MP says Parliament will want to “pursue issue” of power failure at Little Barford

Little Barford Power Station

Little Barford Power Station - Credit: Archant

An MP has said he was “clear” that a power failure at Little Barford power station should not have caused the massive nationwide disruption that it did.

Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire, has visited the RWE-owned site near St Neots to discuss the collapse of the system which left 1.1 million households across the country without power on August 9.

Trains, a hospital and an airport were all hit by the power failure which is believed to have been triggered by a lightning strike on a transmission circuit at Eaton Socon.

Little Barford power station and the Hornsea off-shore windfarm were temporarily affected but the loss of power in the "rare and unexpected" incident tipped the system into an emergency close-down mode after reserves were used up.

Mr Burt, whose constituency includes the gas-powered power station which was commissioned 25 years ago, said: "I am clear that whatever happened at this one station, which was providing to the grid on the day only about two per cent of the nationwide power supply at the time of failure, should not have caused the impact on the national power system which was seen on that day with the extent of the disruption.

"The reliance of the train network in particular to an uninterrupted power supply, and its inability to cope with a short term loss, is of great concern, but the incident will have flagged up important lessons to learn for the future.

"From an initial reading of the grid report, there does seem to have been a series of coincidental and very unusual circumstances."

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Mr Burt said: "When parliament returns I expect it to want to pursue this issue.

"My concern remains the resilience of the system as a whole, and I know RWE and Little Barford will be doing all it can to ensure that such a problem does not occur again.

"There are wider questions to be covered in any inquiry/investigation including the mix of energy in the UK, the consequent resilience of the system, the knock on effect on transport, and whether there are any security implications from what happened, and I shall be wanting to see good answers on this for constituents."

Mr Burt said: "I had a very useful morning at the power station and was talked through the events surrounding the shut down on the day by senior managers.

"Although a lightning strike is highly probable as an instigator, it is still unverified what precisely triggered the fail-safe mechanisms which caused the station's turbines to shut down, which in turn ended the transmission of power to the grid."

Mr Burt added: "RWE is investigating through further tests precisely what occurred. The fail-safe mechanisms are designed to ensure maximum safety, work to extraordinarily tight tolerances, and Little Barford, since its inception over twenty years ago, has an excellent record."

Local rail passengers were caught up in the chaos when travel from Kings Cross was suspended as a result of the failure and around 30 of a particular type of train, around half those in service, had to be restarted by engineers sent out to the scene in a surprise side-effect of the cut.

The cut lasted less than an hour at maximum, but there were knock-on effects which delayed the return of supplies in some cases.

Regulator Ofgem has launched an investigation into the cuts and has already received an interim report from the National Grid Electricity System Operator which will submit a final technical report by September 6.