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UK Coal Stations Fire up to Meet Power Needs

The UK fires up coal power plant as gas prices soar.

Warm, still autumn weather has meant wind farms have not generated as much power as normal, while soaring prices have made it too costly to rely on gas. As a result, National Grid ESO – which is responsible for balancing the UK’s electricity supply – confirmed coal was providing 3% of national power. It said it asked EDF to fire up West Burton A, which had been on standby.

A National Grid ESO spokesman said there had been a three-day coal-free run in mid-August. However, the country had relied on some coal power every day since then. Last year, coal contributed 1.6% of the country’s electricity mix. That was down from 25% five years ago.

Both the government and National Grid ESO have committed to phasing out coal power completely by 2024 to cut carbon emissions. However, coal is currently still used when it is better value than gas.

Record prices

And with gas prices hitting record highs this summer, more coal has been burnt to meet demand.

Across Europe, shortages and increased demand from Asia have seen the cost of gas increase to the highest level on record, according to Reuters.

A cold start to the year meant countries across the continent dipped into their gas reserves, which would normally be replenished in the summer months when demand tends to be weaker.

However, a number of unexpected disruptions to supply, coupled with an economic rebound as countries reopen from Covid-19 lockdowns, have created a shortage of gas.

A National Grid spokesman said: “In balancing the electricity system, we take actions in economical order and not on the basis of generation type.

“Depending on system conditions, some power sources may be better at meeting a balancing requirement than others – so the most cost-effective solution to ensure safe, secure system operation will be sought.”

The Nuclear Industry Association said the decision to fire up another coal power plant highlighted the urgent need to invest in new nuclear plants.

“Otherwise, we will continue to burn coal as a fall-back and fall well short of our net zero ambitions,” the trade body’s chief executive, Tom Greatrex, said in a statement.

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