Fire shuts one of UK’s most important power cables in midst of supply crunch

A major fire has forced the shutdown of one of Britain’s most important power cables importing electricity from France as the UK faces an electricity supply crunch and record high market prices.

National Grid was forced to evacuate staff from the site of the IFA high-voltage power cable, which brings electricity from France to a converter station in Kent, where 12 fire engines attended the blaze in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The fire has halted electricity imports via the 2,000 megawatt power cable as the UK faces record market prices following a global gas market surge and a string of power plant outages and low wind speeds.

The all-time energy price highs are expected to drive energy bills higher for the next year and cause a string of small energy companies to go bust. The UK is also more likely to rely on running its last remaining coal plants.

The market price at one of the UK’s main electricity auctions cleared at a record price of £2,500 per megawatt-hour for the hours of peak demand on Wednesday, compared with a typical baseload price of around £40/MWh throughout 2019 and 2020.

Phil Hewitt, a director of market consultancy EnAppSys, said the fire was “a major event” because it could lead to an extended outage at the IFA cable.

“It puts the GB market in a risky position for the winter and especially if we suffer from periods of low wind and cold temperatures,” he added.

The electricity system operator, which is owned by National Grid, said there would be enough electricity to meet the UK’s peak demand on Wednesday evening. But market experts fear the latest blow to the UK’s power system could cause prices to rise further.

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National Grid confirmed that the West Burton coal plant in Nottinghamshire and a coal unit at the Drax site in North Yorkshire were warming up in anticipation of generating electricity on Wednesday evening in exchange for eye-wateringly high payments.

Last week the electricity system operator paid about £4,000/MWh to power plants which could generate electricity at short notice, and a total of more than £86m to keep the lights on. The Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal plant near Nottingham is also in line to benefit from record power prices this week.

National Grid said it would provide an update on the fire at IFA in due course.


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