UK Government tests energy blackout emergency plans as supply fears grow

The government has developed emergency plans to deal with power blackouts lasting up to seven days in the case of a national outage. This is amid growing concerns about supply security this winter.

The Guardian obtained documents marked “officially sensitive” that warn that all sectors, including transport and food supply, could be affected for up to one week in the worst-case scenario.

They demonstrate that ministers will prioritize providing food, water, shelter, and care for the elderly and young people if there is a blackout. The Met Office warned that Britain could be at greater risk of experiencing a cold winter.

Whitehall officials are stress-testing Programme Yarrow – a confidential plan to cope in the event that there is a power cut – and have conducted a series of exercises with various government departments and councils in the UK in recent days.

In 2021, the cross-government blueprint was created in order to improve planning and resilience in case of a major technical problem on the National Grid. It has nothing to do with the National Grid’s energy outlooks for this winter.

However, fears over the effects of a blackout are growing due to the war. Government insiders have admitted that planning exercises took on an increased urgency because of the energy crisis which has seen household energy bills rise.

Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband stated: “All governments do contingency plans for worst-case scenarios, but the truth is that our vulnerability as a nation is a direct result of a decade of failed Conservative Energy policy.

“Banning offshore wind, cutting investment in energy efficiency and stalling nuclear have all led to higher gas prices and increased dependence on imports. This has made us more vulnerable to the geopolitical impact of Putin’s energy use.

Government planners envisage a technical fault that could include flooding damage or a lightning strike at a substation. However, it could also include an attack by a hostile country on sub-sea electricity cables. This is following Russian attacks on the Nord Stream energy pipes.

This leak follows a warning by Tom Tugendhat on Monday, which stated that Britain has become more vulnerable in recent years due to other countries trying to harm it. He also said that the new technology had made the situation worse.

The plan describes the worst-case scenario in which only analogue FM radios will work. There is no BBC Radio 2 or 4, and there are uncertainties about local radio, as many stations have only a limited amount of backup generator coverage.

Last month, The Guardian reported that the BBC had prepared secret scripts which could be used to read on air in the event of energy shortages.

According to one source, “The government does not want publicity about Yarrow because it doesn’t want it linked to Ukraine, energy supply, and the cost to live.” We need to consider how we can assist people in advance. They are talking about it now because they fear it might happen.

Cabinet Office sources claimed that they didn’t recognise the claim because the planning was not related to events in Ukraine.

Programme Yarrow is a plan to prepare for a situation in which power is not available, without any warning, to all buildings that do not have backup generators during winter. It envisions that 60% of the electricity demand will be met between days 2 and 7 when both households and businesses will have “intermittent access to ration supplies”.

A deal between the energy regulator Ofgem, and National Grid states that 100% of electricity should be restored within a week. Even in the worst-case scenario, the government expects to meet that target.

One document stated that “all sectors will be severely affected, including communications and transport networks, energy supply, water supply, and food supply.”

The Yarrow plans foresee a worse situation than the one outlined by National Grid last week, in which Britons could experience three-hour rolling blackouts in the worst-case scenario if temperatures drop and Russia cuts off gas supplies.

The electricity supply code will give households and businesses 24-hour notice of an expected outage. It could also be published on a rolling basis up to one week in advance.

The “rota disconnect plan” is intended to reduce power across the country. Although power cuts will initially occur once per day for three hours it may take up to an entire hour to reconnect. The severity of energy shortages will determine the frequency of power cuts.

Jan Rosenow, Europe Director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an energy think tank said that “so many things are coming together at once: the gas shortages and high prices, as well as the problems with electricity generation from French nuclear plants. This is what worries the government. It is prudent to plan for outages. It is a shame that this conversation has to take place in a crisis.

A spokesperson for the government stated that “as responsible governments, it is right to plan for all possible scenarios and work closely with industry to prepare robust contingency plans. This is a vital strand of national resilience planning and it is continuous.

“Local as well as national exercises are part of this ongoing work. They ensure that we can effectively respond to all scenarios, regardless of how unlikely.


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