Households across the UK could face power cuts this winter because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, ministers have been told.
As the UK looks at ways to increase energy supplies and extend the life of coal and nuclear power stations, officials in Whitehall said there could be gas shortages if Russia cuts supplies to the EU.
Under plans drawn up by the government, electricity could have to be rationed for up to six million homes at the start of next year, mostly at peaks in the morning and evening, says The Times.
This may cause energy prices to rise again and leave gross domestic product lower than forecast for years to come.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has approached the owners of Britain’s three remaining coal-fired power stations and asked that they stay open. This is despite plans to close them in September and phase them out by 2024 to reduce carbon emissions.
Hinkley Point B, a nuclear power station in Somerset, could also be given an 18-month extension. The plant was scheduled to be decommissioned this summer as it is almost 50 years old.
Although Britain buys 4 per cent of its gas from Russia, the EU relies on it for 40 per cent of its supplies.
Member states continued to pay Russia hundreds of millions of euros a day since the start of the Ukraine invasion.
It is understood that under plans considering the worst-case scenario that there are concerns about imports of Norwegian gas, on which Britain relies.
Supplies could be cut by more than half because of increased EU demand.
A UK government representative said "it was only right" that ministers explore a wide range of options to bolster energy security.
"While there is no shortage of supply, we may need to make our remaining coal-fired power stations available to provide additional back-up electricity this coming winter if needed," the representative said.
"We don't expect power cuts this winter and we do not expect energy rationing this winter, given the fact that we have our own access to North Sea gas reserves and other reliable partners to import energy from."
The UK also imports liquefied natural gas, which is brought into Britain by tankers. These supplies could also been halved because of greater competition.
The model outlined by Whitehall assumes that Britain will receive no imports of gas from interconnectors in the Netherlands and Belgium, as they face their own emergencies.
Britain would then be forced to introduce its gas emergency plans, which would lead to the closure of gas-fired power stations. Heavy industry reliant on gas would be told to stop using it.
The closure of the plants would lead to a shortage of electricity, forcing the government to ration it.
Supplies would be turned off on weekdays at peak times in the morning, between 7am and 10am, and in the evenings, between 4pm and 9pm. Gas supply to homes would be unaffected.
Should Russia cut off its gas to the EU entirely, officials have drawn up another strategy. Energy power cuts could start in December on both weekdays and weekends for a period of three months.
The government is in talks with Centrica about reopening a natural gas storage depot off the east coast of England, with more than £1 billion ($1.3bn) of subsidies. It was closed in 2017 after being deemed too expensive to maintain.
The government is concerned that gas prices will remain high into next year as the war in Ukraine continues.
Last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a £21bn support package to limit the effect of price rises in October, but has not ruled out taking further action next year.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly opened a Cabinet meeting last week by asking ministers: “How many of you actually remember the 1970s?”
He was referring to a time when striking miners picketed power stations in a pay dispute, leading to power cuts and forcing businesses to close.
Edward Heath, the Conservative prime minister at the time, introduced the three-day week in December 1973 to preserve stocks of coal.
Nearly all businesses had to limit their electricity use to three days a week and were banned from operating for long hours on those days.
“As a responsible government, it is right that we plan for every single extreme scenario, however unlikely," a Whitehall source said.
"Britain is well prepared for any supply disruptions. Unlike EU countries, our North Sea gas reserves are being pumped out at full pelt, Norwegian rigs are directly connected into the UK, and we have the second-largest LNG import infrastructure in Europe — whereas Germany has none.
"Given the EU’s historic dependence on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s gas, the winter could be very hard for countries on the continent.”