Britain could face a return to Seventies-style power rationing to prevent blackouts.The disturbing news came amid warnings that the country may not be producing enough energy to keep the lights on by 2015.
Offices and factories could be ‘bribed’ to close for up to four hours a day during the winter to prevent households losing power.Energy regulator Ofgem said the country faced an ‘unprecedented challenge’ as coal-fired plants are closed by European Union diktats on the environment.In addition, nuclear power stations, which produced 26 per cent of Britain’s electricity when Labour was elected in 1997, now account for just 18 per cent.
Ministers say the previous government failed to protect our energy supply by commissioning replacements for ageing reactors.Yesterday Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, promised £10billion for a new plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset that could power five million homes.French firm EDF had demanded government cash to put towards the £14billion reactor.That funding was revealed as part of a £100billion package to build new roads, railways, houses and schools, in a bid to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Ministers also announced measures backing two controversial sources, wind farms and shale gas.
The plans were announced as Ofgem warned that the gap between household demand for energy and the amount our power stations can supply is dangerously small.The regulator warned of ‘faster than anticipated tightening of electricity margins towards the middle of this decade’.It forecast that with no major action to head off the crisis, the risk of blackouts would increase from the current chance of one in 47 years to as little as one in four.To prevent an energy crisis, Ofgem yesterday announced new powers for National Grid, which could come into effect before the end of this year.
Under the most radical measure, businesses that sign up to a deal with National Grid will be told to shut down between 4pm and 8pm on cold evenings.National Grid, which has a budget of up to £800million to help control demand, will compensate firms for the energy they do not use at well-above the market rate of about £50 per Megawatt hour (MWh).Rewards would range from £500 to £15,000 per MWh.Officials claim the closures would not unduly inconvenience factories and firms, as they could open on Saturday mornings to catch up on lost work. The new rules unveiled yesterday would also let National Grid resurrect mothballed power plants to boost supply.
Andrew Wright, Ofgem’s chief executive, said: ‘Britain’s energy industry is facing an unprecedented challenge to secure supplies… it is prudent to consider giving National Grid additional tools now to protect consumers as the margin between available supply and demand tightens in the mid-decade.’A Grid spokesman added: ‘We have been working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Ofgem to consider what measures we can take… We are consulting on these two services with the industry.‘This does not mean that disruption is imminent or likely, but Ofgem, DECC and ourselves believe it appropriate to consider what measures could be taken in case margins deteriorate further.’DECC said it supports the plans, but questioned the figures behind Ofgem’s blackout warnings. – DailyMail