FIDDLERS Ferry power station could shut down a major part of its plant near Widnes in April, putting hundreds of jobs at risk.

Owners SSE is consulting with employees, MPs, unions and stakeholders on plans to close three of the plant’s four units.

The power station has 213 employees plus contractors, some from St Helens, and generates enough electricity to power two million homes.

The 45-year-old plant has been losing money for two years and forecasters predict it will continue to be uneconomic.

Cheap gas prices and renewable energy have made coal-fired plants increasingly expensive to run.

Although SSE says a final decision has not yet been made, the company expects three generators are ‘likely’ to close by April 1.

The firm hopes to find new roles for some staff but cannot rule out compulsory redundancies.

The Unite union today condemned the closure as ‘another nail in the coffin of King Coal’.

Unite national officer for energy Kevin Coyne said: “This is clearly a decision that SSE has made which will impact on at least 270 employees who will lose their jobs.

 “This is in line with government policy in their dash from coal to gas and a determination that coal will not be a sustainable energy source in the future.

“The government’s carbon floor tax has added massive additional cost while their decision to renege on carbon capture and storage has removed all confidence from the industry.

“What is left is a loyal workforce feeling that important decisions about their future are out of their control. We will engage with the company however to ensure that every avenue to save this plant is explored.

 “What we are witnessing is the latest glaring example of the government discarding a role for coal in a future comprehensive energy strategy.

“The jettisoning of the £1bn carbon capture and storage competition by chancellor George Osborne in November was another nail in the coffin of ‘King Coal’.”

Paul Smith, SSE managing director, generation, said Fiddlers Ferry had made a big contribution to the UK’s energy supplies for more than 45 years but the economic realities of running the ageing plant at a loss could no longer be ignored.

He said: “We are fully aware of the impact this will have on our colleagues, their families and the community and our priority is to support staff during the consultation process.

“The reality is the station is ageing, its method of generating electricity is being rendered out of date and it has been and it expected to continue to be loss-making in the years ahead.

“Sustaining for too long loss-making power stations would undermine SSE’s ability to invest in modern generation plant in the UK.”

Unite regional officer Graham Williams said: “The workers are devastated by the news but are also angry at the lack of joined-up thinking with regards to the government’s energy policy.

“If the government were prepared to pay the proper rate for electricity this would be a small price to pay to keep this workforce in employment and it would assist the National Grid system now and in the future.

“It is a sad day for the workers and their families and Unite will be doing its utmost to support our members in the difficult times ahead.”

Fiddlers Ferry failed to secure a contract to provide electricity in 2019/20 in the recent capacity market auction in December 2015.

One of the units has a contract with the National Grid to provide back-up power for next winter.

Three of its four units have a contract for 2018/19 but SSE would prefer to incur a penalty than face more money.

Mr Smith added: "The fact that it makes more sense for SSE to contemplate making a substantial payment in lieu of the capacity agreement demonstrates how economically challenged Fiddlers Ferry has become. Its losses are unsustainable.”

The UK has committed to ending coal-fired electricity generation by 2025 as it moves to cleaner forms of generation to meet climate change targets.