The day was very cold with flurries of hail and snow and occasional thunder. So in the evening of 18 March, when I turned off the M1 onto the A453 and saw a particularly nasty storm cloud reaching down in a funnel shape almost to the ground, I prepared to be pelted particularly hard with hail, probably just in time for getting out of the car, as I was due fairly soon to arrive at the Crowne Plaza, Nottingham.
Even more unsettlingly, after a couple of minutes, a vast, grey cliff began to emerge in the mists, producing a most unexpected and disorienting effect. The terrain is supposed to be pretty gently undulating round these parts, so where on earth had my satnav taken me?
Fortunately, this slightly intimidating situation resolved itself quickly and very benignly in the emergence of the outlines of the impressive cooling towers at E-ON’s Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, which formed the ‘cliff’. The dramatic cloud was made up from the large quantities of steam (water droplets) created by these vast edifices. By then revealed in its full glory, the power station was a really tremendous, even thrilling, sight, and not at all threatening.
I am always delighted when I end up near to a power plant, but, on those rare days, when the atmospheric conditions are just right, the drama of the view can be intensified, making it especially memorable. I recall, many years ago, one evening on a train from London, my having a close view of some particularly striking, ground-hugging, dense clouds from the cooling towers almost completely covering the late (and lamented) Didcot A plant in Oxfordshire. I loved it, although some people on the train seemed to be appalled, probably assuming it was dust pollution. [Unfortunately, I was not close enough to put them right.] The Didcot experience was before CO2 emissions became a major concern, and that brings me to our latest contribution to tackling that in our workshop this March at Ratcliffe. The Crowne Plaza was our excellent overnight accommodation for the Clean Coal Centre’s Second workshop on efficiency improvement and upgrading of coal-fired power plants that was hosted at Ratcliffe. Toby’s excellent piece elaborates on that on this page.