BRITAIN is facing a household power crisis with supplies being “touch and go” this winter, experts warned last night.
The bleak verdict comes as forecasters predict another Arctic freeze in weeks with temperatures plunging below the minus 20C record seen last year.
It follows revelations that the Government plans to spend more than £5billion laying 11 under-sea cables to import electricity from Europe amid fears of an energy shortfall.
The National Grid, due to issue its annual winter capacity forecast today, predicted an electricity surplus of 16 per cent for the winter months in this summer’s interim report.
But according to Professor Ian Fells, energy expert at Newcastle University, this may not be enough to keep the UK’s lights from going out, especially if there is a prolonged cold spell as predicted this winter. He said: “It has always been suggested that we need a surplus of 20 per cent. In the days of the Central Electricity Generating Board, I remember on one occasion Britain having a surplus of 27 per cent.
“If the spare capacity remains below 20 per cent and we get the very cold winter that has been forecast it could be touch and go.”
The power shortage concerns come as three in 10 Britons admit they are struggling to pay their energy bills with the cheapest annual gas and electricity contract hitting £1,000 for the first time.
Soaring prices are a result of energy companies hiking their prices by an average of 15 per cent this year and energy experts predict the wholesale shortages could cause rises as high as 25 per cent in the next couple of years.
Last night forecasters said sub-zero temperatures and snow could arrive in the UK as early as next week. Jonathan Powell, forecaster at Positive Weather Solutions, said: “Particularly in the North, we could see temperatures sinking to around -7C.”
The Government’s plans would see electricity imported from zones where there are surpluses to prevent blackouts in areas of shortages.
Areas with surplus power include Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Iceland and the Channel Islands. Talks are going on to allow 1,000 miles of power cables to be laid to Britain.
It is hoped the move will widen the gap between power demand and supply which, according to the Department of Energy, will become “tight” within around five years.
A National Grid spokesman said last night: “This winter is manageable. As always, the electricity market would need to manage issues that arise, such as very cold weather. But in the past it has shown that it can respond appropriately.”
Meanwhile, basic living costs are at a 20-year high, figures out yesterday revealed. The price of energy, fuel, food and mortgages accounts for 67.3 per cent of the average household income. It was 56.6 per cent a decade ago.