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« A sneak peek at the IPCC report | Main | Today's energy prognostications »

Another power plant closes

The Tilbury B power station is to close, reports the FT (see also the more in-depth coverage at the Guardian):

Tilbury B was scheduled to close under an EU environmental measure known as the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD). Under the legislation, Tilbury was allocated a quota of 20,000 hours of operation from January 1, 2008. In 2011, RWE decided to switch it to biomass for the remainder of its LCPD hours, due to end at midnight on Tuesday.

RWE had hoped to convert the plant from coal to biomass, which would have given it an extra 10-12 years of life. But after the Department of Energy and Climate Change decided the project was ineligible for its low-carbon energy subsidy, the “contract for difference”, RWE said the plan was “no longer economically viable”.

This is quite interesting, in an "Oh my god we're all going to die" kind of way.  The latest Ofgem assessment of supply security is here, and notes that the sitation is not good:

Since last year, the outlook for the supply side has deteriorated and industry has announced the withdrawal of more than 2GW of installed generation capacity in the near future.Further withdrawals are still likely. Uncertainty around policy and future prices continues to limit investment in conventional generation and no new plant is expected before 2016. We estimate that around 1GW of new gas plant will come online before the end of the decade and the installed capacity of wind power will more than double over the same period.

The margin of capacity over demand is projected to fall to 4% or so, under Ofgem's so-called reference scenario. This is pretty scary, but when you realise that the reference scenario assumes significant drops in demand, the document starts to look more like propaganda than a truthful assessment of risk, particularly if the economy is really returning to growth. Under the high-growth scenario, margins fall to approximately zero.

A big power plant like Tilbury could meet 1 or 2% of demand. It's not clear to me whether Ofgem were banking on Tilbury managing to convert to biomass or not in their assessment of capacity margin. If they were, then that margin could be wiped out completely.

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Reader Comments (29)

my brother in law was a long term worker on the construction of tilbury. it doesn't seem that long ago.

Aug 17, 2013 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

The second factor is the foreseeable disaster which will inevitably occur if current policies are not altered, and it’s one no politician can afford to ignore. Quite simply, the lights will start going out, businesses will have to get used to blackouts and uncompetitive overheads or relocate to protect their profits, which they will do, consequently raising unemployment.

Most importantly, as more people sit in darkened homes, transitioning from fuel self-regulation into fuel poverty, they’ll vote for anybody who can fix the situation and to hell with saving the planet.


Aug 17, 2013 at 9:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

What I think is needed in cases like this, is a recognition that re-equipping a power plant with more efficient generation capacity , is deserving of carbon credits.
That's much better than fooling around with biomass options, a la Drax
The Tilbury site itself, like any power station, is a valuable generation asset in its own right, due to its substation link, the physical site itself, and that it has all its permits and consents as use as a power station.
RWE should be incentivised to invest in such as new ultra supercritical power generation capacity , which is up to 50% more thermally efficient, ie getting 50% more power from the same coal, or if you prefer, getting the same power from 2/3 the coal. They could be granted carbon credits to the amount of CO2 saved if they did so.
In that way generation capacity could be maintained while generation plant was upgraded to state of art. What's not to like?

Aug 17, 2013 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterDespairing

During the 2011 "Mark Duggan riots", at least the street lights and CCTV cameras remained on.

Aug 17, 2013 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

I had a foretaste of life without electricity yesterday morning when we had a power failure. Of course this is the middle of summer, so no big concerns. However, my generator kept the fridge, freezers, washing machine and microwave going quite happily. I'm not sure about the effect on my emissions though.

Aug 17, 2013 at 9:43 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Aug 17, 2013 at 9:00 AM | Pointman

Quite simply, the lights will start going out, businesses will have to get used to blackouts and uncompetitive overheads or relocate to protect their profits, which they will do, consequently raising unemployment.

If that happens the politicians in the present and previous government responsible for our energy policies should all be put on trial for their gross negligence in creating an entirely predictable and avoidable crisis.

Aug 17, 2013 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

While I think wood fuel is silly for the British Isles (the switch to coal Henry_VII-Elisabeth_I wsa because there was not enough native wood to waste it on burning, and that has not improved) I note the classic government bait-and-switch -

"We are ending the subsidy program which gave you subsidies, and re-starting it with a different name - which means you cannot apply under the "new" subsidy program because you already had subsidies under the "old" program we are killing."


Aug 17, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn A

I suspect the lights will go out...for those who cannot afford it. There will always be someone ready to sell you electricity but if there is going to be a shortage there will be more price hikes. Happy Days!
Alas...judging by the outcome at Balcombe there is no one with the political will or balls to make the necessary decisions quickly enough to prevent this. Look at what has happened in Germany. The lights stay on but they just have to pay and pay while tens of thousands get disconnected for not paying the bill. The energy companies will not blink and will simply not invest until they are guaranteed a healthy profit.
It will not be a "disaster", more a slow motion decline to a point where we really ought not to be. At that point the CO2 zealots and the politicians will be nowhere to be seen.

Aug 17, 2013 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Inefficient governments are just about tolerable, but stupid governments should never be tolerated.

Aug 17, 2013 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Converted in 2011, the Biomass stockpiles caught fire here in 2012, There is a suggestion of Spontaneous Combustion in the Bloomberg article.

Aug 17, 2013 at 10:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrankSW

In that way generation capacity could be maintained while generation plant was upgraded to state of art. What's not to like?

Aug 17, 2013 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterDespairing

The lights will stay on. The watermelons won't like that.

Aug 17, 2013 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Bish, How many 'carbon burning' power stations in the UK will have to close by mid 2015 ? Any idea ?

Aug 17, 2013 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

What's not to like?
The EU would not like it and will not allow it to happen.

Aug 17, 2013 at 11:02 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

There is a currently an active commenting thread on a blog post by the MP for Thurrock, Jackie Doyle-Price, on ConHome on this topic right now. Worth reading

Also some interesting historical posts noted from 2008 at the time of the Climate Change Act on the same website which are worth revisiting.


Aug 17, 2013 at 11:17 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

Tilbury started biomass conversion some time ago but a wood chip stockpile spontaneously combusted, a problem with wood chips, and was a real problem putting out. Perhaps they never did.

Still it is good to know that our woodchip generation will deforest America.

Aug 17, 2013 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Large four page ad. in the D.T. yesterday from British Gas extolling the benefits of smart meters which are to be supplied to all its customers. Presumably preparing for electricity reductions in times of high demand and low supply. Scary.

Aug 17, 2013 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins


>It will not be a "disaster"

It will if there are real power cuts, though. Virtually everything requires electricity now - without it, there will be anarchy in days, if not hours.

Aug 17, 2013 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Interesting use of English in the Ofgem assessment:
'...the INSTALLED CAPACITY (my capitals) of wind power will more than double over the same period...'
Because, even THEY know that when the wind doesn't blow NO ELECTRICITY IS GENERATED...

(Got my 3.2kW genny ready and waiting...)

Aug 17, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

I'm certain the spontaneous combustion of the wood chip stockpile at Tilbury was instrumental in its closure.
Just wait till the same thing happens at Drax....

Aug 17, 2013 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

"spontaneous combustion"

Just wait until the same thing happens in transit and the shipping companies decide it's not worth the risk.. :-)

Aug 17, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

What did people in Europe use to light their homes before candles?


Aug 17, 2013 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

This assessment of capacity margin is the first since 1985! The CEGB used the rule of thumb that at a 4-6 year planning horizon they'd like to see a plant margin of 28 % inn order to guarantee supply (defined as no more than 4 grid collapses in every 100 years). So 4 % is not good at all. Some difficulties are, I think inevitable.

My consolation is that the problems will occur in the SE because usually the problems surface as voltage problems and since the SE has little generation (even less now without Tilbury). If you live in the north you should be OK. If they'd had a few more windmills down there they'd have been saved . . oh, perhaps not.

Aug 17, 2013 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

jamesp (Aug 17, 2013 at 1:02 PM)

It is known about in shipping, which is why there are many procedures and precautions in place to prevent it, and which is talked about at length in a previous post of mumble-mumble weeks ago (and exposes the utterly barmy propositions for Drax for what they are). You would be surprised at what cargoes can spontaneously combust; wood chips and coal, for instance – but steel swarf!?

Aug 17, 2013 at 5:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Radical Rodent

Steel burns (oxidises) very nicely if you get it hot enough. At school (Midlands, 1960s) we did technical drawing and metalwork, loved them both. In metalwork we did a lot of blacksmithing. If you left your steel piece in the hearth too long, it would come out hissing, spitting and sparking as it burnt. The hearth was fueled with coke and air supply was fan boosted.

Swarf is the waste from turning and milling operations. It has a high surface area to volume ratio, and is also likely to be contaminated with oil. A very nice candidate for spontaneous oxidation.

Aug 18, 2013 at 1:42 AM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

"convert the plant from coal to biomass"

Could have stuck with coal, then.. :-)

Aug 18, 2013 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Hector - that was the point I was trying to make; many things spontaneously combust, even some things that you don't think can, let alone will!

Aug 18, 2013 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

James P, Radical Rodent

Coal is not safe from spontaneous combustion either.

Aug 18, 2013 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

It's interesting to note that the large combustion directive was aimed at reducing mainly sulphur dioxide which is mainly to prevent acid rain; restrictions that come from a previous environmental scare that was found to be largely bogus. So the real science (collecting actual data to compare with the hypothesis) says it isn't a problem but the legislation was never relaxed because the myth had already established itself as fact; based on model projections, a tiny amount of misleading data and a lot of pessimistic conjecture. And now here we go again...

Aug 19, 2013 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The mothballing of Tilbury is due to a policy change that I couldn't see explained in the guardian article - the subsidy regime will no longer cover dedicated biomass that isn't combined heat and power. It will continue to subsidise biomass with CHP or co-firing. This change caused Drax to reconsider their plans to build three dedicated biomass power plants as they were not CHP equipped and instead continue to invest in their co-firing burners.

Aug 19, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

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