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  • December 13th, 2013

Britain faces blackouts next winter, energy boss warns

Npower chief warns over blackouts as second supplier says carbon tax worsening situation by forcing coal-fired power plants to close

Britain may face blackouts as soon as next winter as old power plants are closed down and new ones not built in time, Npower has warned.

Paul Massara, the energy supplier’s chief executive, said he did not know whether the UK would “get through next winter” as the country’s spare power-generation capacity dwindles.

Ministers must urgently provide clarity over policy, which investors need in order to build new power plants, Mr Massara told the BBC’s Panorama programme.

The warning comes as another energy company, ScottishPower, today argues that the Government’s carbon tax makes Britain “even more vulnerable to the threat of blackouts”, and calls for it to be scrapped.

Writing in The Telegraph, Keith Anderson, the chief corporate officer of ScottishPower, says the green levy – which charges companies for burning fossil fuels – will force coal-fired power plants to shut too quickly, even though they are the cheapest way to keep the lights on. It will also push up bills, costing an average household about £33 in a typical dual fuel bill in 2015-16, he says.

The latest warnings over power shortages come amid fierce political controversy over rising energy bills and the costs of going green.

Ministers want new wind farms and nuclear power stations built to help hit green targets and are offering developers large subsidies – paid for through levies on energy bills. They also want gas plants built for when the wind is still.

But companies such as Npower complain that the Government has not done enough to encourage new plants to be built because subsidy policies are not clear or ready in time.

Meanwhile, several large coal-fired power plants have shut this year under EU rules to curtail pollution, and more are due to close in the next few years because of the carbon tax. As a result, the margin between Britain’s peak winter electricity demand and the capacity of its remaining power stations is narrowing.

“The amount of spare generation that is around at the peak day has gone down from about 15 per cent to about five per cent and I think next winter [it] will be even smaller,” Mr Massara told the BBC.

Mr Massara has clashed with the Government over the costs of going green, demanding earlier this year that ministers admit green levies will push up bills.

“Every time we sign a wind farm deal or nuclear deal with long-term contracts, those are expensive contracts relative to where we are today,” he said.

Mr Massara said he supported the “move to a lower carbon economy”, but said it must be done “in a way customers can afford”.

“I think ultimately we may have to slow it down,” he said.

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