Willington Cooling Towers
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What: Hyperboloid cooling towers
Where: Willington, Derbyshire
Built: 1954-7 (A); 1960-2 (B)
Architect: Ewbank and Partners (A); unknown (B)
Last Known Condition: Disused
Page Updated: July 2018
Willington 'A' Power station was by the Duke of Devonshire on the 17th December 1957, the initial groundwork having been laid out three years earlier. The 400 MW coal-fired power station had four 104 MW Generating Units equipped with International Combustion boilers and English Electric turbo-alternator sets. On full load, the station would burn approximately 4,000 tons of coal each day. Coal was delivered by rail from the East Midlands Coal Field using private sidings off the nearby main line.
In 1962, the 'A' station was joined by a second 400 MW 'B' station employing two 200 MW generating units equipped with Babcock & Wilcox boilers and Associated Electrical Industries turbo-alternator sets.
When running at full capacity the two power stations could generate about 125 MW of electricity, which was fed into the 132,000 vold grid system. However, as one of the Central Electricity Generating Board's 'two-shifting' stations, Willington did not generally produce electricity 24 hours a day. The generating units were taken off load in the early hours of each morning and put back on again six or seven hours later, in accordance with the country's fluctuating demand for power.
In the late 1980s the electricity industry was privatised by the Thatcher Government, and in 1989 the Willington site was handed over to a private company, National Power. By this time, the tide was turning against coal. Government policy was encouraging the construction smaller gas-fired plants, and cleaner biofuels and renewables. Willington was considered dirty, outdated and expensive. At full load, the station burned through 52,000 tons of coal and produced 9,000 tons of ash per week which had to be carried away by road and pipeline and disposed of. Some of this was used in civil engineering projects and for cinder blocks, but most was landfilled in local disused quarries. It was rumoured at the time that National Power were trying to run Willington into the ground. Through the 1990s, first one set of turbines shut down, then another, the last were run down on 31st March 1999. Demolition of the plant followed swiftly with only the adjacent large substation and the five hyperboloid cooling towers being spared.
There they stand to this day, five brothers, 300 feet high, 145’ diameter at their brim, 122’ around the neck and 218’ at the base. Each tower had an effective cooling surface of 858,000 square feet, together handling up to 6.9 million gallons every hour. Their scale has to be experienced to be believed. The Historian Sir Neil Cossons described buildings like these as the 'great temples to the carbon age' and there is something almost cathedral like about them. Standing at the base of the hollowed-out concrete behemoths is a humbling experience; inside, the smallest movement raises fantastic echoes, rolling around and up to the lens of blue sky above.
After closure, the site was initially proposed for a large residential development, but the application was rejected and in 2011 permission was granted for a new gas-fired power station to be built on the site, costing £1bn. Since then very little seems to have happened. There was talk of demolishing the towers in 2017 and even a date set, but that date came and went and they stand on, 20 years after the last shift ended.
BBC News, 04/03/11, "New £1bn power station at Willington gets the go-ahead" [https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-derbyshire-12645908] Accessed 19/07/18
Central Electricity Generating Board, 1973, "Willington Power Station" (Pamphlet). Midlands Region; Central Electricity Generating Board.
Harris, D., 2016, "A brief History of Willington Power Station" [http://www.crepello.net/Willington/PowerStation.htm] Accessed 19/07/18