Power plants in Britain may be allowed to pump more toxic pollutants into the air than are normally allowed in a bid to avoid blackouts this winter. Under the National Grid’s “unlikely worst-case scenario”, a failure to import enough energy could see Britons subjected to three-hour periods of rolling blackouts during the coldest months of the year to balance the grid and conserve power.
But as part of increased efforts to avoid this scenario, the Environment Agency has reportedly drawn up plans to soften air pollution rules for electricity generators.
This will allow gas and diesel-fired power generators to exceed their annual limits for nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide in the event that more electricity is desperately required to stave off shortages.
The current rules impose limits on plants on the hours they can run in order to prevent excess emissions of nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide.
Both of these gases are considered damaging to health. For instance, the Government says that exposure to nitrogen oxide can lead to inflammation of the airways and can worsen pre-existing heart or lung conditions.
While legal requirements have not changed, the Environment Agency says that plants will be able to go beyond the normal limit on operating hour limits, should National Grid’s plan comes closer to becoming a reality.
But a spokesman for the Government’s environment department has argued that it is “clear that power plants must still comply with their legal permits and can only operate under the RPS [regulatory position statement] in the event of an imminent electricity shortage”.
They added: “A breach of the hourly limits within a permit would be addressed by the Environment Agency’s normal enforcement process.”
And if plants do exceed nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emission limits which are normally imposed, they will still have to make equivalent cuts to emissions next year.
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This will allow power stations to effectively “borrow” from next year’s allowances, instead of adding extra hours overall.
While the UK is not as reliant on Europe for Russian gas, it does indirectly import Russian supplies via European nations like the Netherlands and Belgium. The Russian President has already shown that he is willing to curtail supplies after he conducted previous supply cuts, but the dictator has threatened to “freeze” Europe as the bloc mulls over a measure to impose price caps on Russian energy.
European nations, such as Germany, have been building up their gas storage capacity to prepare for this scenario, which will likely provide an extra lifeline in the event of further cuts. But there is another issue as France’s nuclear power output is expected to plummet further.
EDF, France’s state-owned energy giant, warned this week that its nuclear power output could plummet again, marking the fourth time this year that the French energy giant scaled back predictions for its nuclear electricity output.
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This has raised fears of energy shortages in the UK as Paris could decide to send less electricity to Britain via interconnections linking the two nations. This is despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron agreeing to cooperate on nuclear energy in efforts to avoid energy shortages this winter.
Dr Paul Dorfman, an associate fellow from the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex told Express.co.uk: “Despite the friendly rhetoric between Sunak and Macron, trying to keep the lights on in Paris, while coping with the broken French nuclear fleet, will take precedence over power supply to the UK – and will mean UK blackouts are much more likely.”
Nuclear energy usually generates 70 percent of the country’s electricity, but after several EDF reactors were taken offline, there have been serious concerns over Paris’ ability to avoid its own blackouts.
Simon Cran-McGreehin, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told Express.co.uk: “The issues at French nuclear power stations, coupled with the potential shortages of gas for power generation on the continent, do mean that the UK is likely to have more difficulty in securing imports this winter – National Grid has included this scenario in its Winter Outlook, as one of the factors that would make power shortages more likely.”