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Nuclear Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:27 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Labour, South Thanet 9:27 pm, 22nd October 2002

My hon. Friend the Minister said that in perhaps five years' time we shall have seen what renewables can contribute. I may have misunderstood what he was saying because we can work out now what renewables can contribute. I am a great supporter of renewables, as is everyone who has contributed to the debate. However, it is important that we are realistic about what we can and cannot achieve through them.

The 10 per cent. target that the Government have already set is a stretch target. There are already serious doubts about whether we can reach it. The 20 per cent. target that is proposed in the PIU report by 2020 is almost impossible. Any discussion with engineers or anyone else who is involved with trying to implement renewable resources will lead to them telling my hon. Friend the Minister that it is impossible.

I shall run through one or two of the reasons why it is impossible. For example, let us consider the number of windmills that we would need to match the output from the type of power station that Mr. Jack mentioned—that is, a 1,000 MW nuclear power station. We would require 6,000 windmills with 20 m blades. To reach 20 per cent. production of our electricity capacity using wind by 2020, we would have to start building 40 windmills per month, every month, from now until 2020. That will not happen in Liberal Democrat constituencies, will it? It is impossible to have such targets.

I was grateful for some comments that were made by Professor Ian Fells at a meeting that was held at Portcullis House last night. He gave a vivid example. He said that if we put the whole of Kent—the entire landmass—into coppiced willow and converted that into biomass energy production, we would have only half the energy production of Dungeness B on the coast. Those are the simple facts. We can make these calculations; we do not need to wait five years to find the answers to such calculations.

Dr. Cable, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, talked about the problems of NETA. He said that under the current arrangement a market is being created in which nuclear power is not economic. If we take that argument to its logical conclusion—if we say that we will have only that which is economic in the short term with no intervention in the marketplace—we have to start building gas-powered stations and nothing but. There will be no renewables because by any estimate of costs, renewables are three times as expensive as nuclear power—not even taking into account the additional capacity needed for the times when renewables are not available.

Professor Laughton of the university of London sent a letter during the recess—to all of us, I assumed, although having listened to the comments of those who overestimate wind input I realise that either some hon. Members did not read the letter or it did not reach them. He points out that the times that wind capacity in this country can generate power do not coincide with the times of peak demand; therefore if we build 20 per cent. wind capacity, we have to build matching conventional capacity that can be switched on to supplement provision when wind power is not available.