Energy Security Strategy: Closure of one of UK’s last three coal power stations postponed
EDF has agreed to keep coal operations at its West Burton A power plant online this winter, with the six-month extension touted by the UK Government as a means to help ensure energy security.
Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced the agreement between EDF and the Government on Twitter on Tuesday (14 June) afternoon. He wrote: “In May, I asked National Grid to explore keeping three coal power stations open this winter, if needed.
“With uncertainty in Europe following the invasion [of Ukraine by Russia], it’s right we explore all options to bolster supply. I’m pleased EDF has today confirmed West Burton [A] will remain online. Discussions with two other plants are ongoing.
“If we have available backup power, let’s keep it online just in case. I’m not taking chances.”
EDF subsequently issued its own statement. It confirms that two 500MW coal units at the power plant in Retford, which were due to close this September, will “now provide an emergency service to the National Grid Energy System Operator (ESO) in support of the Government’s request to reduce reliance on gas and boost energy security”.
EDF’s statement adds that the agreement is to “400MW of availability from one unit, as and when needed”. The second unit will be available as a backup. No operations will be on a commercial basis.
The UK Government published an Energy Security Strategy in April in a bid to reduce oil and gas imports by bringing more domestic energy generation online. The Strategy included a mix of new targets for generation, including offshore wind, nuclear and oil and gas. On fossil fuels, there was strong support for new North Sea oil and gas, despite the fact that these are globally traded commodities. There was, additionally, a request for new scientific information that may enable fracking to re-start in the UK. This approach has been criticized by environmental groups and the Government’s own climate advisors.
The Strategy also reiterated the Government’s consideration of a short-term extension to coal generation. Ministers have maintained that the UK will not postpone its legal requirement for coal generation to end permanently, which was moved forward from October 2025 to October 2024 last summer. The move was made as part of the UK’s preparations for COP26.
Aside from West Burton A, the UK hosts two other coal power plants. Drax’s facility in Selby, North Yorkshire, ceased commercial operations in March 2021 and will complete its final Capacity Market obligations by this September. Uniper’s Ratcliffe-on-Soar power plant, in Nottinghamshire, is due to end generation at one of its four units this September. The remaining three are then set to come offline in September 2024.
Some organisations including the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) think-tank have expressed concerns that some other nations, which are currently more dependent on coal than the UK, could water down medium-term and long-term plans to phase generation down and out with coal prices currently lower than gas. This would have a more significant climate impact than a short-term extension of generation by the UK’s comparatively small coal portfolio.
Other organisations believe that the decision taken by Kwarteng sends the wrong environmental message altogether. “Unless the UK wants an international reputation as a hypocrite, these coal stations must lie idle unless there’s a genuine emergency shortage of gas,” Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr.