UK fire shuts major power cable bringing electricity from France

Gas prices surge more than 20 per cent after it was revealed the cable will be out of action until October

A large fire brought down a major power cable bringing electricity from France to Britain, adding further woes to the UK's struggling energy sector.

Firefighters were sent to battle the blaze at the IFA interconnector site near Ashford, Kent, on Wednesday, where they said it would take several hours to put out.

At least 12 fire engines were called to the scene and used compressed air foam to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby buildings. No injuries were reported and the area was evacuated successfully, according to the UK's national power grid operator.

The fire also closed the Eurostar track temporarily early on Wednesday, causing delays to the service.

Gas and power prices jumped as much as 20 per cent after the National Grid said the cable will be out of commission for at least a month.

Britain is already struggling with energy shortages and record-breaking wholesale gas and energy prices this month.

The crunch is fuelling concerns about inflation and a potential hit to businesses just as the economy emerges from the worst of the pandemic.

Britain is a net importer of power, with France its biggest supplier via two cables that run across the English Channel. One of those was knocked out by the fire, according to National Grid, and will be out of action until at least October 13.

The fire started in the converter hall and spread through the building, National Grid said. The damaged cable – known as IFA-1 cable – has a capacity of 2,000 megawatts.

A second cable with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts – is currently unaffected. The cause is still being investigated. A person familiar with the matter said the fire caused severe damage.

The energy blow comes during a wider crunch in Europe because of a lack of supply from Russia and Norway, as well as growing competition in Asia.

Spain, Greece, France and Italy are all considering or enacting measures as households brace for a surge in bills.

Windless weather has left the UK without a major source of power, resulting in an increasing reliance on gas.

Nuclear outages are adding to the shortage and coal sites have been decommissioned, removing backup capacity. Gas prices are surging as a tropical storm in the US threatens to disrupt LNG exports.

The surge in the cost of carbon emissions – traded on exchanges in Europe and the UK – is also pushing up the cost of producing electricity. There is some concern the crisis could cause a backlash against measures aimed at converting economies to greener fuels.

National Grid sounded an early warning in July that the UK’s ability to meet peak demand would be reduced this year.

Updated: September 15th 2021, 1:56 PM
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