The decision to convert the first phase of Kilroot power station to dual solid fuel—oil firing was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) on 22 May 1985. It has been widely welcomed in Northern Ireland as a first step towards reducing the costly dependence on oil.
I warmly welcome the decision to use lignite mined in Northern Ireland to fire a power station there. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that makes good sense economically, and that it will lead to a reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions from that power station compared with other conventional coal-fired power stations in the United Kingdom? If that is the case, is he aware that his Department is taking a welcome lead by setting an example to other Departments in playing a part in reducing what could be the severe effects of acid rain in the United Kingdom and acid rain exported to Scandinavia?
I am delighted to be a crusader in the House for clean air by the conversion of Kilroot power station to coal. The sulphur content of heavy fuel oil is 3 per cent., of coal 1 per cent., and of lignite in Northern Ireland 0.2 per cent. Therefore, the conversion of Kilroot to coal will cut by one third the amount of sulphur pollution. If we can eventually move to lignite production in the Crumlin area, we shall cut the sulphur content again by about 40 per cent.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that supplementary question and I know that the NCB and the coal miners welcome the switch of Kilroot to coal. The intention of the switch at the outset is completely to coal. The transfer will cost £94 million and the saving will be between £25 million and £30 million a year. It will, therefore, pay for itself within three or four years—a relationship with capital expenditure currently almost without equal. If we decide eventually that lignite is right, and the test at the West Belfast station has not yet been completed, it will be used first not at Kilroot but near the mine. The intention for the foreseeable future, though not necessarily for the long-term future, is to use coal at Kilroot.