UK Coal Plants Fired Up AGAIN as Renewable Energy Output Fails

Essay by Eric Worrall

h/t redge; Coal plants scheduled for demolition in March 2023 have been fired up to rescue Britain’s electricity grid. My question – what is the plan for next winter?

Coal power stations fired up and customers paid to cut energy use in UK cold snap

National Grid asks Drax and EDF to start warming three plants and says it will activate its live demand flexibility service on Monday evening

Miles Brignall Mon 23 Jan 2023 09.47 AEDT

With a high pressure weather system with associated light winds likely to dominate for a few more days, National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO) said early on Sunday it had asked Drax to start “warming” two of its coal units at its North Yorkshire site and EDF to do the same for one at its West Burton plant in Nottinghamshire to ensure supplies on Monday.


The request over the power plants followed a similar one in the middle of December, although back then the coal-fired stations were not used, as the operator generated enough power from other sources.“Our forecasts show electricity supply margins are expected to be tighter than normal on Monday evening,” the ESO said. “We have instructed coal-fired power units to be available to increase electricity supplies should it be needed tomorrow evening.

With much of the UK enjoying light winds and a cold sunny Sunday, wind power accounted for just 6.89 gigawatts, about 17.6% of the total being generated.

Read more:

Back in July 2022, Drax announced it had agreed to defer decommissioning of its coal assets until March 2023.

Six-month extension of coal operations at request of UK Government

6 July 2022

In response to increased pressure on European gas markets and associated concerns about electricity security of supply in the UK this winter, the UK Government has asked owners of legacy coal-fired generation assets, including Drax, to work together with National Grid to temporarily extend the life of their coal generation assets to March 2023.

At the request of the UK Government, Drax has now entered into an agreement with National Grid – in its capacity as the electricity systems operator – pursuant to which its two coal-fired units at Drax Power Station will remain available to provide a “winter contingency” service to the UK power system from October 2022 until the end of March 2023. The units will not generate commercially for the duration of the agreement and only operate if and when instructed to do so by National Grid.

Read more:

Who thinks Britain is ready to decommission its remaining coal assets?

How much of everyone’s power bill is the cost of keeping Drax and other coal plants ready to roll at any moment, because the useless renewable fleet cannot reliably cover Britain’s energy needs?

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January 23, 2023 10:08 am

No doubt the usual suspects will declare that the cost of keeping these plants ready to run, is a subsidy of fossil fuels.

Reply to  MarkW
January 23, 2023 10:15 am

And somehow it’s racist, but coal is black and the usual suspects only like white carbon.

Curious George
Reply to  MarkW
January 23, 2023 11:32 am

Decommission Britain.

Reply to  Curious George
January 23, 2023 12:20 pm

That’s being done, one wind turbine at a time.

It doesnot add up
Reply to  MarkW
January 23, 2023 1:29 pm

In reality they should be run as baseload. Coal is cheaper than gas, and what we pay for wind..

Reply to  MarkW
January 23, 2023 3:03 pm

Another point. In the article implies that it takes 36 hours to bring the coal plants from a cold start to the point where they can start delivering power.
This is the reason why renewable power does not actually reduce fossil fuel use much, if at all.
For those instance when renewables drop out suddenly, there have to be enough fossil fuel power plants, running in hot standby, ready to take over at a moments notice, to prevent the grid from collapsing.

Reply to  MarkW
January 23, 2023 10:16 pm

Natural gas turbines have a much faster start time but cogeneration could still take over half an hour to come up to full power. As you say, hot standby is the only way to ensure you will survive an outage with out a loss of power.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Dena
January 24, 2023 6:40 am

Modern Advanced Ultra Super Critical (A-USC) and Steam H coal fired plants can start up from cold in less than 30 minutes and have far fewer emissions than older coal plants

Iain Reid
Reply to  Dave Andrews
January 24, 2023 11:30 pm

steam turbines will not run from cold in 30 minutes. They need to be turned over and warmed up for very many hours or the turbine will be badly damaged. The same goes for shutdown only it is cooling then.
From memory it was a full day or so and those were relatively small 125 Mwatt sets.
So a coal plant on standby needs the boilers providing a steady supply of steam to heat up and keep the heat at operating level in the turbine.

Bryan A
January 23, 2023 10:13 am

How much wind OVERCAPACITY would they need to meet increased demand brought by frigid temperatures under high pressure causing decreasing wind generation capabilities? Then what happens when the wind decides to blow again and the overcapacity is producing more than is needed?

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Bryan A
January 23, 2023 10:58 am

Overcapacity fixes nothing when the wind doesn’t blow. Nobody seems to figure out that no matter how many expensive pinwheels they erect, SOMETHING ELSE will have to keep the lights on when the wind doesn’t blow at the “right” speeds.

Better plan is to just build the “something else.”

It doesnot add up
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
January 23, 2023 12:20 pm

The government has just announced it wants to procure an extra 5.8GW of capacity for NEXT YEAR. There is only one way to get close: keep the coal fires burning and pay for nuclear refurbishment and restart the bankrupted Calon CCGT plants.

Dean S
Reply to  Bryan A
January 23, 2023 10:21 pm

Overcapacity also fixes nothing unless you have storage capacity, or the option of exporting it to neighbours.

In addition, because all your overcapacity generates at the same time the price for electricity in the wholesale market drops to zero (or negative). Thus, there is no business case without massive subsidies where you can cover operating or capital costs of running the renewables.

Reply to  Dean S
January 24, 2023 5:58 am

The export bit is not really relevant as you can just stop the windmills you don’t need. In his piece on windmills never supplying more 25% of our electricity, Lord Monckton omitted to say that this was based on having enough windmills to supply the whole demand based on their output. Further piece by another showed that even with a ridiculous and impossible over capacity, you still end up 18% short and a shitload poorer.

January 23, 2023 10:26 am

I believe it was an Americn who originally said “Realism is a bitch”! Sure is!

January 23, 2023 10:31 am

The laundered, unreliable, Green blight is a niche solution.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  n.n
January 23, 2023 10:59 am

More like a niche NON – solution.

Peta of Newark
January 23, 2023 10:49 am

False alarm.
I put that story up a couple of hours ago and no sooner had the interweb ink dried, than I saw that the coal plants had been ‘stood down’

I did wonder where they were getting the coal from though

It seems France had more lecky than they planned – the interconnects are all glowing nicely with 2.1G from France and a total of 4.8GW from the continent.
1.4 of that from Norvege, it must have been raining over there

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 23, 2023 11:00 am

France is acting as a middle man, importing 4.41GW from Germany and about 1GW from both Spain and Switzerland. Italy is getting about 0.5GW so France is importing a net 3.7GW

Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 23, 2023 11:09 am

They may have got away with it today, but there will come a time when they won’t

Reply to  Redge
January 23, 2023 12:26 pm

“I didn’t need to wear my seatbelt on my automobile trip today, because I didn’t get in an accident. Therefore, I don’t need to wear my seatbelt for any future trips!”

The brilliant logic of “soon to be dead” teenagers and EU bureaucrats.

Rick C
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 23, 2023 11:55 am

Maybe not needed this time, but the process of warming up and then cooling down huge powerplant boilers is still expensive and not at all good for the boilers. Of course if you’re planning on blowing them up in a couple months anyway I guess it’s not a concern.

Ben Vorlich
January 23, 2023 10:54 am

On the ITV News at 6pm tonight there was a report on this very subject, and the plan to pay people £20 (~25$) per night to switch off at peak periods in the evening. The reporter acknowledged the no wind no sun problem, even saying there was the need for a Plan B despite interconnectors, mostly on import tonight.
Plan B is at the planning stage

Reply to  Ben Vorlich
January 23, 2023 11:07 am

This has been said a few times on the news today.

Makes me think the Misleadia is finally understanding what sceptics have been saying for the last 40 years

Nah, it never was about the climate, so unless they have something else on the agenda to move onto, they’ll stick with climate – for now.

Reply to  Redge
January 23, 2023 1:13 pm
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
January 24, 2023 2:13 am

That will be work for the Smart Meter. You know that device that can tell exactly what electricity consumer you are using.

January 23, 2023 11:01 am

Who thinks Britain is ready to decommission its remaining coal assets?

The idiotic environmentalists, the money-grabbing land-owners, and Russia when it’s back selling gas as if nothing has happened.

January 23, 2023 11:04 am

No comment required:

Screenshot 2023-01-23 190336.jpg
Reply to  Redge
January 23, 2023 11:32 am

Nice graphics. The source, for anyone who wants to follow it regularly, is

Also see

This layout is particularly clear. Templar has the advantage it allows downloading of the underlying csv files.

Not that you need that, in the present case, its pretty obvious to a casual visual inspection!

It doesnot add up
Reply to  michel
January 23, 2023 12:34 pm

A slightly more techie view

Note the system balancing prices remained way below the day ahead prices through the peak, and even those were not high by the standards of the past few months.

michael hart
Reply to  It doesnot add up
January 23, 2023 2:11 pm

Thanks. Do they have any in-depth explanation of how these metrics are calculated and their market significance?

Reply to  It doesnot add up
January 24, 2023 1:07 am

Thanks. That is really informative. Its amazing actually. This is the UK destroying its power generation and electricity supply and broadcasting to the world in real time just how crazily its behaving.

And no politicians seem to care. Anyone expressing concern is denounced as a climate denialist. None of the media seem disposed to inquire.

Today the UK is apparently trying to get people to turn off electricity between 4pm and 6pm, because there is a shortage of wind. When it has north of 25GW of wind installed. Which at the moment and yesterday seems to have been delivering something under 5GW.

Same thing as happens every winter around now, and some summers as well!

I have started to read Thomas Sowell’s book ‘Vision of the Annointed’. It was written 25 years ago but its a diagnosis of activism and virtue signalling policy advocacy, regardless of the facts and the results. Its as applicable to the current madnesses on climate, gender and race as it was back then on the particular examples he uses from 25 years ago. Essential reading if you want to understand what is happening to society and politics in the US, UK and one or two other countries.

Reply to  michel
January 24, 2023 2:55 am

I notice that at 10.40, grid.iamkate has wind providing 5.33 GW while gridwatch had wind providing 4.40 GW. Any reason for the difference? Is one site more reliable than the other? I also notice that gridwatch includes bio-mass in renewables but grid.iamkate doesn’t.

Reply to  CampsieFellow
January 24, 2023 7:12 am

The one I would have most confidence in is the original, but I don’t know for sure:

I think they all get their numbers from here:

You can get detailed data on any period in csv form using their filters.

There is some small wind installs which one may count and others not. Don’t know.

It doesnot add up
Reply to  CampsieFellow
January 25, 2023 11:43 am

I suspect iamkate makes some sort of estimate for non-live metered, distribution grid connected wind. National Grid views such generation as not its concern: it acts to reduce demand on the high voltage transmission system in the same way as rooftop solar.

Last edited 1 month ago by It doesnot add up
January 23, 2023 11:06 am

Call it the Griff Paradox.

January 23, 2023 11:09 am

I guess blackouts with ever increasing installed wind energy capacity would not look good.

Lights out in Pakistan as energy-saving move backfires | AP News

John Hultquist
Reply to  ResourceGuy
January 23, 2023 1:19 pm

_Pakistan: “<em> 220 million people without drinking water as pumps powered by electricity failed to work.</em>”

A lesson for all: Store enough water for a day or two for each person. I realize this may not be possible for some folks. Years ago, a lady in Florida used teacups and wine glasses prior to a hurricane. I hope she didn’t have to use the toilet. 🤣

Dodgy Geezer
January 23, 2023 11:32 am

My question – what is the plan for next winter?

My question – what is the plan for next week?

Right-Handed Shark
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
January 23, 2023 2:01 pm

I can tell you the plan for tomorrow, which is to extend the “flexible” period to 90 minutes..

Last edited 2 months ago by Right-Handed Shark
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
January 23, 2023 3:07 pm

They’ll start working on that, shortly after the lights go out.

Last edited 2 months ago by MarkW
Steve Case
January 23, 2023 11:32 am

National Grid asks Drax and EDF to start warming three plants and says it will activate its live demand flexibility service on Monday evening

 “We have instructed coal-fired power units to be available to increase electricity supplies should it be needed tomorrow evening.

So how long does it take to fire up a coal powered station from a standing start?

Hmmm, are all the employees still available?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Steve Case
January 23, 2023 11:53 am

According to TVA, it takes 12 to 24 hours to bring a cold coal plant up to hot standby (depends on age and size), and another 4 hours from hot standby to full load. So the early morning request would have maybe sufficed.

Steve Case
Reply to  Rud Istvan
January 23, 2023 12:02 pm

Provided that the personnel to do it are available.

michael hart
Reply to  Steve Case
January 23, 2023 3:49 pm

Presumably those employees are normally working in the part of Drax that is now wood-fired. Maybe they abandon non-essential work to crank up the coal fired boilers. Maybe they get some nice overtime rates.

I also make the working assumption that Drax’s owners are paid some sort of a retainer by the grid/government to keep such facilities available. No sane private utility would take on such a task without some serious carrots or the mother of all sticks.

When domestic customers start getting angry at the size of their energy bills I bet this hidden cost is not stated anywhere on the bill.
When citizens are shown the real cost of “saving the planet” they start asking some harder questions of politicians and other planet-savers. And it is always so much easier to blame greedy capitalistic corporations and pesky Russians rather than the unvarnished truth.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Steve Case
January 23, 2023 1:25 pm

When seriously hot-running facilities are cold and reheated repeatedly, wear increases.
The owners of Drax cannot be thrilled with the situation.
{I’ve no actually knowledge of Drax; so, the above is a general assessment.}

It doesnot add up
Reply to  John Hultquist
January 23, 2023 1:42 pm

The plant was due to be retired. They have been rewarded quite handsomely for keeping it available. It looks like they may be able to secure another £75/kW of capacity to keep it open for another year too. Prices for actual generation or even just warm up and stand down like this time will not leave them out of pocket either. If it breaks then the party is over, but they will have profited meanwhile.

Elliot W
Reply to  It doesnot add up
January 23, 2023 2:49 pm

As they should.

It doesnot add up
Reply to  Elliot W
January 23, 2023 3:59 pm

OTOH I am less sympathetic to the ROC subsidies they collect for burning woodchips – £658m in 2021.

OFGEM has just fined the business for price gouging

January 23, 2023 11:40 am

“”what is the plan for next winter””?

Smart meters – one for everyone

michael hart
Reply to  strativarius
January 23, 2023 4:06 pm

Yes. It was always part of the plan.The BBC is now regularly telling us how to reduce domestic energy consumption and how suppliers are trying to bribe some customers into changing their patterns to help the grid keep its head above water.
Saving the planet doesn’t seem to get mentioned quite so often when people start to feel the pain.

But it was clearly stated, from the outset, that the long term goal is to use smart meters as the mechanism by which they will enforce reduced energy consumption on the population when the wind isn’t blowing on a winter’s day.

Politicians and other VIPs will probably get a privileged smart meter that won’t turn the water cold while you are in the shower. The rest of us will have to suck it up. Your laundry will not be dry before you need to leave for an important meeting at work, etc etc…

January 23, 2023 11:48 am

OT, but might be an important discovery, published today in Nature
“….. 1964 and it seems to be associated with a gradual turning-back of the inner core as a part of an approximately seven-decade oscillation, with another turning point in the early 1970s. This multidecadal periodicity ( differential rotation of Earth’s inner core relative to the mantle) coincides with changes in several other geophysical observations, especially the length of day and magnetic field. ”
Many observers in past have noticed correlation between global temperature variations and the LOD (length of day).
I have also occasionally (here on the WUWT) mentioned my own ‘discovery’ of a link between global temperature and the Earth’s magnetic dipole variabilities.comment image?fit=1250%2C868&ssl=1
What does this discovery about the Earth’s core rotation mean?
60+ years multidecadal cycle in the global temperature variability which is found in the Earth’s magnetic field variability may temporarily disappear. It’s eventual reappearance may have a considerably different multidecadal periodicity or no periodicity at all.
p.s. this was written & posted from a bit unruly hand held device so it may contain some errors.

Reply to  vuk
January 23, 2023 2:04 pm

Perhaps I should add that if anything like that is about to happen the mighty CO2 molecule will be credited with the supernatural powers.
One way or the other we should we should know in not too distant future.
The AMO is thought to have around 60 years periodicity, I found magnetic dipole is around 65 and the above paper thought core rotation is more like 70 years.
Last time the AMO went negative is in early 1960s, so by any of three above estimates the AMO is due to flip again within next 10 or so years.
As always, time will tell but the ‘climate science’ may not get it.

D. J. Hawkins
January 23, 2023 11:55 am

If the greentards have their way, they’ll sneak in the demolition of one or more of these plants during a spring or fall lull. Next winter may be much more interesting, depending on weather conditions.

January 23, 2023 12:02 pm

How much of everyone’s power bill is the cost of keeping Drax and other coal plants ready to roll at any moment, because the useless renewable fleet cannot reliably cover Britain’s energy needs?

Paul Homewood has estimated 450 sterling per household per year, in aggregate. That was before the recent market fluctuations where the subsidies have risen on account of contracts for difference. Or rather, the refusal of the generators to enter into such contracts. A lengthy story, see Paul’s excellent site for detailed explanations. Search for contracts for difference.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  michel
January 24, 2023 6:41 am

There doesn’t seem to be a search feature on the home page. Did I miss something?

It doesnot add up
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
January 24, 2023 2:12 pm

Below the clickable word cloud search and above ARCHIVE on the right side.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  It doesnot add up
January 26, 2023 8:15 am

Thank you! Much obliged.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  michel
January 24, 2023 7:06 am

Windfarms can legally delay taking up their contracts for difference (CfDs) for up to 3 years. All part of the crazy systems dreamt up by Ofgem.

Onthe Move
January 23, 2023 12:10 pm

I was thinking if they can demolish at the same time it’s operational. That will save some money

It doesnot add up
January 23, 2023 12:15 pm

Grandstanding by National Grid. The day ahead markets showed no sign of being so tight as to need the backup, either in GB or on the Continent. Although London has been colder than Moscow, the North and West has been in much milder air.

They also implemented a paid powercut auction for those with smartmeters via their retailers.

comment image

It seems that too is practice

“The start of something much bigger” !!

Meanwhile the coal units were stood down

Perhaps the next cold blast forecast for February might have them in real need. Nuclear capacity shutdowns in the UK and France will not help.

January 23, 2023 12:19 pm

Why is the word warming in quotes? That is exactly what needs to be done. It is done slowly with all steam plants, taking hours or days to heat all of the hot parts uniformly to operating temperature so that the parts don’t warp or crack.

It doesnot add up
January 23, 2023 12:48 pm

It seems some of the retailers are pocketing most of the revenue. Meanwhile the Grid keeps practising.

Calling it DFS will seem odd to Brits. That’s a relatively downmarket chain of furniture stores.

Reply to  It doesnot add up
January 23, 2023 2:38 pm

Well if the poor folks put their hands up for DFS to freeze in the dark Octopus Energy is offering some lucky punter the free chance to win 500 quid. What more could they want to be happy saving the planet?

January 23, 2023 12:51 pm

British leaders are morons however I think it is the coal company’s duty to fire up their plants to guarantee a proper level of power. Anyone who disagrees with this move should have their smart meters adjusted so they don’t benefit from coal power. In addition it is the leaders obligation to guarantee the coal power plants operate at a sufficient level to make a profit. Playing games with energy production is not acceptable not now not ever. Keep coal running until it can be replaced with gas or nuclear, wind and solar are not acceptable substitutes.

Kit P
January 23, 2023 1:24 pm

I worked at a nuke plant in Califonia that was closed about 30 years ago. When you lose a good job because of zealots, you start worry about them.

No matter what you do, there is a vocal group against it. It is just part of doing business.

If there is a lesson from Russia and China, it is they can not be depended on. American farmers grow crops. I was looking at processing soybeans and saw that new processing facilities are being built in farm states. More local property taxes and $26/hour jobs.

Sure enough there was a video on line of a group that is against it.

Today I invested in a big bad AG corporation investing money in doing things better.

Reply to  Kit P
January 23, 2023 3:05 pm

A case in point-
Now instead of sustainably managed forestry we’ll import it all from dodgy sources and the eco-NIMBYs will feel warm and fuzzy.

Kit P
Reply to  observa
January 24, 2023 3:31 pm

Interesting, one of the groups zealots I am familiar with in the US against harvesting trees. The local paper mill has turned large amounts of fast growing poplar type trees turning large areas from a satellite views green.

I have a friend with a masters in nuclear engineering now works on processing of pulp mills.

I will have to give him a call. That may be a good investment opportunity if the US is bringing value added processing jobs back from China.

Gunga Din
January 23, 2023 1:35 pm

An old slogan.
“Save the Trees!”
A more reality based slogan.
“Burn the ancient Trees to save the living Trees!”

January 23, 2023 1:38 pm

Firing up coal plants for spinning reserve does not come free. Who oays? Rhetorical question. There should be a mechanism to backcharge the unreliable producers.

January 23, 2023 1:42 pm

The one at Burton is due to be knocked down!! Morons running this country….morons who listen to other morons.

January 23, 2023 2:00 pm

The increasing cost of keeping these plants ready to run when solar and wind fail is obviously yet another subsidy for ‘Green’ energy.

January 23, 2023 5:47 pm

Uh, yea! If you want electricity you have to use gas, oil, coal, hydro and nuclear, they are the only renewable, sustainable power sources on the planet. F*cking retards.

Philip CM
January 23, 2023 6:02 pm

The long and twisted road to net zero:

Coal – Petroleum – Nuclear – Natural gas – anti-coal – Wind – Solar – anti-petroleum – Coal

🤷‍♂️ 🤣

Gregg Eshelman
January 24, 2023 1:19 am

story tip

Do an article on why the UK will not install the connections needed to bring all the wind generated electricity from the Orkney Islands to Ireland, Scotland, and the UK.

It doesnot add up
Reply to  Gregg Eshelman
January 24, 2023 1:55 am

You don’t just have to bridge the Pentland Firth. You have to build power lines all across Scotland and England. A better question is why not build dispatchable generating capacity close to demand in London and Birmingham to replace the coal and oil stations that powered those cities in the past.

Last edited 2 months ago by It doesnot add up
January 24, 2023 4:04 am
Dave Andrews
Reply to  observa
January 24, 2023 7:19 am

Plus they are using floating windfarms to power some of their offshore oil and gas platforms. Guess that might be doing some peoples heads in! 🙂

January 24, 2023 11:46 am

Building more windmills to reduce power shortfalls Is rather like a sailor putting on more sail when he’s becalmed.

Reply to  slowroll
January 24, 2023 12:54 pm

putting on more sail when he’s becalmed.

An excellent analogy.

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