The UK government is close to striking a deal to keep a coal-fired power station in Nottinghamshire open longer than planned as ministers attempt to shore up Britain’s energy supplies.
UK officials are in negotiations with the French energy company EDF over plans to extend the operations of the West Burton A power station near Retford.
The plant had been due to shut by October this year but could now run until March.
If an arrangement is struck, the government would have a standby agreement whereby backup power would be available for about 1.5m homes.
A deal between EDF, the government, Great Britain’s energy regulator, Ofgem, and National Grid’s Electricity Systems Operator (ESO) over how much the French company would be paid was set to be signed last week but is now likely to be finalised this week, the Financial Times reported. It is expected to cost tens of millions of pounds, which would be levied on household energy bills.
West Burton A began generating in 1966 and was originally slated for closure last year, before that was extended to this September.
A spokesperson for EDF said: “EDF is working hard to finalise an agreement with National Grid ESO to support the government’s request to keep West Burton A power station available over next winter. An update will provided at the appropriate time.”
The government is also in discussions with Drax about extending the life of its coal-powered unit in Yorkshire, due to shut in September. Uniper’s plant in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire, which was also expected to close in September, could have its life extended.
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, wrote to National Grid ESO late last month to ask the industry to find ways to produce “additional non-gas-fired capacity over the coming winter that would otherwise not be available” to minimise the impact of volatile energy markets on bills.
Kwarteng reiterated his commitment to the government’s deadline of ending domestic coal generation by September 2024 and phasing out imports of Russian coal by the end of the year.
Environmental campaigners are likely to be concerned over the extension of coal-fired operations, the most polluting form of power generation.
The Greenpeace UK policy director, Doug Parr, said: “Unless the UK wants an international reputation as a hypocrite, these coal stations must lie idle unless there’s a genuine emergency shortage of gas. Although it’s easy for the government to blame [Vladimir] Putin for this backtrack to coal, the UK’s overreliance on fossil fuels comes from years of blocking cleaner, cheaper power.
“In order to tackle the climate crisis and bring down soaring bills the UK must end its dependence on fossil fuels. That means enabling and investing in renewable projects, both on and offshore, and properly insulating homes right across the UK to make sure that they use and waste less energy in the first place.”
However, Tom Burke, the chairman of the climate change thinktank E3G, said: “There are more important things to get worried about in the government’s failure to decarbonise our power system than a temporary extension of a coal-fired power station in the middle of the Ukrainian war.
“There is a simple and straightforward way to guarantee energy security and keep to bills down and that’s to spend the money you need to spend on energy efficiency.”
The government said the West Burton A extension was a “welcome step in further boosting our energy security and domestic supply in light of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine”.