Government to pay for corporate 'switch off' amid blackout fears

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Taxpayers will pay thousands of pounds to persuade UK companies to "switch off" at times of peak demand to avoid mass blackouts.

Energy secretary Ed Davey is expected to unveil a series of "last resort" measures to prevent power shortfalls in the winter months later today, which could see the Government paying companies to curb their energy consumption.

"Both the new demand and supply balancing services will be used only as a last resort – and are a safety net to protect households in difficult circumstances, such as a hard winter or very high surges in demand," Mr Davey will say, stressing no economic activity will be "curtailed" as a result and companies won't be forced to participate.

In a separate announcement, National Grid, the FTSE 100 giant which owns the electricity transmission system in England and Wales, announced Britain's biggest companies will be paid to reduce their energy use during peak evening hours between 4pm and 8pm on winter weekdays.

The energy operator also announced measures to secure reserves from power stations which would otherwise be closed or mothballed between the hours of 6am and 8pm on winter weekdays. The scheme will also be voluntary.

National Grid's Peter Bingham said: "It's our job as electricity system operator to make sure we've got all the right tools at our disposal to balance supply and demand on the electricity network, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."