Britain may be forced to use “last resort” measures to avert blackouts in coming winters, Ed Davey, the energy secretary, will say on Tuesday.
Factories will be paid to switch off at times of peak demand in order to keep households’ lights on, if Britain’s dwindling power plants are unable to provide enough electricity, under the backstop measures from National Grid.
The Grid is expected to announce that it will begin recruiting businesses that will be paid tens of thousands of pounds each simply to agree to take part in its scheme. They will receive further payments if they are called upon to stop drawing power from the grid.
It is also expected to press ahead with plans to pay mothballed gas power plants to ready themselves to be fired up when needed.
“Both the new demand and supply balancing services will be used only as a last resort – and are a safety net to protect households in difficult circumstances, such as a hard winter or very high surges in demand,” Mr Davey will say.
Critics have suggested the measures, which were first mooted last summer, would represent a return to 1970s-style power rationing.
But Mr Davey will refute this, saying: “It is entirely voluntary. Nobody will get cut off. No economic activity will be curtailed.”