Renewable Energy

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 15th March 2005.

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Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the development of sources of renewable energy appropriate to Scotland.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Scotland Office Ministers and officials are in regular contact with the Scottish Executive and the Department of Trade and Industry in relation to a wide range of energy-related matters.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Secretary of State will be aware that the National Audit Office report concluded that the policy he is pursuing will lead to a 5 per cent. increase in electricity prices and a £1 billion additional cost to taxpayers and consumers. Also, it will cost the tourism industry £80 billion a year in fewer tourist visits and fewer tourist-related jobs. Does he not realise that this is not a very clever policy at all?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I am not sure which aspect of our policy the hon. Lady is attempting to refer to, but she might be speaking in relation to renewables. To be fair to her, she has shown that she is unremittingly hostile to the development of renewable energy. I do not agree with her on that, because I believe that, for environmental reasons, and for other reasons as well, we ought to be increasing the amount of energy we generate from renewable sources.

The position of the Conservatives seems nonsensical: they are in favour of getting alternatives, but they are against anything that might offer a practical way of providing them. That energy policy does not add up. If we pursued the line that the hon. Lady advocates, sooner or later we would find that there was a shortfall in the generation of electricity. That cannot be good for anyone in this country.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

My right hon. Friend will be aware that renewable energy is benefiting enormously from the renewables obligation. In Scotland, I understand that there have been about 270 applications for onshore wind farms, but many groups are deeply concerned that the cheap option has been adopted by companies. They think that onshore wind farms are the very cheap option, to the detriment of other renewables technologies. Does he agree that that is the case? If so, should we not change the conditions of the renewables obligation to ensure that we encourage as much diversity as possible in renewables technology?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

First, many more applications are lodged than are ever likely to be granted, but that is perhaps not surprising due to the nature of the planning process. I agree with my hon. Friend—I have said this before—that there should be a diverse supply of electricity generation. However, the fact is that onshore wind generation technology and know-how are far more advanced than those involved with, for example, wave power generation. I also agree that we need to examine the possibilities of wave power. Indeed, work is being done in different parts of Scotland, particularly in the north, in relation to that, because the more diverse the energy supply, the better.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs; Treasury), Leader, Scottish National Party

Why has the Secretary of State totally failed to establish fair charging for access to the electricity grid in Scotland? Will he confirm that under Ofgem's latest proposals, Scottish generators will have to pay half the connection charges for the grid across the United Kingdom—an average of six times per unit more than their English counterparts? How on earth are we going to access the huge renewables potential of Scotland, particularly offshore, if we have a Secretary of State who totally fails to protect Scotland from such unfair, discriminatory, anti-Scottish charging?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Yet again, the hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Of course, he misses out the fact that, under the new arrangements, Scottish generators will not have to pay the interconnector charges, which they have to pay at the moment when transmitting electricity from Scotland to England. That will benefit generators. On top of that, he fails to mention that the DTI last week announced that it intends to use its powers to cap charges in relation to generation on the islands and to consult on charges in relation to generation onshore. Before he opens his mouth on these matters, he should perhaps look at the whole picture rather than, as usual, just the partial one.

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Labour, Midlothian

I recognise the importance of new renewables—everyone in the House will support the programme for renewables, whether in relation to wind energy or hydro—but we must also recognise the role that coal and nuclear power play in the Scottish economy. Surely it would be wrong to throw out everything. Will my right hon. Friend impress it on the DTI that we need an energy debate to discuss the whole issue of what we require in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

When we have discussed these matters at Scottish questions, I have said that it is important that we have diverse sources of electricity generation. Scotland's nuclear power is capable of generating electricity for at least another 20 years, and it will continue to make a significant contribution. My hon. Friend mentions the coal industry. That, too, has a contribution to make.

We need a sensible, grown-up debate about these things, which has not always happened in the past, but turning our minds from one source of generation and ruling it out on principle—whether nuclear in the case of the nationalists or wind power in the case of the Conservatives—would sell Scotland short. We need to ensure that we have secure energy supplies for decades to come, and we need a sensible debate on how to achieve that.