Power station closures raise fear of blackouts

Power stations generating a tenth of the UK's electricity capacity could be forced to close more than two years earlier than expected - stoking fears of blackouts, it has been reported.

Some coal power plants have been running at historically high rates that would put them out of action by 2013, provoking concern over an energy "generation gap", according to the Sunday Times.

Under EU rules companies operating old coal and oil-fired plants were given the option to upgrade them to comply with stringent emission limits. Those plants for which it was uneconomic to upgrade were permitted to continue operating until 2016 and given 20,000 hours to run.

But the report, based on research from energy consultants Utilyx, said of the nine plants that opted out, five could be decommissioned by spring 2013 if they continue running at current rates.

Chris Bowden, chief executive of Utilyx, said when the plants made the decision not to upgrade they anticipated being "peaking plants", used only at a time of maximum consumption and power prices.

"Now they are running as base-load providers," he told the Sunday Times.

"The technology of some of these power stations would make them like classic cars, but now they are ready for the scrapheap."

The affected coal-fired plants are Kingsnorth in Kent, owned by Eon, Scottish Power's Cockenzie plant, npower's stations at Tilbury and Didcot, and Scottish & Southern's Ferrybridge plant.

It is understood the stations generate some 7.6 gigawatts of electricity – 10 per cent of the UK's total capacity.

According to the Sunday Times, the plant at Cockenzie, which generates enough power for one million homes, will close as early as September 2010 based on current rates.

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