Blackout Britain headlines need to stop, says ex-National Grid chief

The UK has enough energy capacity to meet demand, even on the coldest days when demand is highest, claims former National Grid boss Steve Holliday.

Holliday, who ran the organisation for 10 years, believes news stories raising fears about blackouts should stop, basing his opinion on the government's latest auction of capacity for power generation where firms bid for subsidies to provide back-up power when needed, the first of which began on January 30.

Mr Holliday says it's time for the headline of ‘Blackout Britain’ to end. “It's simply wrong. We've been talking about blackouts for 15 years every time it gets cold, but it's a scare story,” he said.

"The lights haven't gone out yet and thanks to the measures the government is putting in place this week they definitely won't go out in future. The UK has one of the most stable supplies of electricity in Europe."

The head of the Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG), which is a representative of companies that use a lot of energy, Jeremy Nicholson, has previously voiced fears about energy security but agrees the capacity auctions will secure supplies.

"The power industry makes a lot of noise about tight generating margins but somehow manages to provide plenty of capacity when it's needed,” he said.

"The capacity issue is sorted now; frankly it should have happened 5-10 years ago. Our bigger concern now is the possibility that when margins are tight, the price will shoot through the roof."

Coal, gas and nuclear stations can bid for the availability payment, along with demand reduction suppliers and interconnectors, with the National Grid deciding how to use the power generated.

The capacity auction is expected to cost £2-3bn a year. A government spokesman explained that securing capacity to back up intermittent forms of energy like solar and wind might cost about £7 per year per household at first, shrinking to £2 over the long term, adding that power shortages resulting in price spikes would be much more expensive.

Generating margins were forecast to be tight for this winter, but there has been no problem, despite a long cold windless spell during which wind energy has produced around 1 per cent of electricity demand, while the highest daily percentage of wind power was over 20 per cent.

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