HOME INCE 'B' - THE BEGINNING

This text is taken from an email received from Mr. Gair in Summer 2004. Mr Gair was Station Manager of Ince 'B' Power Station from early construction in 1974, through the commissioning period and eventually full commercial operation. He retired in 1986.

The theory that Ince B was simply a job creation scheme is incorrect, although how this myth came about is easy to understand. Ince B was part of a dash for oil in the 1960s, similar to the dash for gas in the '90s and its economic case envisaged base load running.

The C.E.G.B. built a number of large oil fired installations with close proximity to refineries, like Fawley, Pembroke, Grain, and Littlebrook D. Some coal stations were converted including Ince A. The Scottish board were also following the same policy. During the 1960s, due to the rapid growth in the demand for petroleum products, the oil industry found itself with an abundance of heavy oil residues. This material was very suitable as a cheap, high calorific fuel for electricity generation. So oil became a significant part of a multiple fuel philosophy for our industry. Fuel is, of course, a major part of electricity production costs.

Whilst Ince B was justified at the time by the fuel policy, it was not the preferred site by the C.E.G.B.  Political influence was applied to build it in the North West, leading perhaps to the job myth. But the government certainly did not have the power or the intent to compel us to build power stations we did not think we needed.

By the early '70s, things began to go wrong for oil generation. The war in the Middle East and the emergence of a stronger organisation of the OPEC countries pushed up the price of crude oil dramatically and precipitated a world economic slump. Oil is priced in dollars so even our own North Sea developments were not immune to this inflation. New refinery cracking technology was developed which enabled better distillation of light fractions from crude oil and led to less interest in selling residuals. Heavy political pressure from environmental groups and internationally, began to cause problems because of the sulphur content of the oil and the alleged damage from acid rain. Ince B was in a position of being the least able to resist these pressures for several reasons.

The construction time was very extended. The transmission system was not adequate to handle the flow from the North, to the high demand area of the South East, after the commissioning of over three thousand megawatts of nuclear capacity. The Board decided to enter into long term fixed price coal contracts with the National Coal Board in return for a guaranteed usage. This limited the amount of oil required to meet demand, and Ince was last in the chain to be offered load. The Parsons' 500MW electrical rotors were found to have a generic fault requiring lengthy returns to the manufacturers works. The two national spares were soon absorbed. Since coal was now the preferred fuel, Ratcliffe was given priority over Ince when the failures became overwhelming.

Some comment may be appropriate on the subject of the lengthy construction period, and it is true to say that this was basically due to low construction staff productivity. The situation was so difficult that at one time, serious consideration was given to abandoning the project altogether. On my appointment in October 1974, I was unable to gain access to the site because of extensive picketing, and had to hire some hotel rooms in Chester to make a start on planning. The basic contract strategy adopted by the construction department was a failure. Previous experience at earlier sites had been beset with deep unrest amongst the work force arising from relative pay disputes. It was decided that the problem arose from the large number of different contractors employed on site. So a way was to seek to minimise the number of site contractors and a fully reimbursable contract was devised for Ince.

Only four erection contractors were selected and charged with building all the station. Supply contractors were required to submit detailed erection specifications for their equipment for use by the four main erection companies. However, the erection group argued that they could not offer a fixed tender price under this arrangement and it was agreed that their costs would be fully reimbursable. Labour was largely recruited locally. In retrospect, it was clearly unreasonable to say to the work force, work hard to finish the job and be out of work sooner.

Every effort was made by staff to extend the work. And, the key point is that under that arrangement, the erection management had no incentive, indeed had the reverse incentive, to apply discipline.

From my personal point of view, at the time of my appointment, I thought the Region had left it a bit late to fill the post. Later, it was clear that the length of time to complete the station would make it difficult for me to say that we had not had sufficient time to prepare. It was pleasing therefore, that when we were required to run as much as possible in an exact year starting in March 1984, that the station and the staff acquitted themselves very well. We achieved a record for our size of six billion units, at the highest thermal efficiency in the country after Pembroke. Pembroke of course, had the big advantage of seawater cooling whilst we had a cooling tower. END

   

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