Britain could keep coal-fired power plants open this winter

A view of the Shard and the London Eye with the city's skyline in London, Britain April 25, 2021. REUTERS/Yann Tessier/File Photo

LONDON, May 30 (Reuters) - Some of the British coal-fired power plants slated for closure this year might need to stay open to ensure electricity supply this winter, the government said on Monday.

Countries across Europe are drawing up contingency plans against potential disruption to flows of Russian gas because of the war in Ukraine. Russia typically supplies about 40% of Europe's gas.

"In light of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, it is only right that we explore a wide range of options to further bolster our energy security and domestic supply," a government spokesperson said via email on Monday.

Britain can generate about 50% of its electricity from gas. Although Russia only meets about 4% of Britain's gas needs, a significant disruption in supply would affect prices in Europe and make it harder for Britain to secure gas from others.

"While there is no shortage of supply, we may need to make our remaining coal-fired power stations available to provide additional back up electricity this coming winter if needed," the spokesperson said.

The government is planning for a range of scenarios Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman said on Monday, expressing confidence that Britain will have sufficient energy supplies.

"We don't expect power cuts this winter and we do not expect energy rationing this winter, given the fact that we have our own access to North Sea gas reserves and other reliable partners to import energy from," the spokesman said.

The government has asked the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) to devise a framework to encourage plant operators to keep the power stations running, according to a letter seen by Reuters from energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng to National Grid ESO.

Operators of the coal plants, such as Drax (DRX.L) and EDF (EDF.PA), have been running down coal stocks and preparing for closures.

“To be in a position to deliver on this government request, we will need to reach an agreement with (National) Grid ESO urgently to allow for essential maintenance and the purchase of new coal supplies,” An EDF spokesperson said via email.

The government said it remains committed to a longer-term plan to close all of the country’s coal-fired power plants by October 2024 to help it to hit climate targets.

Reporting by Susanna Twidale Editing by Edmund Blair and David Goodman

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