MPs see pressing need for extra investment in UK's electricity network

Mar 10, 2004 01:00 AM

An influential committee of MPs gave warning that Britain's electricity network may collapse under the weight of future demand if it does not receive extra investment.
The report by the Trade and Industry Select Committee came as Dieter Helm, a government expert, told that the UK's power supply network was "clapped out" and too dependent on imported gas.

Mr Helm added that without new strategies to cope, Britain could suffer supply problems and rolling blackouts as soon as 2006. His concerns were echoed in the select committee report, which said that much of the electricity network in the UK is reaching the end of its 40-year design life.
The MPs said there was a "pressing need" for extra investment to ensure that the network was able to cope with the expected closure of a number of nuclear power plants and the growth in renewable power generation over the next decade. Capital spending would have to double simply to maintain the present performance levels of the electricity network, the committee said.

David Anderson, chairman of the Institution of Civil Engineers' energy board, said: "Today's report highlights that vital areas of the UK's infrastructure are, year upon year, not attracting sufficient investment. We have argued that sustained investment is essential to prevent the lights going out over large parts of the country. We don't want to become 'blackout Britain'. This country needs to invest in new generation, fuelled from diverse sources, connected to a resilient grid."
"Failure to invest will result in a greater threat of blackouts like the ones which saw parts of the country grind to a halt last year. Significant funding is also required to accommodate the planned growth in new renewable energy sites."

Martin O'Neill, the chair of the select committee, said the performance of the network, especially by the electricity transmission companies, was good.
"However, we consider that the Regulator's (Ofgem) concern to reduce costs to consumers should now be tempered by a greater emphasis on ensuring that electricity network owners have the financial resources necessary to secure a viable long-term electricity supply," he said.

The committee said major power failures such as those in America and Italy last year were unlikely to happen in the UK. But it gave warning that there was not enough money being spent on replacing equipment that was reaching the end of its life.
"Coupled with this under-investment has been pressure to minimise operational expenditure, for example on maintenance and repair. "While this pressure has doubtless resulted in reducing some inefficiencies, the committee thinks that to continue it may be counter-productive for network performance, ageing assets are likely to require more and more skilled maintenance."

Many commentators have been expressing concern about the resilience of the electricity network after a series of power cuts in London and the West Midlands last year. The select committee said it would take nine months for Ofgem, the electricity regulator, to complete its report into blackouts last autumn.
The report complained: "If it takes nine months to reach conclusions on relatively limited disruptions, how long would it take to investigate and then implement any changes required in the event of larger scale incidents?"

Source: Times Newspapers
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