Blog: Closing down a power station isn’t monkey business

Most people will never get the chance to do it but stepping foot inside the empty control room of a condemned power station is a strange experience. Like walking onto […]

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By Vicky Ellis

Most people will never get the chance to do it but stepping foot inside the empty control room of a condemned power station is a strange experience. Like walking onto the film set of a Hollywood flick you’ve seen a hundred times – except this place has been used for real, for decades.

Standing in Kingsnorth Power Station’s control room last week, my mouth actually dropped open with the weirdness of it all. A small knitted monkey sat abandoned on top of one of the powered down computer units, a mascot to watch over the plant when its owner can’t.

What was once the brains behind the beating heart (well, turbines) of a huge coal plant was still, lifeless. The dead screens and unblinking lights on the dashboards, the buttons that will never be pressed again, all seemed quite spooky, industrially supernatural.

It’s a bit of a shock, knowing such a huge building will effectively stand empty, possibly be demolished. That feeling will surely be magnified for the 150-strong workforce who supervised, operated and cleaned Kingsnorth.

Built in the late Sixties and opening in 1970, Kingsnorth was once dual-fired, using both oil and coal but by the time it closed to fall in line with EU rules, all its four turbines were powered by coal.

The future was looking bright up until three years ago with the owner E.ON hoping to convert two coal turbines to operate with Carbon Capture and Storage technology. But in 2010 the supplier ditched the plans citing poor economics. CCS was never going to be an easy, cheap option. Other plans for the site are now unclear.

Which leaves me standing at the spot where up to twelve operators prodded and coaxed a stunning 98% start reliability out of the old beast. Right until the last watt it pumped out just before Christmas, the plant was in tip top condition. Michael Vann, the operations director told me with quiet pride that Kingsnorth could have gone for years while Paul Graham, the man responsible for closing the site said it was the people who made Kingsnorth what it was.

Walking out the building, past the packed up cardboard boxes and empty offices, was both unsettling and touching – and hammered home the idea that decisions at the top really do affect the frontline. The impact of policy on real people, not just statistics, should be remembered, no matter what your energy persuasion.

The monkey may still be there but the power station is now worth peanuts and no one could contradict how sad that is.