Electricity plans could have saved coal jobs

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The Independent Online
PROPOSALS by the former Central Electricity Generating Board to build almost 6,000 megawatts of new coal-fired plant - which could have saved thousands of miners' jobs - were shelved when the electricity industry was privatised.

Tim Eggar, the Energy Minister, said in a Commons written reply that the Central Electricity Generating Board, split into PowerGen and National Power in the industry sell-off, had planned to build three 1,800 megawatt coal-fired stations: Kingsnorth B in Kent, Fawley B in Hampshire and West Burton B in Nottinghamshire.

But no planning application was made for Kingsnorth B, the application for Fawley B was withdrawn, and although consent for West Burton B was granted in March 1990 construction had not begun there.

British Coal says that every 1,000 megawatts of generating capacity creates a market for up to 3 million tonnes of coal. Each million tonnes can safeguard up to 1,000 mining jobs.

A source in the electricity industry said that the plants would have been much more efficient than existing coal-fired plants. He said that proposals were ditched because privatisation was looming and it became clear that the regional distribution companies would not be willing to sign contracts to buy electricity from the plants.

The proposals were for three 1,800-megawatt plants at Fawley on Southamption Water, West Burton in Nottinghamshire and Kingsnorth on the Thames Estuary. They were to be based on 900- megawatt generating units; the largest in use in Britain today are 660 units.

It is likely that had they been built, Fawley and West Burton would have been inherited by National Power, the larger of the two generators, and Kingsnorth by PowerGen. One electricity industry executive said: 'It was clear that even then, the regional companies were looking at natural gas in preference to coal.'

In 1989-90, in the approach to electricity privatisation, the consensus was that the UK would need 10,000 megawatts of new capacity in the current decade as demand grew, old and inefficient plant was retired and the share of nuclear power declined. Since then, however, firm plans for at least 8,000 megawatts of gas-fired plants have emerged and Nuclear Electric has increased its market share from 16 per cent to 22 per cent.

Jim Hart, the commercial director of Southern Electric, said: 'The body of opinion even then was quite clearly that Combined Cycle Gas Turbine technology was the way to go in future. We believe the costs of electricity from Fawley, the most advanced proposal, would have been 20 per cent higher than for CCGTs.' He said the coal-fired plants also had a disadvantage in that they took much longer to build than gas- fired plants. However, it is also likely that the regional companies were keen to quickly reduce their dependence on National Power and PowerGen.

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