Whither Fawley?

Fawley Power Station

Fawley Power Station

Have you wondered what will happen to that magnificent 198 metre stack that is the chimney for Fawley Power Station, now that the station has ceased operation? The stack has become a Solent landmark, and navigational mark for ships and aircraft.

RWE npower, the owners of Fawley, held a Community Event on 24th May to explain the possible futures for Fawley Power Station. They also mounted an exhibition that gave a nostalgic look back at what, in its day, had been one of the most efficient power stations in the National Grid. We were told that Fawley occupies a strategic place in Grid that allows power to be transmitted up country by 3 routes, adding considerably to Grid resilience. Because of this, and the existence of the power line connections to the Grid, the Fawley site almost certainly has a future as a significant generation site. However, for the time being, the future remains opaque.

Demolition of Fawley Power Station is not expected until around 2020.

Fawley Power Station

Fawley Power Station – the turbine hall

This statement appeared on one of the displays at the Community Event. “Preplanning is an essential part of the demolition process and we are working with local authorities to discuss demolition options. The demolition will include a number of ancillary buildings, although decisions on the extent of this demolition are still to be made. Other parts of demolition may include the removal of external gas ducting, supportinq structures, oil storage snd associated delivery pipework. We are completing a Refurbishment and Demolition Asbestos Site Survey to help identify and manage the asbestos within the Station. This will lead to a phased asbestos removal from components within the main turbine / boiler hall and from areas marked for demolition. The Open Cycle Gas Turbine plant is located within the main station buildings so the boiler house, turbine house and administration building will remain in place. There are no current proposals to demolish the chimney.”

Fawley Power Station

Water intakes and loading dock

Fawley was originally planned to run on residual oil from the refinery, but when the standards for ship bunker fuel were increased, it was no longer economic for Esso to produce low grade fuels. So for the last decade or so of its operational life, the pipeline was decommissioned, and fuel was transhipped from another power station on the Thames to Fawley. There is still a considerable amount of fuel stored on site, and this is gradually being transhipped back to the Thames from the tiny dock next to the Power Station by the coastal tanker “Jaynee W”, one of the workhorse ships often seen in the Solent. The condition of the pipeline is such that it cannot be restored.

The immediate future

The four gas turbines currently on site, which are basically Rolls Royce Olympus jet engines similar to those that powered Concorde, will remain in commission. While they produce only a fraction of the power of the main station steam turbines, they can be brought on stream at 2 minutes notice, so provide useful emergency supply. The control room is being completely refurbished to manage turbines at 

  • Cowes on the Isle of Wight 
  • Didcot
  • Cheshire
  • Grimsby

With plans to control more across the country

Fawley Power Station

The new gas turbine control desk

And in the longer term?

There are massive uncertainties about future power generation in the UK. Currently coal exported from the US, where it has been displaced by shale gas, is adversely affecting the profitability of gas as a generating fuel. Government policy options toward renewables, nuclear and other fuel options are clearly under review. It is therefore not surprising that npower are not ready to reveal their plans.

If the fuel is to be gas, the options of extending the main supply from Marchwood along the edge of Southampton Water, or building a new jetty to accept direct imports clearly exist. But we were also reminded at the Community event that plans for a coal fired power station (Fawley B) had been investigated in detail in the 1980s. In today’s climate, that is only likely if sequestration of the emissions (Carbon Capture and Storage) can be developed. Could this be a role for depleted Wytch Farm oilfields?

The impression was given that technology and materials have changed considerably. Accordingly it is unlikely that existing plant would be used in a major rebuild, but as there is currently no specific project for the future this cannot be ruled out The site is huge, very tidy and clearly capable of development. It will be a significant loss to the economy of Hampshire if it is allowed to lie idle for any length of time.

There are more questions than answers at present!