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Steam rises from the cooling towers of a coal power plant. Image Credit: REUTERS

London: Britain may need to prolong the life of coal-fired power stations to avert household energy blackouts this winter following key gas supplier Russia’s attack of Ukraine, the government said Monday.

“In light of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, it is only right that we explore a wide range of options to further bolster our energy security and domestic supply,” said a government spokesperson.

“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.”

Up to six million UK households could face potential energy blackouts and rationing in the peak-demand winter, according to a source close to the matter.

The news confirmed a report in The Times newspaper.

One of the government’s worst-case scenarios indicates there could be widespread gas shortages if Russia goes further in cutting off supplies to Europe, the paper added.

The UK relies heavily on natural gas for electricity generation but is far less dependent than the rest of Europe on Russian energy.

“You would expect government to look at a range of scenarios to ensure plans are robust, no matter how unlikely they are to pass and neither the government or National Grid expect power cuts this winter,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“You will know that we’re in a fortunate position, we’re not dependent on Russian energy imports and have one of the most reliable and diverse energy systems,” the spokesperson added.

In response to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, the UK plans to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022 and eventually stop importing its gas.

British Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently wrote to the operators of the nation’s three remaining coal-fired power plants to request they be kept open longer than planned to bolster supplies during an unprecedented situation.

The operators had previously announced they would close by September.

Drax, which operates the biggest UK coal-fired power plant, had flagged late last year it could extend the use of coal.

Britain nevertheless remains committed to scrapping coal-powered electricity generation by October 2024, under plans to cut carbon emissions and combat global warming.

At the same time, the government is considering extending the life of the Hinkley Point B nuclear power plant in southwestern England although it had been due to be decommissioned this summer.

London this month threw its support behind construction of Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, despite French-owned EDF revealing fresh delays and soaring costs.

The new facility, Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in more than two decades, aims to provide seven percent of the country’s total power needs.

The UK’s nuclear power plants built last century have either closed or are approaching the end of their lifespan.

Johnson’s spokesperson insisted that while Britain might need to call on remaining coal fired power stations to provide additional backup electricity this winter, Britain’s energy security supply was “solid” and “it remains our firm commitment to end the use of coal power by October 2024.”