Power stations are allowed to breach air pollution limits if blackouts loom
Coal-fired power stations have also been asked to delay planned shutdown dates to provide assistance if needed, while households are offered payments to reduce demand at peak times.
National Grid has warned there is a risk of blackout if Britain cannot import power when needed from the mainland. The breakdowns of the French nuclear fleet aggravate the risk.
The company reiterated the warning this week, advising investors that “customer supply disruptions could occur for short periods” in the “unlikely” scenario of a supply shortage.
The regulations apply to so-called “peak” plants, which can ramp up and down quickly to meet demand, meaning they can easily step in if a shortage is imminent.
If factories emit more nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide than allowed within normal limits, they will have to make equivalent emission reductions next year. This means power plants are effectively allowed to ‘borrow’ against next year’s allocations, rather than adding overtime across the board.
Plants within 500m of specially managed areas for nitrogen oxide emissions will not be included in the plans. The easing only applies until the end of December and the Environment Agency has said there are no plans to extend it.
A spokesman for the government’s environment department said it was ‘clear that power stations must still comply with their legal permits and can only operate under the RPS’. [regulatory position statement] in the event of an imminent power shortage.
“A violation of hourly limits in a permit would be dealt with through the normal Environment Agency enforcement process,” he added.
Cuts to Russian gas supplies to Europe as part of its war on Ukraine have raised concerns that all gas-fired power stations in Europe and the UK will have enough fuel to operate at some point. .
Meanwhile, a large part of the French fleet of nuclear power plants is currently offline for maintenance or to fix corrosion issues. EDF, owner of the power plants, has revised its production forecasts downwards for the fourth time this year.
Britain typically relies on some electricity imported from the continent to handle peak demand times, such as when workers go home and cook dinner. It is also increasingly dependent on intermittent wind power.
National Grid must balance the system second by second to avoid outages. To help balance this winter, National Grid is offering to pay home suppliers £3 for every kilowatt hour of energy saved if they are called upon to do so to avoid shortages.
Suppliers will in turn pay households to save electricity at peak times, for example by running the washing machine at night rather than when they return home.
Despite the lingering concern, the outlook for this winter has improved in recent weeks due to warmer weather.
John Pettigrew, chief executive of National Grid, said this week that mild temperatures had helped keep European gas stocks full, “which certainly can’t hurt”.
National Grid’s base case remains that there will be sufficient generation to meet demand.