emissions — and belatedly seeking to reverse the closure of among the Britain’s previous couple of fuel storage amenities.
Many concerned within the vitality sector have reacted with dismay that it has taken ministers this lengthy to start out making winter contingency plans given it was evident by final September that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin was weaponising his nation’s dominance over fuel provides to western Europe.
Sue Ferns, senior deputy basic secretary on the commerce union Prospect, agreed. “None of this should come as a surprise. Even before the war in Ukraine, there were warnings about [gas] constraints throughout last winter,” she stated.
The union had urged the federal government in April to look into extending the lifetime of Hinkley Point B and different ageing nuclear vegetation. “You can’t have a lastminute.com energy policy,” she added.
The stringent security regime and the complexities of inspecting ageing reactors means any try to increase their lives requires lengthy lead instances. Britain is dealing with a speedy decline in nuclear producing capability, which accounts for about 16 per cent of whole capability. All however one of many nuclear energy stations is because of retire by the top of the last decade and the one new plant below development — Hinkley Point C — has been hit by quite a few delays.
Extending the lifetime of coal-fired vegetation ought to be extra simple however EDF was additionally compelled to warn UK enterprise secretary Kwasi Kwarteng final week that it “urgently” wanted a call on extending the lifetime of its West Burton A coal plant in Nottinghamshire so it could be accessible this winter.
EDF stated West Burton requires important upkeep and would wish to safe new provides of coal, which it used to supply from Russia.
Officials level out the federal government can also be in talks with vitality group Centrica over doubtlessly reopening Britain’s largest fuel storage web site Rough inside months. Rough was successfully closed in 2017 after Centrica deemed it could “not be economic” on the time to refurbish the ageing facility.
But analysts have stated the federal government must also look to resurrect different mothballed fuel storage, such because the smaller Hole House facility in Cheshire, to make sure the nation has sufficient to attract on throughout the chilly winter months. That storage facility is being decommissioning by EDF however in a means that “keeps options open”, the corporate stated.
The authorities got here below fireplace earlier this 12 months for failing to deal with the short-term issues of excessive vitality costs and a possible provide crunch this winter when it printed its safety of provide technique.
Gross argued the federal government’s short-term planning ought to embrace a fuel “solidarity plan” with the EU — which has drawn up plans to ration fuel — within the occasion of a complete shutdown by Russia and a public info marketing campaign to encourage folks to save lots of vitality.
Analysts have expressed concern that the federal government is underplaying the nation’s reliance on Russian fuel, which it says accounts for lower than 4 per cent of provide.
Official information present about 8 per cent of whole fuel imports in 2021 got here from undersea pipelines, or interconnectors, from the EU. But because the bloc depends on Russia for 40 per cent of its personal provide there could possibly be knock-on results on how a lot fuel might be pumped to the UK.
During extreme winters the UK’s reliance on piped fuel has elevated. The so-called Beast from the East storm in 2018 meant Britain obtained “something like 20 or 25 per cent” of its fuel by the interconnectors, in line with Niall Trimble, managing director of The Energy Contract Company, a consultancy.
“That’s where the risk lies,” he added. “[If the EU] decide they can’t possibly supply us because they’re short of gas themselves then we go to the back of the queue.”
In earlier winters, National Grid has confused the nation can supply fuel from a number of sources. This consists of liquefied pure fuel shipped to terminals in Britain from international locations together with Qatar. But Trimble warned that due to the character of the LNG markets: “We might get outbid for [LNG cargoes] by . . . the Far East.”
Labour’s shadow enterprise secretary Ed Miliband stated the federal government’s “short-sightedness has been staggering”.
In a press release, the federal government insisted any extensions to the lifetime of nuclear stations was “entirely a matter for the operator and the independent regulator based on safety considerations”. Privately, officers have sought to minimize the warnings of rolling energy cuts in Britain this winter, arguing they’d solely happen within the very worst-case state of affairs.