STAFF at Didcot Power Station are helping to heat millions of homes for the last time over Christmas at coal-fired Didcot A.

Six iconic cooling towers at the power station loomed large over south Oxfordshire for the past 42 years.

But in September the countdown to their demolition began, as the closure date of March 31, 2013, was announced by RWE npower.

About 210 staff work at Didcot A while about 80 staff work at gas-fired Didcot B.

Didcot A power station manager Phil Noake, 59, from Abingdon, who has worked at the site for 20 years, said: “It is sad that it will be our final Christmas at the power station.

“We had a Christmas party last week for staff and it was quite an emotional occasion.

“But staff are very professional and we have three months of power generation to complete after Christmas.

“There will be six months of decommissioning after the plant closes and then the demolition programme will probably begin a couple of years down the line.

“I grew up with cooling towers and have been part of the industry for 40 years, so I see them as being part of the process rather than being a monument. I think they should come down.”

There will be about 80 people working on-site on Christmas Day. The two power stations produce enough electricity to meet the needs of three million people.

Contingency plans are in place to make sure staff get to the power station in all weathers, including laying on 4x4 vehicles to get through snow.

Mr Noake said: “Electricity needs to be generated 365 days a year, so working over Christmas is business as usual for many of our staff.

“It is a difficult time for some staff looking for new jobs but we are trying to help them as much as possible by staging job fairs and giving them additional training.”

Didcot A was originally due to close in 2015 but in 2008 it opted out of a European Union directive and had to close following 20,000 hours of generation from that date.

The closure reflects the national trend to switch from coal-fired power stations to low-carbon power generation.

RWE has invested more than £3bn over the past three years in the UK and now runs the largest installed capacity of both renewable and flexible gas-fired power stations.

Gas-fired Didcot B was built alongside the closing coal-fired station in 1997 and will continue to operate as normal.

Didcot A, with its six 325ft cooling towers, first generated electricity in 1970.

Town council leader Margaret Davies said: “The last Christmas at Didcot power station is truly the end of an era, and it won’t be long before the closure date.

“Perhaps the chance to press the plunger to blow up the cooling towers should be raffled – it would be a good chance to raise money for charity. ”