Eggborough and Fiddlers Ferry were all but written off this time last year. So why are they still online? And what’s their next move?
Last year, two power station bosses were in dire straits. Eggborough was set for demolition, while Fiddlers Ferry was going into talks with its workforce about closure of most of its units, blaming ‘challenging’ economic conditions for coal.
That was until the Capacity Market rode to the rescue.
Massive handouts for dirty dinosaurs
The Capacity Market (started by the Conservative-Lib Dem government in 2014, and administered by the National Grid) auctions off contracts for energy suppliers to guarantee energy supply at peak demand. So far, the majority of these contracts have gone to coal and gas-fired power stations.
This February, these failing power stations were handed a combined total of £48 million in February 2017 to provide back-up power in 2017-2018. Both power stations burn up to an estimated 5,000 tonnes of coal per week, mainly from Russia and Colombia.
All this despite the government claiming to be phasing out coal by 2025.
Eggborough announced that the February 2017 auction results ‘mean Eggborough will continue into its 51st year.’ Meanwhile, Fiddlers Ferry said the result meant that they would be able to ‘help keep the lights on next winter and beyond’.
Since Fiddlers Ferry (owned by SSE) was bailed out by the national grid in 2016, and now by the Capacity Market in 2017, it’s likely that it’ll continue this strategy to bid for short term contracts to provide winter capacity year on year.
Lately, SSE has been defending coal’s place in the capacity market, amid criticism that the scheme unduly prolongs coal’s life. Which suggests that Fiddlers intends to bid again and stay open at least another year.
Eggborough is clearer about its intention to milk the capacity market for all it’s worth: “We will review the ongoing operational life of the station on an annual basis following the outcome of future capacity auctions and could continue operations under existing legislation until 2023″
That is, until 2023 when EU legislation restricting NOx emissions comes into force.
So will they have to close in 2023?
In theory, yes. But thanks to Brexit, that’s not clear either. The UK government’s ongoing breaches of EU air pollution limits, and their attempts to get them relaxed, suggests they won’t be in a hurry to self-impose these standards once the UK leaves the EU.
According to Alan Andrews, the ClientEarth Lawyer who sued the government for breaching air pollution standards:
We would be concerned that if we were to withdraw from the EU, a lot of momentum around air quality and efforts finally starting to take hold would be lost, and that would have disastrous consequences for public health in the UK.
What’s to be done?
Clearly coal has to be kicked out of the capacity market this year, before we leave the EU when there will be a risk of the pressure easing on the government to take responsibility for reducing air pollution from power stations.
Calls for the Capacity Marker to ditch coal are coming from all quarters, most recently from Scottish Power. And they’re being backed up by the emerging alternative of battery power storage for renewable generation, which stole some of the 2017-2018 contracts that were expected to go to coal-fired power stations, much to the disgruntlement of SSE.
We need to continue to mobilise against these power stations which are far from written off. That means challenging the priorities of the Capacity Market. It must stop giving massive hand-outs to prop up lethal coal-fired power. If it can grant more contracts to battery storage units in its next auction in Autumn 2017, then there just might be a chance of shutting down these polluting giants before it’s too late.