I do, just. I was about three and I got very excited when the lights would go out, because I knew it meant Mummy and Daddy had to stop whatever they were doing ‘to play candles’ with me. They were less impressed.
The three day week and rolling power cuts left Heath as a one-term Prime Minister. If David Cameron is not to go the same way we need (amongst other things!) to keep the lights on.
Yet today, the energy regulator Ofgem reports that there will be below 4% spare electricity generation capacity by 2015 on its central view and perhaps as little as 1.5% if demand for electricity does not fall through greater energy efficiency as the government projects.
Controlled disconnection of customers
Because things can go wrong, and plants may have to unexpectedly shut down for technical or safety reasons, even with electricity interconnectors such small margins of spare capacity mean the chance of black-outs. Ofgem advises that as well as “an increase in wholesale prices”:
“the probability of a large shortfall requiring the controlled disconnection of customers increases from around 1 in 47 years in winter 2013/14 to 1 in 12 years in 2015/16. This increases significantly to around 1 in 4 years if the demand reductions fail to materialise”
Ofgem does not consider what might happen if electricity demand rises, say if the economy properly picks up and, so far, official response has been limited to suggestions of some technical changes and enhanced powers for National Grid.
This is woefully inadequate. Since this government came to power, and for many years under the previous government, no new power stations have been built – just wind turbines. At the same time several large power stations, mainly coal-fired but some oil-fired, have been forced to close by the EU Large Combustion Plants Directive.
Restart EU-closed power stations
Some are officially closed, but could, with limited warning and remedial works, be re-started for 2-3 years so as to meet the energy crunch through 2015/16 and prevent the risk of black-outs.
For instance, Kingsnorth in my constituency last generated electricity just before Christmas last year and officially came off the grid on 31st March 2013. Currently a team of around twenty are removing stored energy from various parts of the plant to make it safe before demolition. This is scheduled to start in early 2014.
Any decision to ask plants shutting under the EU Directive to keep going therefore now needs to be made very quickly. The EU Directive actually provides for member states to ask for a derogation if they need it, stating at article 3(4):
“If a substantial and unexpected change… in the availability of certain… generating installations creates serious technical difficulties for the implementation by a Member State of its programme … the Commission shall, at the request of the Member State concerned… take a decision to modify, for that Member State, the emission ceilings and/or the dates”
So, come on Mr Cameron, make that request, and let’s keep the light on and prices down.