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Britain heading towards an energy crisis, MPs claim

Britain is on the verge of a power crisis so severe that winter blackouts could become a regular fixture in the future, according to a new report.

The cross-party British Infrastructure Group (BIG) of MPs has published: ‘Electric Shock: Will the Christmas Lights Go out Next Winter?’ in which it claims that Government targets for closing coal power stations and expanding renewable sources to hit climate change goals have rapidly reduced the UK’s generating output.

This has allowed prices to shoot upwards and slashed capacity margins which are “so tight that National Grid’s emergency power deals have become the norm”.

Conservative MP Grant Shapps, who heads the committee, said the report focuses on the “dangerously small electricity capacity margins” that have been “left in the wake of a decade of target-led, interventionist energy policy”.

“While nobody questions the noble intentions behind these interventions, it is clear that a perfect coincidence of numerous policies designed to reduce Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions has had the unintended effect of hollowing out the reliability of the electricity generating sector,” he added.

Findings within the report claim that in recent winters the country’s spare electricity margin has fallen from around 17 per cent during the winter of 2011-12 to around 1 per cent this winter - a figure that does not take into account emergency measures.

But a spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said taking into account emergency measures, the surplus margin is actually 6.6 per cent.

The Government has been slow to react to the closure of many of Britain’s ageing coal plants. Recent figures show that only six per cent of electrical energy used in the UK this spring was generated using coal, a historic low. 

Although plans are in place to construct a series of nuclear plants to fill the gap, these are still many years away with the first of the new facilities, Hinkley Point, only being finally approved in September and not due to for completion until 2023 at the earliest. 

The report also claims “there is a sustained danger of intermittent blackouts for the foreseeable future”, and that this is down to “dwindling base capacity and freak weather events”.

And that in order to plug the capacity gap, household bills by 2020 could increase by as much as £30 a year, nearly double government estimates.

The report also states that the National Grid has been given the go ahead by the Government to pursue emergency measures to cover peak demand and prevent blackouts.

Measures to stop the country’s lights going out during peak periods include restarting old coal power stations, according to the report.

Power-intensive businesses such as factories are also paid to “detach” from the grid and run from their own energy sources such as emergency diesel generators.

The procurement of contracts with power stations not trading in the normal energy market, who are paid an “exorbitant sum” to be kept in standby mode over winter, is also a measure.

Last winter National Grid paid £33.9m for this emergency power, with £122.4m set to be shelled out for the cold months of 2016-2017.

The BIG report says these costs are “spread across the network and picked up by consumers in the form of higher bills”.

“Consumers, both domestic and business, having once reaped the benefits of tumbling prices after the 1990s market reforms, are now resigned to paying ever-higher electricity bills,” the report adds.

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