Rugeley Power Station: A symbol of the past and hope for the future

Construction specialist Peter McHugh reflects on the power station's history, and looks forward to its future

Rugeley Power Station's cooling towers were demolished on June 6
Rugeley Power Station's cooling towers were demolished on June 6

Rugeley Power Station has been a dominant feature on the Staffordshire landscape for more than 60 years and was once the beating heart of energy generation in the area.

The first of two coal-fired power stations was commissioned in 1961 after a five-year build.

Such was the demand for electricity and availability of coal the second station was built and was in operation for more than 46 years, closing in 2016. At its peak enough electricity was generated to power over half a million homes with an output of 1,000 megawatts, employing over 800 people in the early 1980s.

Having lived in Staffordshire for most of my life, I have taken for granted seeing the cooling towers on the landscape over a number of decades. In some circles the cooling towers were considered engineering wonders with the architects ensuring two of the four cooling towers were painted a dusty red colour to heighten what they perceived to be the femininity of the hyperbolic form.

Like with many other industrial communities in the UK, Rugeley’s fortunes were intertwined with a major employer and the regional supply chain which supported the power station. If you asked people in the 1980s if they had a direct or indirect connection with the power station you would probably be hard pressed to find someone who had no connection with it in a 10-mile radius.

With a succession of owners and increasing efforts to decarbonise, even considering fuelling with biomass, it became clear that the end of its operational life was in sight with around 150 people working when it was closed.

For the community of Rugeley and surrounding area the closure was bittersweet. It meant a loss of jobs affecting the local economy and the potential that the 'iconic' towers, such an imposing feature would be lost. Others celebrated the end of high carbon energy generation in the area.

Just four circles remain where the huge towers once stood

Whatever peoples’ thoughts, the final curtain for the power station was the demolition of the four towers. That day was momentous for many people connected with the power station for a variety of emotional reasons.

The rubble and dust from the demolition, I trust, will signify the re-birth of the site and surrounding area, to be a beacon of hope for the future. Engie, which owns the site, plans to transform the former coal fired power station to a mixed-use low carbon development including 2,300 homes with outline planning approved.

As remediation of the site progresses over the next 12 months, I hope Engie develops innovative and cutting-edge plans for the development to become a true Net Zero or even carbon negative development. The Government through its Energy White Paper has outlined what it wants to do to help achieve Net Zero. It would be great to see that any non-domestic buildings that are built will exceed the EPC Band B target, the development will provide the appropriate infrastructure to encourage electric vehicles, green job creation, along with taking advantage of new green energy technologies that are being developed.

Heavy machinery is now clearing the rubble

It was a day of mixed emotions when the site was demolished, but I look forward to the next stage of the site with optimism. This a brilliant opportunity for the site to become a shining light and exemplar for new large-scale developments which Rugeley and beyond can be proud of.

At Clarke Willmott we have been active in the low carbon arena for over 20 years supporting landowners, investors, operators and contractors to bring green energy and related projects to life. We were proud to be involved in a similar size development acting for a consortium of developers for a new town in the South West negotiating with utility companies to design, install, operate and maintain a local energy centre and combined heat and power plant for all the domestic properties.

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