Resembling a giant cruet set, the eight concrete cooling towers alongside the A1 and M62 are one of Yorkshire’s most recognisable landmarks and the point at which aircraft, lorries and cars are reminded to make a directional change in their journeys across the length and breadth of the UK.
Steam no longer rises from the towers of Ferrybridge C, with electricity generation having stopped last week, and from today the long and complex process of decommissioning the coal-burning operation on the vast, sprawling site begins.
There are, as yet, no plans by owners SSE to demolish the 377 feet-high towers or the plant’s two 650 feet-high chimneys, which for the foreseeable future will continue to cast their shadow over the village of Ferrybridge as another relic of the county’s industrial past.
For Harry Ellis, the decommissioning marks a sad day for the people of Ferrybridge, where he has worked and lived for the last 41 years, and for a community he continues to serve as Deputy Mayor of Wakefield Council.
“The power station has always been a good ‘giver’ to the community and has helped in all sorts of ways, such as helping with a new village hall for Brotherton when the old one was damaged,” said Coun Ellis.
“The multifuel operation will continue but the closure of Ferrybridge C is going to have a big impact on the village and we’re going to feel it for many years to come.
“As well as the permanent staff who’ve lost their jobs, there are hundreds of contractors who are now out of work.
“Many of those men had specialist roles who came in to do maintenance work when there were ‘outages’. Some were local but others came from all over the country and there are lots of places around Ferrybridge offering accommodation to a workforce that is now gone. It’s very sad.”
Coun Ellis said the villagers are divided over what they would like to see happen to the cooling towers, with many having a soft spot for their familiarity and others keen to see evidence of their presence taken away.
“I have asked whether they will be demolished but the owners tell me they are investigating options for an alternative use. What else can you do with cooling towers?
“They will probably have to come down at some point in the future but for now they’re here to stay.”
Coun Ellis began work at Ferrybridge power station in 1963 and spent much of his working life at Ferrybridge C, which began producing electricity in 1965 by burning coal mined at the nearby Kellingley Colliery.
Kellingley closed in mid-December, putting many people from Ferrybridge out of work, and the death of the power station so soon has reopened wounds which have had little time to heal.
“Ferrybridge C was built to burn Kellingley coal and now they’ve both gone. It’s criminal, really,” said Coun Ellis. “I know that mining and burning coal is a dirty process but more could have been done.
“When the power stations were nationalised there was a rolling programme of modernisation and investment in technology to make the process cleaner.
“Once electricity generation was de-nationalised that investment stopped. I am convinced that if we were still nationalised the pits and the power stations would all still be open and operating in more environmentally friendly way.
“We certainly wouldn’t be in a position where we are having to extend the life of nuclear power stations that really need shutting simply to keep the lights on.
“There is something wrong with the world when it’s cheaper to ship coal to Ferrybridge all the way from Australia than it is to transport it a couple of miles by canal from Kellingley. I can’t for the life of me see how that makes sense.”
Key dates in the history of Ferrybridge C power station:
February 1966 - Unit 1, the world’s first 500MW ‘single line’ turbine generator, is connected to a national grid. Units 2, 3 and 4 were all fully commissioned by the end of 1967 reaching full load by the end of May 1968.
1973 - Unit 2 set a world record by running non-stop for 5,488 hours, generating 2,999 Gigawatt hours (GWh) at an average thermal efficiency of 34.45 per cent.
October 1976 - Staff numbers increased to over 800 and a nine-hole golf course was opened at the station.
1980s - proved a decade of change for Ferrybridge. Production touched new heights with a record annual output of 13,110 GWh. The station also proved an unlikely tourist attraction when it opened its doors to visitors, causing traffic jams on the A1.
1984-85 - Coal stocks dwindled to less than three weeks’ supply during the miners’ strike.
1988 - the Conservative government announced plans to privatise the electricity industry and on August 16 1989 Ferrybridge’s new owner was unveiled as PowerGen plc.
March 1990 - PowerGen plc traded as an independent company following privatisation. Ferrybridge celebrated by setting a new annual generational record of 14,038 gigawatt hours (GWh).
December 2002 - The last delivery of coal is carried down the river Aire to the station by barge.
2004 - SSE become new owners of the station.
2014 - 75 firefighters tackle flames some 30m high at fire that causes millions of pounds of damage.
May 2015 - SSE announce decision to close Ferrybridge C by March 31, 2016.
October 2015 - UK Government announce that all coal-fired stations in the UK will close by 2025.
March 31, 2016 - Ferrybridge C closes, and work on decommissioning begins.