UK faces ‘genuine risk of blackouts’ unless more gas-fired power plants are built, government says

12 March 2024, 06:39 | Updated: 12 March 2024, 06:42

The Government will today unveil plans to build new gas-fired powered stations.
The Government will today unveil plans to build new gas-fired powered stations. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The UK could face blackouts unless it builds more gas-fired power stations, the Government has said, despite pledges to cut carbon emissions.

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The Government has committed to building new gas power plants to avoid what has been described as a “genuine prospect of blackouts”.

New stations will replace existing plants, many of which are already set to be retired.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho will say today that there is a need for new gas-fired power stations beyond 2030 to ensure there is a reliable backup when renewable energy sources cannot provide effectively, such as on days when it is not windy or sunny enough.

“There are no two ways about it. Without gas backing up renewables, we face the genuine prospect of blackouts,” Ms Coutinho will say in a speech at Chatham House on Tuesday.

"There are no easy solutions in energy, only trade-offs. If countries are forced to choose between clean energy and keeping citizens safe and warm, believe me they'll choose to keep the lights on.

“And so, as we continue to move towards clean energy, we must be realistic."

The Government has claimed the move would still mean the UK is on track to meet targets to cut emissions by 2050.

It said new gas power plants would run less frequently as other low-carbon technologies such as renewables and nuclear are rolled out.

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Rishi Sunak has said he will 'not gamble with energy security'.
Rishi Sunak has said he will 'not gamble with energy security'. Picture: Alamy

However, the CO2 produced by the new power stations will not be captured, a method that limits climate change.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said of the plans: "Our record on net zero speaks for itself - the latest stats show that we're already halfway there, with greenhouse gas emissions 50% lower than in 1990.

"But we need to reach our 2035 goals in a sustainable way that doesn't leave people without energy on a cloudy, windless day.

"I will not gamble with our energy security. I will make the tough decisions so that no matter what scenario we face, we can always power Britain from Britain."

Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband blamed the need for more gas power on “14 years of failed Conservative energy policy”.

He said: “Today, the Energy Secretary has confirmed that, after 14 years of failed Conservative energy policy, under the Tories Britain would face at least another 10 years of high energy bills and energy insecurity because of their plans.

"Of course, we need to replace retiring gas-fired stations as part of a decarbonised power system, which will include carbon capture and hydrogen playing a limited backup role in the system.

"But the reason the Tories cannot deliver the lower bills and energy security we need is that they are specialists in failure when it comes to our clean energy future: persisting with the ludicrous ban on onshore wind, bungling the offshore wind auctions, and failing on energy efficiency."

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho will announce the plans on Tuesday.
Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho will announce the plans on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

It comes alongside proposals to reform the electricity market, which includes a plan to make power cheaper in areas with more ofshore wind and solar power.

The Government said this would save households £45 on their annual electricity bill.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said falling North Sea output would leave the UK more dependent on foreign gas.

Critics have accused the party of threatening a legally binding commitment to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

The Liberal Democrat’s energy and climate change spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said it was “another step backwards on the critical road to net zero".

She said: “We need to wean ourselves off this reliance on expensive fossil fuels by investing in cheap, clean renewable power and insulating every home."

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