The UK held exploratory talks with Electricite de France SA about the possibility of keeping the West Burton A coal-fired power plant generating beyond the end of September, when it’s due to close.
The talks are at a very early stage, according to a person familiar with the matter. As things stand, EDF is running down stockpiles at the plant, which is located in the north east of England. Drax Plc said it hasn’t been asked to keep open its two coal units that are scheduled to shut in September.
Gas prices are more than double seasonal levels, with fears of supply disruption from Russia to Europe, driving prices to record highs last week. The government is concerned about the impact high energy prices will have on households and businesses as well as on inflation. Having the option to use more coal would give some protection if gas volumes were reduced, but could also help the nation use less gas if prices stay high.
“The plan is to start decommissioning the final two units at the start of October 2022, and many processes have already been put in place to achieve that, including reducing the site’s staffing numbers and running down the coal stock,” EDF said in a statement.
The UK’s plan to phase out coal by 2024 was a key part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s campaign at the COP 26 climate talks last year. There, he urged other countries to cut their dependence on coal to reduce emissions. Germany and Italy have both said they will also consider using coal in the short-term to cut gas use. The European Commission climate chief Frans Timmermans said that nothing should be taboo in reducing reliance on Russia as quickly as possible.
“The operation of UK coal plants is ultimately a commercial matter and we have made no formal request to EDF,” according to a statement from the UK department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS). The story was first reported by The Times.