Energy security

Plan for new gas power plants to keep the lights on

Gas bill
Ministers want to ensure consumers are not left without power

A new generation of gas powered stations will be built as part of the UK government’s aim to ensure energy security.

Claire Coutinho, the Energy Security Secretary, will today warn that the country faces a “genuine prospect of blackouts” without gas as a backp-up for renewable energy sources.

Ministers insisted Britain would still meet targets to cut emissions to zero overall by 2050.

Ms Coutinho is expected to say: “There are no two ways about it. Without gas backing up renewables, we face the genuine prospect of blackouts.

“Other countries in recent years have been so threatened by supply constraints that they have been forced back to coal.

“We will not let ourselves be put in that position, so, as we continue to move towards clean energy, we must be realistic.”

She will defend the move as the latest step to reach net zero in a “sustainable, pragmatic way that rids us of the need to rely on foreign dictators like Putin.

Labour said it supported the plan, pointing out that replacing gas-fired stations was not at odds with a decarbonised power system. However, Ed Miliband, the party’s energy spokesman, criticised the government for persisting with the ludicrous ban on onshore wind, bungling the offshore wind auctions, and failing on energy efficiency.”

Ed Miliband (DB Media Services)
Ed Miliband: criticised onshore wind restrictions (pic: Terry Murden)

The plan will include stricter rules for new plants to be built net-zero ready and able to convert to lower-carbon alternatives such as using hydrogen or use carbon capture technology to store emissions.

Ministers say the new gas power plants would run less frequently as other low-carbon technologies such as renewables and nuclear are increasingly brought into operation.

Juliet Phillips, at climate change think tank E3G said: “The UK remains on track to be a clean power leader by 2030, having overseen continued exponential growth in renewables.

“However, due to policy failures over the last parliament, the Government has missed opportunities to build out the full offshore-wind pipeline, to make gains in energy efficiency, or address clunky network connection times – all factors that mean new gas plants have been announced.”

Jess Ralston, at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said: ““Anyone paying an energy bill in the past two years knows that the UK doesn’t control the price we pay for gas, that international markets decide.

“The UK is going backwards on energy security because of the Government fumbling its latest auction for British offshore wind farms, failing on its home insulation schemes and dithering on heat pumps.”

Ms Coutinho is also expected to announce a consultation on plans to change the way in which wholesale electricity is priced in a bid to make the market more functional.

Greg Jackson, the chief executive of Octopus Energy, said the current rules “forces us to send electricity to France when we need it most and pay a premium to buy it back from Norway, all while paying Scottish wind farms to switch off”.

“With locational pricing, customers will save hundreds of pounds a year on bills and parts of the UK will see the lowest electricity prices in Europe, attracting new industry and reducing the need for new pylons,” he said.

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