UK seeks extra electricity ahead of 'uncertain winter'

pylon Unexpected plant shutdowns have raised fears of potential shortages.

National Grid is seeking additional electricity supplies for winter after unexpected plant shutdowns have raised fears of potential shortages.

The firm, which runs Britain's supply network, said it was accelerating an emergency plan asking providers how much more electricity they could provide to fill a possible shortfall.

It said it was a "sensible precaution" due to an "uncertain" winter picture.

The move follows a series of unplanned shutdowns at large power plants.

"At this stage we don't know if these reserve services will be needed, but they could provide an additional safeguard," said National Grid's director of UK market operation Cordi O'Hara.

In June, National Grid had said the emergency plan to boost power supplies would not be needed this year.

However, the network operator said fires at E.ON's Ironbridge and SSE's Ferrybridge power plants as well as precautionary checks at EDF Energy's Heysham and Hartlepool nuclear plants had changed the outlook.

Capacity crunch

"As a result there is an increased level of uncertainty" over the amount of electricity available in the market this winter, it said in a statement.

National Grid said if it decided it needed the additional power, it would launch a competitive tendering process.

Energy regulator Ofgem and the Department for Energy and Climate Change both said they supported the decision.

"We are confident that National Grid has the right levers to keep the lights on. However, no electricity system anywhere in the world can give a 100% guarantee that the lights will stay on," added an Ofgem spokesman.

National Grid said it was running the back-up plan in tandem with a separate programme, offering to pay companies to cut their electricity use in winter, to prevent blackouts.

It said responses to an initial pilot of this scheme had been "very positive", and it planned to offer contracts to successful firms this month.

The UK is facing a reduction in electricity generation as old plants shut and new ones are slow to start up.

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