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« FoE to get its comeuppance? | Main | Behind the scenes at the Guardian »
Friday
Jan292016

Another one to bite the dust

Well if you are supposed to live in interesting times then it looks as though the next few winters could border on completely fascinating. I say this because of the news last night that SSE are thinking of shutting down another conventional power station.

Energy giant SSE is considering shutting its Fiddler's Ferry coal-fired power plant early, threatening to blow a hole in the Government’s plans to keep the lights on, the Telegraph has learnt.

The 2GW power plant in Cheshire produces enough electricity to power two million homes and in 2014 secured a subsidy contract with the Government to guarantee three of the plant’s four units would be available to generate in 2018-19.

Is it to early to describe the capacity market as an unmitigated disaster?

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Reader Comments (53)

Three generators have to compete without subsidy: DECC seems to be bending over backwards to protect the profits of the subsidy farmers and carbon traders.

There is a free market solution to the problem and it won't require public subsidy. However, it will make about half the windmill farmers bankrupt as Grid Prices fall. As for the carbon traders, a cold dose of facts, i.e. the windmills save no CO2 emissions, is just the right thing to apply!

Jan 29, 2016 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

So? The wind will still blow and the sun will still shine. The green promise is coming true. BigCoal is trembling, trembling, trembling.

Jan 29, 2016 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterAila

'Is it to early to describe the capacity market as an unmitigated disaster?'
No and its been heading that way for some time .

Jan 29, 2016 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr

Aila

Indeed the green promise is coming true - the lights are going to go out and we in the UK are going to freeze in coming winters. Good job well done, eh?

Interesting to watch Michael Wood's history of China on BBC yesterday evening. Part of it must have escaped the BBC censor - that part which showed the huge barges full of coal travelling down a huge canal. Oh yes, Big Coal (whatever that is) must be trembling, trembling trembling (sarc off).

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Aila: "Tremble, tremble, tremble."
Real world: Shiver, shiver, shiver!

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

'Tis never "to early", said the pedant. 😊

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Sorry, but the only solution is to re-nationalise the power stations, revive the CEGB, and make the Board totally and independently responsible for electricity generation.
The UK is being held to ransom by a claque of (mostly foreign-owned) power companies who are only interested in generating a level of profit at minimal risk way beyond anything that they would be allowed to earn in their own countries
It really is long past time that the government (and I refuse to blame Rudd; she's only doing what any minister would have to do in her position) properly understands that its primary, indeed sole, function with regard to energy supply is to ensure the supply of energy and that "gesture politics", "saving the planet", and "setting an example to the rest of the world" (which isn't listening!) are not anywhere listed in either the Conservative manifesto or Parliament's job description.

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:19 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"So? The wind will still blow and the sun will still shine. The green promise is coming true. BigCoal is trembling, trembling, trembling."


Aila,

I hope you don't have any close relatives needing emergency hospital care when the lights go out.

Even getting to hospital could be a problem with the traffic light network down.

Then after a day or two people will start running out of petrol as the pumps won't work without electricity.

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Taken as a whole, the capacity market (without capitals) has two elements: the Capacity Mechanism and the Supplemental Balancing Reserve.

The CM provides payments starting 4 years forward, for up to 15 years, and was designed (or hoped) to bring forward investments in new CCGTs. However, being an auction process and (broadly) technology-agnostic, it actually brings forward the cheapest capacity to fit the requirement, which is always going to be life-extensions to existing plant, plus cheap-and-cheerful projects, notably diesel gen-sets in massed ranks, along with small expansion projects on existing sites.

This was always going to be the result, and could have been ascertained in advance by (a) checking what happens in various CM's in the USA, which also don't bring forward the desired new CCGTs; and (b) observing the well-known principle of commodity markets: there's always more cheap stuff out there than economists ever realise (see shale gas, shale oil, price of oil just now, etc etc).

The SBR is a sticking-plaster to get us through next winter and the one after that, which the CM (being for 4 years ahead) can never do. The SBR is a classic fudge, amply illustrating another key priniciple: the lights will stay on - by hook or by crook - because the politicians demand they shall. The National Grid is quite clever enough to achieve this, albeit by methods that are a disgrace: both expensive and dirty.

The killer issue here is the perverse incentive enjoyed by the Grid to refrain from telling politicians when their plans are barking-mad. This arises because they get a guaranteed return on investments they make that are approved by Ofgem. So, when a politician asks "can we actually do this [daft green scheme]?", the Grid says, "oh yes!", in the full knowledge it will require them to invest in crazy new infrastructure in order to allow it to happen, and that Ofgem will OK this for the guaranteed rate of return.

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterNick Drew

The wind will still blow…
Not always. Does your memory go back to the few days last week when there was very little wind, indeed, over the whole UK, as well as much of Europe?
…and the sun will still shine.
Not for an average of a little over 12 hours a day, it doesn’t. And, note: the time when the most lights are most wanted is NOT when the Sun is shining. Also, “Big Coal” is most definitely not a part of British industry, nowadays – do catch up!

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:22 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Has anyone had a look at http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/index.php this morning. Something very odd happened between 2300 last night and 0100 this morning. The demand fell to ~3GW.

Anybody got any ideas?

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

Once the lights go out, lampposts will still be useful.

For stringing up "greens" and DECC officials and ministers.

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&Twisted

But if the power goes off, the politicians can get away in winter nights with impunity - no light from the lampposts you see!

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 701E

Mike Jackson
Agree.

Aila
The sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing here. According to yr.no, the weather forecast site of choice for a lot of cyclists, we won't be getting any wind above 9 m/s for over a week. The rate rated wind speed for most wind "turbines" is around 13-16 m/s so all those wind turbines round here (Limousin) will be expensive sculptures. We're not forecast a great deal of sunshine during that time either so all the solar PV on barn rooves will be expensive tiling for the next week, just as it is every night.
Fortunately the Nuclear fleet is still producing and exporting to the UK where the "turbines" will be being switched off because of too much wind. Ironic really but I suppose there must be just the right amount of wind somewhere around Normandy.

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

I'm not so sure about the claim that the government "awarded a subsidy contract"


To my knowledge, the so-called "Capacity Market" contracts guarantee payment to coal fired plants in the even that wind farms come on line (get priority purchase) and the electricity isn't needed.

Legally, I suppose that is a subsidy to the coal station. However, it is actually a subsidy to the wind farm - paying for the back up the wind farm needs to guarantee a supply.

So some porky pies there to my mind, that are likely to cited by Greens: "look at the subsidy coal is getting. They can't even stay open with the subsidy".

Jan 29, 2016 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Fiddlers Ferry could be a poster child to policy changes demanded by people very remote from industry. I suspect that those people think that this warning is a bluff for more money. It might be a bit of pressure to secure more money but there are good reasons to think that even if the money situation eases, Fiddlers will shut anyway.

Several things spring to mind - Apparently Fiddlers needs to do more desulphurisation by the end of this year or be closed by 2023 anyway. Its sister station Ferrybridge C has started suffering major breakdowns that are not worth fixing. Both stations are passed their original lifespan. While theoretically everything can be replaced, it gets harder and more expensive and if the result becomes worthless because of fickle demands from government and the EU, companies are gambling good money after bad to try and rejuvinate stations.

Jan 29, 2016 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

@NeilC

Has anyone had a look at http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/index.php this morning. Something very odd happened between 2300 last night and 0100 this morning. The demand fell to ~3GW.

Anybody got any ideas?

Presumably a failure of the data feed line - I can't imagine it actually happened?

Jan 29, 2016 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

SandyS
No wind here (Saône-et-Loire) either.
In fact if you look here, there isn't much wind anyhere in France today, certainly not enough to make a difference to the electricity supply. Germany's no better apart from the Baltic coast.

Nick Drew
I think I understood that, and I think it supports my previous post. There really are some things that are not best left to the market!

Jan 29, 2016 at 10:54 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I think Nick Drew has said it all. The cm will not bring forward all the new power stations needed to replace all the coal-fired and nuclear power stations which will be closed by 2025. Basically we will have to get used to rotating power cuts, just like any other third-world country. Civil unrest looms.

Jan 29, 2016 at 10:57 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Any thoughts on these sorts of solutions?

http://powerbargecorp.com/

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:14 AM | Registered Commenterwoodentop

It is in the interests of the suppliers to keep the capacity margin low as that is the best way to maximise income. That is how the markets work and the free-er they are, the more the procession towards Enron-style dirty tricks, cartels and monopolies. Privatisation of our power supplies was based on simplistic dogma. The CEGB plan prior to it's forced demise was to build many more PWR's like France. That will not happen without public money. Better paying ourselves than paying the French to do it!

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Has anyone calculated the carbon footprint of trying to illuminate a house with candles?

Will the closure of this Cheshire power station compromise the floodlighting at any sports venues in the Liverpool area? People from the Manchester area will find it very funny if it does.

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The last Minister for Energy was Matthew Hancock.

For some insight into his ability as a minister, Google

"letwin hancock kids company letter of instruction" and see what he and Letwin can do. I'm not surprised that the lights are going to go out -- theirs are already a bit dim.

Full disclosure -- he beat me by more than two to one in the election. But I'm still right.

jf

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJulian Flood

GC


Who turned the lights out

"......Today, one of the reminders of the severe 1970s conditions is in the football programmes of the 1971-72 and 1973-74 football seasons. The match day programmes provide an everlasting record of the unusual kick-off times. Clubs typically bought the start times forward to much earlier in the afternoon in order to save energy by not having to turn on their floodlights......"

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:53 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

TinyCO2

Ferrybridge C (2000MW) is slated to close in 8 weeks time and this is a plant with all the modern environmental add- ons. Power stations like these require significant ongoing expenditure to maintain efficiency. They are designed for base load conditions and having to work intermittently reduces efficiency and increases maintenance costs on top of the killer carbon levy.

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpen

Ferrybridge C (2000MW) is slated to close in 8 weeks time and this is a plant with all the modern environmental add- ons. Power stations like these require significant ongoing expenditure to maintain efficiency. They are designed for base load conditions and having to work intermittently reduces efficiency and increases maintenance costs on top of the killer carbon levy.

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpen

I have posted this before, but they clearly haven't got the message yet:

http://snag.gy/iLAlS.jpg.
Source: https://www.bsria.co.uk/download/asset/will-the-lights-go-out-2.pdf

UK energy policy is a disaster, and the CM is clearly not working. If wind and solar work, why are the Germans (with 30GW wind and 38GW solar capacity) building 19 new coal power stations? And why can't we? Coal is only $30 a tonne now, you can store a year's worth beside the power station. Base load, load following, grid inertia and security of supply. Cameron is a cluesless PR idiot, but his civil service advisors in DECC are culpable, and have clearly failed in their duty to provide sound advice to Ministers.

I am not that keen on uranium reactors, (would much prefer thorium) but the situation is now so critical it is time to get on the telephone to our American cousins:

http://www.westinghousenuclear.com/New-Plants (rather than waste any more money on the ill-fated and extorionate French/Chinese station at Hinkley Point).

Jan 29, 2016 at 12:14 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Mike Jackson - please don't take my account as being in support of reviving the CEGB ! It wasted money on a truly phenomenal scale, for the amusement of its own engineers (and the pre-privatisation British Gas was just as bad).

Instead, read the bit I wrote about National Grid. If you give these people guaranteed rates of return and let them do whatever they like (because they tell you it's really, really necessary, trust me I'm an engineer etc etc), they just take your money and gold-plate everything.

Phillip Bratby - I doubt that very much indeed, the political imperative is abundantly clear: "when the lights go out, the government goes out" - even 3rd-world dictators know this.

Later this year (I predict) the DECC will invent a new scheme to 'encourage' CCGTs to be built. That's how things work these days: all attempts to build an effective market structure have been abandoned. The best we may hope for is some kind of auction, given that lots and lots of CCGT opportunities exist with many 'competing' players, all keen for a UK government-guaranteed income stream.

Jan 29, 2016 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterNick Drew

Nick Drew, that's the plan but brinkmanship has been known to misjudge the right side of the line.

Jan 29, 2016 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Green Sand 11:53, if it happens again, the BBC will say it is unprecedented. Much as they describe everything else that has happened before.

Jan 29, 2016 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Cheer up everyone, it's biomass to the rescue with the prospect of abundant prawn cocktails thrown in!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-35432478

I have friends who can't - or refuse - to understand that a) those "500 jobs" are a cost, not a benefit and b) the bitter irony that the site of this subsidy factory is the former home of a manufacturing enterprise which closed due to high energy costs

Jan 29, 2016 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul R

Nick Drew, I think private enterprise should be encouraged, particularly in rural areas. Farmers should be made aware of the profits available from generating electricity from diesel engines, so it can be fed into the grid. Most farmers have serviceable diesel engines in their tractors, with a PTO (Power Take Off) shaft, designed for quick connection to other machinery. They will also have access to cheaper Red diesel, and storage facilities.

I know there are transmission losses etc, but if 1Horse Power = 750 watts, a low revving 100HP tractor running a generator should produce upto about 75,000 watts or 75kw, and the heat produced would keep the farmer warm too. Farm tractors are not used heavily in winter, and many of the farming families struggling to survive to grow food, could do with the extra income.

There is no reason why country bumpkins should be the first to suffer from power cuts caused by townies. Obviously no townies would want to benefit from diesel powered tractors in their protected environments, especially ones that may have come into contact with actual animal poo.

Jan 29, 2016 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Mike Jackson on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:19 AM
"Sorry, but the only solution is to re-nationalise the power stations, revive the CEGB, and make the Board totally and independently responsible for electricity generation."

Re-nationalising the power stations and reviving the the CEGB will not help if the totally independent Board is overruled by DECC. The gas fired power stations will still be ticking over, waiting for a chance to bring in revenue. We will just find the finances even less understandable! It would be a waste of public money to build more, just as it would be a waste of private sector money. The Government need to revoke the 2008 CCA: Germany doesn't have any equivalent, so it can act in a more sensible fashion.

It is the dysfunctional energy market that is delivering chaos, funded by the current government with its political agenda that ignores the laws of Physics, Engineering and Economics, because no one there understands them, or wants to understand them.

Jan 29, 2016 at 1:53 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

'BigCoal is trembling, trembling, trembling.'

The people who keep you alive are trembling. That is the green thanatos promise.

Jan 29, 2016 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

"Nick Drew, that's the plan but brinkmanship has been known to misjudge the right side of the line."

It's a game of nudging to the edge, it's not a plan.

Furthermore, ND - I don't much care for wasting money in any public institution but - wtf is happening now if not a gargantuan waste of consumer and taxpayers dosh?

I too am not fussed about nationalization either, I much prefer 'not for profit organization along the model of Glas Cymru/Welsh Water' but at least, with a collective entity akin to something like the CEGB, there was and seemed to be some cogency to the UK maintenance and efficacy [important that - efficacy] of generation and supply, however much money they (the CEGB) allegedly threw down the toilet.

Presently, energy policy is dedicated to primarily feeding (with public subsidy) something which patently does not provide enough base load nor much of anything else usable; our energy infrastructure which is creaking and/or anyway what will remain of it, will resemble a spaghetti wrapped - third world telegraph pole cum lamp post. When you base the whole of the menu policy on unworkables and green mania - the recipe is fooked in the outset.

Amber Rudd, are you bloody well listening?

Yet on and on the idiocy goes and viable plant is shut down and because brinkmanship is the only game in town.

Indeed Mike Jackson, Amber Rudd may not be to blame for this horlicks of an impending disaster but by God she is the one holding the baby - someone needs a word in her's and Dave's shell - to tell them "the only answer is efficient new build coal plant". Early closure of plant only brings nearer the time the lights go out, not only for the country but also - for the Tories.

Jan 29, 2016 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

its TOO early, not TO early.

Am I the only one who went to grammer school, hear??

Jan 29, 2016 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusCold

Athelstan on Jan 29, 2016 at 2:20 PM
"Indeed Mike Jackson, Amber Rudd may not be to blame for this horlicks of an impending disaster but by God she is the one holding the baby - someone needs a word in her's and Dave's shell - to tell them "the only answer is efficient new build coal plant". Early closure of plant only brings nearer the time the lights go out, not only for the country but also - for the Tories."

Who, of the 'on message' civil servants and advisers littering Whitehall, would confirm that your suggestion is a good one?

Not many, I would think, for obvious reasons!

Jan 29, 2016 at 2:40 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

There is a lot of needless worry here even though you can see the guvment is well on the way to fixing the problem.

Chemical Industry gone.
Coal Industry gone.
Aluminium gone.
Steel on the way out.

Who needs power?

Jan 29, 2016 at 2:46 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Robert Christopher (1:53pm) is correct. The UK electricity generation market is a mess because of (Labour and Tory/LibDem) government imposed green ideology, not because of "the market". When governments think they know best and hand out subsidies and taxes all over the place, there should be no surprise when people and businesses work for the government money rather than their customers.

I have been saying for years that we don't have a "market" in the UK for electricity, so the disintegration coming to pass now has been obvious for a long time. All of this is compounded by STOR, where filthy diesel generators are used as ready on backup for intermittent Wind and Solar.

There was an old Soviet joke - "You pretend to pay us, and we'll pretend to work" - reflecting the fact that when political ideology fails to work in the real world the politicians responsible for the mess are the last to know. From the NHS to electricity generation we are a country being built on lies. It can't last.

Jan 29, 2016 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterBudgie

Fiddlers Ferry opened in 1971. That makes it 45 years old. The average closure for old coal stations in the US is 48 years. Stuff wears out, maintenance costs rise, and eventually the plant becomes uneconomic. If SSE is being told add additional scrubber investment or else on a plant near end of life, the only sensible decision is to reply subsidize me or else. And mean it. Ditto Longanett. Especially withnthe wind forced flexing inefficiencies. UK lives in interesting times.

Jan 29, 2016 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

In the short term or the medium term there is only one action by Cameron which can instantly save our power generation industry and therefore our economy..

REPEAL THE CLIMATE CHANGE ACT.

Nothing else will save us although finding a new wife might smooth the way. It can't be that hard surely?

Jan 29, 2016 at 3:57 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Is Big Coal trembling? An industry that has doubled its output in the past 30 years seems in quite rude health to me.

Jan 29, 2016 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

@VenusCold, Jan 29, 2016 at 2:40 PM

its TOO early, not TO early.

Am I the only one who went to [bad] grammer school, hear??

It's not its ;)

Am I the only one who passed the 11 plus and attended a good Grammar School here?

;)

Jan 29, 2016 at 7:25 PM | Registered CommenterPcar

Came along the A58 Ashton in Makerfield on Wednesday and noticed that Fiddler's looked d e a d. Usually there is some telltale of heat in the system. But the other day I thought, they turned it off!

Jan 29, 2016 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterNick

It is the result of their poor knowledge on the difference between kW and kWh. kW is what you have and need here and now, kWh is the summation of kW over a certain time.
It is like their understanding of weather and climate

Jan 29, 2016 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterSvend Ferdinandsen

@VenusCold, Jan 29, 2016 at 2:40 PM

its TOO early, not TO early.

Am I the only one who went to [bad] grammer school, hear??

It's not its ;)

Am I the only one who passed the 11 plus and attended a good Grammar School here?

;)
OH THE IRONING!

Jan 29, 2016 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Exactly!!!! I know you guys get it even if you don't admit to it. Armageddon is here. The green promise is coming true.

Jan 29, 2016 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterAila

Aila:

I don't remember the greens promising blackouts. I thought they just waffled about wind turbines being the desirable source of cheap and reliable electricity.
When the promise comes true you had better have a good store of candles or better, a diesel generator.

Jan 29, 2016 at 10:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

"Who, of the 'on message' civil servants and advisers littering Whitehall, would confirm that your suggestion is a good one?

Not many, I would think, for obvious reasons!"


Quite right - Robert Christopher and sadly, it is very sad to report thus and therein, partly if not in total - is the rub.

Jan 29, 2016 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

@Paul R, Jan 29, 2016 at 1:16 PM

Cheer up everyone, it's biomass to the rescue with the prospect of abundant prawn cocktails thrown in!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-35432478

I have friends who can't - or refuse - to understand that a) those "500 jobs" are a cost, not a benefit and b) the bitter irony that the site of this subsidy factory is the former home of a manufacturing enterprise which closed due to high energy costs

Energy costs:

Wales biomass 299MW 500 employee costs = 0.6MW per employee cost
Scotland Longannet Coal 2,400MW 236 employee costs = 10.2MW per employee cost

The 17 times greater employee cost per MW must be paid by consumers whether through tax subsidies or directly on bills.

China and India must be ROFL at our self-imposed destruction of our economy.

Jan 30, 2016 at 10:26 PM | Registered CommenterPcar

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