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Blackouts loom as gas projects fall behind schedule

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A WINTER of blackouts is once again on the cards. At least two of the four major gas import projects under construction are running late and will not supplement supply this year.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry said it 'will not even entertain the possibility that these four projects will not be on stream in time for this winter'. But sources claim that the projects are delayed by as much as six months.

The Langeled pipeline bringing gas into the UK from Norway was due to come on stream this October with a 40Mm 3 per day capacity - the average winter peak is 400Mm 3 per day.

The Bacton Balgzand Line (BBL) is also believed to be delayed. 'BBL was supposed to be running by 1 December [2006] supplying 44Mm 3 per day - 10% of peak demand, ' said a spokeswoman for consumer body Energywatch. As NCE went to press BBL had made no comment on the delay.

Between them the projects could supply up to 20% of maximum daily demand. 'If they are both delayed it would be a significant loss, ' said the spokeswoman.

In a statement last month Ofgem chief executive Alistair Buchanan said: 'There is still a great deal of uncertainty about gas imports this winter and supplies could be tighter if pipe and terminals are not used to capacity or are delayed.' At Langeled construction of the four compression trains that compress the gas before it enters the 1,200km pipe under the sea is understood to be holding up the project, at least one must be online to begin exporting gas.

A source told NCE that the project is running six months behind schedule and will not be delivered in time for the winter peak. 'It is hoped that one train will be on line in late December/ early January, but it is a hope - not a guarantee, ' he said.

'Contractors are working 24 hours a day to try and get something on stream by January.' Langeled is a joint venture between Norwegian gas giant Statoil, UK energy company Centrica and Norwegian firm Norsk Hydro. None were available to comment. The two other projects, the upgrade to the Bacton Zeebrugge interconnector and the liqueed natural gas terminal in Teesside are believed to be running on time.

Together the four projects were supposed to deliver an additional 146Mm 3 a day.

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