A major fire has forced the closure of one of Britain’s most important power cables that imports electricity from France as the UK faces a supply shortage and record prices on the Marlet.
National Grid was forced to evacuate staff from the IFA high-voltage power cable site, which carries electricity from France to a converter station in Kent, where 12 fire trucks witnessed the blaze in the early hours Wednesday morning.
The blaze halted imports of electricity through the 2,000-megawatt power cable and could not have come at a worse time for tight UK markets, experts say. The UK faces record energy prices after a surge in the global gas market raised the cost of running gas plants, which was compounded by a series of power plant outages and weak wind speeds.
Record-breaking energy prices are expected to drive up bills for the next year and bankrupt a series of small energy companies. It has already forced some steelmakers to shut down their factories during peak hours of electricity demand.
The market price at one of the UK’s main electricity auctions hit a record £ 2,500 per megawatt hour for peak demand hours on Wednesday, against a typical base price of around 40 £ / MWh in 2019 and 2020.
Phil Hewitt, director of market consulting firm EnAppSys, said the fire was “a major event” because it could lead to an extended outage of the IFA cable.
“This puts the UK market in a risky position for the winter and especially if we suffer from periods of low wind and cold temperatures,” he added.
The power system manager, which is owned by National Grid, said there would be enough electricity to meet the UK’s peak demand on Wednesday evening. However, market experts fear that the latest blow to the UK’s electricity system will push prices further and increase the UK’s dependence on operating its remaining coal-fired power plants.
Gareth Stace, managing director of the UK Steel business group, said “sky-high prices” forced some steelmakers to suspend work during times when electricity prices were at their highest. He called on the government and the industry regulator to “take action as this situation continues”.
“Last year the prices were around £ 50 per megawatt hour. Even with such a vibrant global steel market, these sky-high prices make it impossible to profitably manufacture steel at certain times of the day and night, ”he said.
“Electricity prices rise during the winter months, so the situation becomes more urgent every day,” added Stace.
National Grid has confirmed that the West Burton coal-fired power plant in Nottinghamshire and a coal unit at the Drax site in North Yorkshire are warming up in anticipation of power generation on Wednesday night in exchange for incredibly high payments.
Last week the power grid operator paid around £ 4,000 / MWh to power plants that could produce electricity in the short term, and a total of over £ 86million to keep the lights on. The Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power plant near Nottingham is also expected to benefit from record electricity prices this week.
Kent Fire and Rescue Services said Wednesday afternoon that four fire trucks, two height vehicles and its technical rescue unit were still present at the IFA site. National Grid said it will provide an update on the incident in due course.