Households across the UK could find themselves in a nightmare scenario this winter, as the Government is reportedly preparing emergency plans to impose seven-day-long blackouts. Officials in Whitehall have reportedly “war gamed” Programme Yarrow, which is a blueprint for how the UK could deal with a week-long national power outage. As winter looms, fears have grown that the country could fail to acquire sufficient energy supplies this winter. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has placed Europe’s energy security in jeopardy, as EU countries that have been squeezed out of Russian gas now scramble to secure additional energy supplies.
This increased competition for energy previously led the National Grid to draw up plans, warning that if it fails to secure enough energy, it would impose planned three hour blackouts.
Now, leaked documents seen by the Guardian, show that the Government is planning for a “reasonable worst-case scenario”, where all sectors including transport, food and water supply, communications and energy could be “severely disrupted” for up to a week.
In such a scenario, ministers would prioritise getting food, water and shelter to the young, elderly, and those with caring responsibilities if the country faces such prolonged blackouts.
To make matters worse, a three-month forecast released by the Met Office this week warned of an unusually cold winter, along with high chances of low wind speeds.
This adds to the UK’s woes, as a colder winter means higher demand for energy as households try to stay warm, while low wind speeds mean less wind energy generation will take place.
In light of these concerns, officials at Whitehall are stress-testing Programme Yarrow, which is a confidential plan that deals with coping with a power outage.
This plan was created in 2021, before Russia invaded Ukraine, in an effort to improve planning and resilience in the event of a major technical fault on the National Grid.
However, as fears of a blackout this winter grow, the Government has boosted the planning exercises, working with Government departments and councils across the country in recent days.
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Ed Miliband, the shadow climate secretary, said: “All governments do contingency planning for worst-case scenarios but the truth is that we are vulnerable as a country as a direct consequence of a decade of failed Conservative energy policy.
“Banning onshore wind, slashing investment in energy efficiency, stalling nuclear and closing gas storage have led to higher bills and reliance on gas imports, leaving us more exposed to the impact of Putin’s use of energy as a geopolitical weapon.”
Under these nightmare-scenario plans, only analogue FM radios would work, with just BBC Radio 2 and 4 broadcasting. This would cast uncertainties around local radio as some stations have a mere few hours of backup through generators.
One source told the Guardian: “The Government doesn’t want any publicity on Yarrow, as they don’t want it to be seen as linked to Ukraine, energy supply and the cost of living.
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“But we need to think about how we can help people in advance. The fact they’re talking about it now means they have a real concern it could happen.”
Programme Yarrow helps the country prepare for the scenario where there is very little power available without any pre-warning this winter.
The plan estimates that 60 percent of the UK’s electricity demand would be met “between day 2 and day 7” when households and businesses will be given “intermittent access” to ration supply.
A Government spokesperson said: “As a responsible Government, it is right that we plan for all potential scenarios and work with industry to prepare and exercise robust contingency plans. This work is ongoing continuously and is an important strand of our national resilience planning.
“Local and national exercises are a part of this ongoing work and ensure we are able to effectively respond to any of a wide range of scenarios, no matter how unlikely they may be.”