Eggborough power station bosses fear for future

Eggborough power station Eggborough power station supplies 4% of the UK's electricity

Managers at an under-threat power station in North Yorkshire have said the first of its four units could shut down as early as September.

It comes after the government blocked a bid last year by Eggborough power station to convert from coal to biomass production.

Unions have warned that the full site, in Selby, could close, costing 800 staff and support workers their jobs.

Management at the plant says its future is in the hands of the government.

Analysis

Could Eggborough's closure really result in the nation's lights going out? Unions certainly want us to think so.

It's true that for the last 40 years the North Yorkshire coal-fired power station has been providing energy to around a million-and-a-half homes.

It's also true that the National Grid released figures in December suggesting the country's electricity reserves could fall as low as 2% next winter. Take out the 4% Eggborough regularly supplies and the maths are fairly straightforward.

But the National Grid's been aware for many years that ageing coal-fired stations would be coming off line; they say they have made allowances for that.

But apart from security of supply, there are bigger issues here; 800 jobs not being the least.

Finally, the Eggborough conversion would have been Britain's biggest infrastructure project in the first quarter of this year and delivered millions of pounds of private investment.

Now it's not quite dead in the water but it's not swimming either.

Paul Tomlinson, chief operating officer, said: "We're trying our hardest to make the future as long as possible for our employees.

"Where we seem to be stuck is that we've had no clarification about what we could have done to change the outcome.

"We're looking at Eggborough surviving beyond [September], but the ultimate decision is with the Department for Energy and Climate Change."

Operator Eggborough Power Ltd said, although one unit was expected to shut by September, it hoped to keep the rest of the site open "as long as we can".

However, failing a solution being found with the government, it was unlikely the plant would operate beyond 2015.

'Kick in the teeth'

Eggborough worked for more than two years on the biomass conversion project, which was due to start in January.

But ministers rejected the plant's application after "altering the selection criteria" two weeks before announcing the successful projects, said unions.

Gary Smith, GMB national secretary for energy, said: "UK coal stations are becoming uneconomic because of the Treasury cash cow - the carbon tax.

"Stations like Eggborough try to do the right thing moving to renewables and they get a kick in the teeth in return."

Mike Macdonald, from the Prospect union, is demanding a change of heart in Westminster.

He said: "We urge the government to rethink the conversion proposals for the good of the plant, the staff employed there... and for the good of the bill-paying public."

Michael Fallon, energy minister, said: "Business decisions are ultimately a matter for Eggborough's owners.

"The rules and criteria we apply in selecting projects have not changed.

"Final decisions on which projects will receive government support under this process will be made this spring."

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