Portsmouth Blackout Fears Over Aircraft Carriers

28 March 2014, 05:00 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

The leader of Portsmouth City Council has called for a meeting with Energy Secretary Ed Davey over concerns that the lights will go out in the city when two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers arrive.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson (pictured), the Liberal Democrat leader of the City Council, has written to the Government over his fears that the electrical distribution infrastructure will not be able to handle the immense power demands of the two giant ships which are due to be based at the Hampshire naval base later this decade.

He states in his letter that the city has a capacity limit of 90 mega volt ampere (MVA) and at peak periods demand already reaches 86 MVA even without the new warships.

Mr Vernon-Jackson said that he was seeking confirmation that a new power station would be built in Portsmouth's naval base to handle the increased demand and measures would be put in place to ensure the coverage required by the rest of the city.

He said that a secure electricity supply was crucial to attracting investment into the city, which has been hit by the closure of the BAE shipbuilding yard.

He wrote:

"Critically, we have had feedback from firms thinking of locating to the area that this is a major concern to them as they fear they cannot be guaranteed uninterrupted supply of electricity and connection costs are much higher than anticipated as SSE seek to defray the cost of improving their system of electricity distribution to individual users.

"Furthermore, with the arrival of the two new carriers into Portsmouth the power needs will increase by 10 MW per ship when they plug into the mains. At peak, this will mean that the city will go dark.

"The council takes the view that SSE are falling short of meeting their duty under the Electricity Act 1989, Section 9, to develop and maintain an efficient, co-ordinated, and commercial system of electricity distribution, and that the problem is not attributable to individual users; rather, the general capacity limit is being reached.

"Previously, there have been plans within the navy about the building of a power station within the dockyard but so far no decisions have been made and our officers are currently working with them to determine the future electricity demand of the city, including the naval base, to 2030.

"Even without the arrival of the new aircraft carriers the energy demands within the city are very close to the maximum that SSE are able to distribute and will increase with the regeneration of the city.   

"This is a real concern and I wonder if I can meet with you to be able to explore what pressure your department can bring to get key parties such as SSE to recognise their duty, and to come to the table positively with a strategy and a solution.''

A spokesman for Southern Electric Power Distribution said:

"We would like to reassure the people of Portsmouth that the local electricity network capacity meets all industry regulations and there is no risk of the lights going out due to lack of network capacity.

"We have recently held meetings with Portsmouth City Council and local developers to discuss the local electricity network and how we can accommodate their plans for the future.

"At the time we explained in detail that the network is more than capable of meeting its current electricity demands and Southern Electricity Power Distribution looks forward to working with the council to help with the development of the city as it continues to attract new business.''

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said:

"The arrival of the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers in Portsmouth from 2017 will herald a bright future for the Royal Navy and the city. We are investing more than £100 million to accommodate the flagship vessels, which alongside the Type 45 Destroyers will help sustain jobs in Portsmouth for years to come.''