Blackout horrors of 1974 heard as National Grid plan looms

Energy bills: 'Possibility' of 'blackouts this winter' says Halligan

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Amid fears the UK could be plunged into darkness during the coldest months of the year under National Grid’s emergency blackout plans, has heard some of the horrors of the power rationing period during the 1970s. The UK’s energy grid operator has warned that on “really, really cold” winter days, Britain could be forced to undergo three-hour periods of power outages spread across different regions to balance the gird and avoid a total shutdown if the UK fails to shore up enough energy imports from Europe over the coming months.

While this is only an “unlikely worst-case scenario”, it would not be the first time that Britons have gone without power. Similar to the Russian gas crisis which sent prices soaring over the last year, electricity also had to be rationed back in the 1970s amid a global oil crisis. 

Lasting for two months, the situation was also brought on by an industrial dispute with coal miners (coal was the main source of energy back then). 

Lynn Wolfson, 76, was living in Glasgow with her husband and two children in 1974, when then Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath was forced to implement a three-day working week in a bid to conserve energy.

Ms Wolfson said: “During the three-day week, with my husband being a doctor, he had to work long hours. I was just looking after the children.

“I remember having to buy flasks and boiling water and preparing hot water bottles. It is a bit like how people are preparing just now, there are so many similarities. 

“I also remember having to buy church candles and making sure we had batteries for the torches. I remember going to bed earlier just to keep warm.

“But because of our circumstances, it was inconvenient for us. It made us appreciate what we had before, we didn’t know how easy we had it. You really had to be more organised and think about your day more.”

She also remembered how young children had to be taught how to make their way home from school on the other side of the city, which meant they “got their independence much earlier than they would have done”.

Ms Wolfson added she is “not very happy” about the prospect of it happening all over again this winter. She also expressed her concerns about the looming cold snap at a time of record-high energy prices.

Ms Wolfson: “We’re coming into the winter and we are expecting snow up north. At the moment I am keeping my heating down. I am trying to avoid getting a huge bill for very few rooms.”

This comes as the Met Office issued a flurry of “severe” cold weather warnings, which experts have warned will put National Grid’s plans to the test. 

Fabian Rønningen, an analyst at Rystad Energy, told The Telegraph: “Both this week and next week will give a good indication of how safe the UK supply is and we got a taste already on Monday and Tuesday last week.”

He added that a surge in hourly energy prices amid the plummeting temperatures was “an indication of a power system under a lot of pressure and close to the limit”.

A Met Office spokesperson said: “The pattern for the next seven days is that it will remain cold and we will see double-digit minus figures overnight in areas that are prone to frosts and areas where there is lying snow.”

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Health authorities are advising people to keep the main room in their homes heated to at least 18C where possible. But as bills soar, many vulnerable households will not be able afford to have the heating on for very long. 

A study carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that over three million people on low incomes cannot afford to heat their homes amid the “dangerously cold” weather. But in January and February, when National Grid’s plan may have to be rolled out, even more households might not be able to use any heating at all between 4pm to 7pm. 

The rolling blackouts would see different regions of the country experience temporary blackouts at different times of the day to prevent overloading and the grid.

Jeremy Nicholson, energy market expert at Alfa Energy, has said: “It’s still unlikely that we would experience any temporary power cuts or still less gas shortages. But the risk of it is significantly higher this winter than it’s been for many, many years.”

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