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Gas curb costs 15,000 jobs

AT LEAST 15,000 construction jobs will go with the cancellation of more than 30 proposed gas-fired power station projects as a result of the Government's energy review, power engineering leaders claimed this week.

The review, announced by President of the Board of Trade Margaret Beckett this week, lifted a six month moratorium on all power station construction but left strict planning requirements for any future approvals.

While the construction sector was clearly relieved that the Government did not, as widely feared, extend the blanket moratorium for another five years, this was tempered by the new 'onerous' restrictions.

Engineering Construction Industries Association chief executive Brenig Williams said: 'It is still a near-moratorium and, although a few of the 30 plants awaiting planning permission may now go through, the vast majority will be permanently lost.

'The new rules are confusing, and this continuing uncertainty is damaging the confidence of power industry investors. The predicted job losses include all construction-related site workers, but could be increased by 30% with work lost in supply industries.'

Beckett's review was prompted by distortions in the prices of electricity produced from its three main sources - coal, gas and nuclear - plus what was seen as Labour's attempt to save an ailing coal mining industry.

She said that these 'serious distortions' favoured 'inflexible' gas fired plants. And she claimed that the resultant building boom in such stations was to the 'detriment' of coal fired plants.

In general, the review stated, proposals for new gas fired stations would be 'inconsistent with government's energy policy'.

However, approval 'may' still be given, though only on 'environmental' grounds - such as those plants with a combined heat and power element or those with high efficiency equipment.

Consent may also be granted if promoters had already spent large funds on project design and development. This may benefit the several plants which have already received planning approval under section 36 of the Electricity Act, but whose promoters have not applied for permission to burn gas under section 14 of the Energy Act.

This second authorisation, which had been regarded as almost automatic following planning approval, will now be treated as a separate, equally strict planning hurdle, government sources indicated this week.

It is not thought the review will result in cancellation of any existing construction work, but among the 33 schemes awaiting approval are proposed 1,000MW plus combined cycle gas turbine stations at Enderby for Scottish Power, Port Talbot for BP, Isle of Grain for Enron, and Fleetwood for Canatax Energy.

David Hayward

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