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Fire forces closure of key UK electricity cable as prices hit record high

16 September 2021

A fire at a facility in Kent in the early hours of September 15 has forced the shutdown of a key electricity cable that imports power from France into the UK. In a statement, National Grid said that a fire at its IFA interconnector site in Sellindge, between Ashford and Folkestone, had been evacuated and that emergency services were in attendance. The shutdown of the cable comes as the UK experiences record high market prices for wholesale energy.

The IFA2 interconnector is operating as normal at full capacity – Image: National Grid
The IFA2 interconnector is operating as normal at full capacity – Image: National Grid

National Grid added that the IFA interconnector would continue to be out of service due to the fire and planned maintenance. Following an initial review, the utility said that the fire means half of the cable’s capacity, 1000MW, will be unavailable until March 27, 2022. This is in addition to the other 1000MW of power that is offline due to planned maintenance until September 25. The IFA2 interconnector, National Grid’s second electricity interconnector linking the UK and France, is operating as normal at full capacity, the utility company said.

There were no reports of injuries as a result of the first which broke out at just after midnight on September 15. Kent Fire and Rescue Service said that a total of 12 fire engines attended the scene and managed to extinguish the blaze by around 09:00 local time.
Both IFA interconnectors are joint ventures between the French Transmission Operator RTE and National Grid. The first IFA was commissioned in 1986 while construction on IFA2 began in 2018 before reaching full flow capacity in January 2021.

The closure of the IFA interconnector comes at a difficult time for the UK. National Grid had been importing electricity from France in September after UK prices hit a record high on the wholesale energy market. The rising prices were the result of a global gas market surge which had raised the cost of running gas power plants, a series of power plant outages, and low wind speeds.

According to The Guardian, the market price at a major UK electricity auction cleared at a record price of £2,500 per megawatt-hour for the hours of peak demand on September 16, compared with a typical baseload price of about £40/MWh throughout 2019 and 2020.
As of September 16, National Grid said that its investigation into the fire was ongoing and that it would update the market with “any changes as necessary”.

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