ENERGY experts have called for some of the Longannet power station's generators to be kept switched on when it closes next year to help prevent a scenario where Scotland could be without electricity for up to 36 hours.

Some of the most experienced figures in the industry have urged the UK and Scottish governments to intervene to prevent Scottish Power's Fife plant, the last coal-fired power station in Scotland, closing completely in March next year.

Sir Donald Miller, former Chairman of Scottish Power, Colin Gibson, retired Power Network Director of National Grid and Professor Iain Macleod, Past President of The Institution of Engineers in Scotland, have now had three meetings with officials in Energy Minster Fergus Ewing’s department and have also briefed the Secretary of State David Mundell.

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They say that under the privatisation arrangements neither the power companies nor National Grid have had any responsibility for planning long term security of supplies.

But following a request last year from the regulator Ofgem for National Grid to assume responsibility, the latter had recently published a schedule of studies.

However Sir Donald said: “It is estimated these studies will probably take two years."

He and his colleagues say it is crucial that at least half of 2,400MW of conventional capacity provided by Longannet is retained until these studies are completed and assessed as there would be major implications if there was a shutdown of the power supply before then.

Currently, if there is a problem, Scotland relies on the Cruachan pumped storage hydro station at Loch Awe which can be started in under a minute, supplying power to start Longannet allowing the rapid restoration of supply.

But if Longnannet is no longer operating, the only recourse would be Cruachan combining with the small hydro schemes throughout the Highlands and Galloway.

Sir Donald said even if this was possible it would be a lengthy procedure.

“The joint working party set up by National Grid , Scottish Power and SSE, estimated it could take some 36 hours, a wholly unacceptable scenario,” he said.

Sir Donald added: "Bearing in mind the catastrophic consequences we strongly urge that until such time as the National Grid studies are completed at least 1200 MW of Longannet should be retained."

He said the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Scottish Government between them had means of compensating Scottish Power for the costs of retaining some plant in commission. "Given the potential threat, the modest cost would surely be worth it," he said.

Prospect’s negotiations officer Richard Hardy said the union, which has been trying to save more than 200 jobs at Longannet, shared the experts’ concerns.

A Scottish Government spokesman said National Grid and the UK Government had been repeatedly warned of the consequences of declining capacity margins in the UK electricity system and ministers shared concerns expressed by a range of external experts.

He said: “The Energy Minister has worked closely with Longannet’s owners Scottish Power, the unions and key businesses within the Longannet supply chain to explore all possible options to avert the plant’s untimely closure and is more than happy to meet with Prof Macleod, Sir Donald and Colin Gibson to discuss matters further. However, electricity generation is a reserved matter and all payments made to power generators are the responsibility of the UK Government and National Grid."

A DECC spokeswoman said: “Keeping the lights on is non-negotiable. National Grid has the right tools in place to manage the system this winter and we will ensure that they continue to do so in future."

ScottishPower would only say that every potential option to keep Longannet open had been explored.

A spokesman said: "The station will now close next year and our focus is consulting with staff to ensure we find the best outcomes possible for all of the impacted employees.”