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Striking French workers forced Britain to trigger back-up power plan

coal plants - Ian Forsyth/Bloomberg
coal plants - Ian Forsyth/Bloomberg

Coal-fired power plants in Britain were warmed up to supply electricity to France after workers striking over Macron's pension reforms threatened supplies across the Channel.

National Grid has confirmed it asked three coal units to prepare overnight to fire-up following a request for assistance from France's system operator RTE as strikes loomed on Thursday.

Output at EDF's Belleville 1 reactor was reduced by about 100 megawatts due to strikes today, according to Reuters.

Britain's and France's power systems are connected by three cables running underneath the Channel, which are used to constantly trade electricity back and forth.

A spokesman for National Grid ESO [electricity system operator] said: “In support of mutual cooperation between Great Britain and its neighbouring electricity networks the ESO answered France’s request for additional GB generation to be able to provide assistance today if required by warming the contingency coal units.

“The ESO was able to take this action to support the French network in avoiding consumer disconnections, as the GB network is currently operating as normal and this action would not have placed GB consumers at risk.

“Following further assessment of network margins in both countries the ESO has now stood down these coal units.”

In the end the French did not need the extra supplies and the coal plants were stood down without being used.

It is the third time the coal plants have been warmed up this week. The other two times were to support supplies in Britain.

The units, in Nottinghamshire and North Yorkshire, were meant to close in September 2022 but ministers asked them to stay open this winter.

The step was taken amid concerns about shortages of gas due to Russia's war on Ukraine, as well as outages on France's nuclear fleet.

Under the contingency arrangements, National Grid is able to use the units to support supplies in neighbouring countries if the neighbouring country's supplies are deemed to be at risk.

Many workers in France have started strike protests this month to demonstrate against plans by President Emmanuel Macron's government to reform the country's pension system, which would see the retirement age pushed up by two years to 64.

No disruptions to hydropower supply in France have been communicated.

Outside of the electricity sector, oil and gas giant TotalEnergies said strikes had interrupted shipments at several production sites in France.

The company said shipments were blocked at La Mede, Donges, Normandy and Dunkirk, but it continued to make sure petrol stations were supplied. It added its refinery site at Feyzin was not affected.