Gas-fired electricity stations under threat

More than a dozen gas-fired power stations are facing the axe as part of the Government's plans to secure the future of the coal industry. The total is thought to include a number of stations which have already been given planning consent.

Applications have been submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry to build a further 21 gas-fired stations with a total generating capacity of nearly 8,000 megawatts - enough to replace 22 million tonnes of coal or the output of eight to ten pits.

However, in addition to these outstanding applications, there are a further nine gas-fired stations with a combined output of 5,700 megawatts that already have section 36 planning consent. Six of these projects are out to tender.

The Government's coal rescue plan, which is expected to be unveiled this week, will either extend the existing moratorium on gas-fired stations or make consents extremely difficult to obtain. This means that many of the projects are unlikely to see the light of day, with serious knock- on effects for job creation.

One of the biggest casualties of the coal deal is likely to be BP's Baglan Bay project in South Wales - a pounds 500m scheme to build an 1,100 megawatt gas-fired station in an area of high unemployment. Up to 3,000 jobs are resting on the project.

Other large stations awaiting approval include two plants at Rhosgoch and Fleetwood which the Canatxx Energy consortium has applied to build and an 1,125 megawatt station at Enderby proposed by Scottish Power.

There are about 14,000 megawatts of gas-fired plant in operation and a further 4,300 megawatts under construction.

Electricity industry executives believe that some stations which are in the very early stages of construction, such as National Power's 1,500 megawatt Staythorpe plant, could be vulnerable.

The Government's measures to safeguard coal are likely to save about 2,000 to 3,000 jobs in the short-term. But the power station developers argue that many more jobs in the upstream gas industry and construction could disappear as a result.

The industry regulator and the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee have both come down against continuing the moratorium on gas-fired stations. The select committee is expected to repeat those criticisms in a report being published today which will take a sideswipe at the hurried nature of the Government's current energy review.

The report is likely to reiterate that there is no case for blocking the building of further gas-stations and little evidence that security of supply is an issue.

However, the MPs are likely to repeat their warning in April that there is a case for maintaining the coal industry at a given size, although they are unlikely to specify a figure.

Outlook, page 19