Electricity

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15th November 2005.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 2:30 pm, 15th November 2005

What proportion of Scotland's electricity consumption was generated in Scotland by (a) nuclear, (b) hydro, (c) gas, (d) coal and (e) other sources in 2004–05.

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

In 2003, about a sixth of all Scottish generated power was exported to England and Northern Ireland. The energy sources for electricity generated in Scotland are given in "Energy Trends", which is published by the Department of Trade and Industry. The last edition appeared in December 2004.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Has the Secretary of State seen the report in The Scotsman today, which quotes a leaked Government report that Britain is on track to miss its carbon emission targets? Given the size of the nuclear generation industry in Scotland, by when must a decision be made for new nuclear capacity in Scotland if it is to improve its carbon footprint?

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

On the targets, the hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that the Government are reviewing our policies at the moment, because it is important that the targets that we set ourselves are met. Indeed, we have done many things over the past two or three years. For example, last week, I announced proposals on biofuels that would involve taking about 1 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. That is equivalent to taking more than 1 million cars off the roads every year.

On nuclear power, the Prime Minister has made it clear that part of our energy review will include whether we either extend the lives of the present nuclear generating plants or build new plants. The decisions on extending the lives of the existing nuclear plants must be taken in the next few years, first in relation to Hunterston and then Torness. Of course, as part of the review, we will decide whether new nuclear plants will be needed in the future.

Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks Labour, Ochil and South Perthshire

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to tell the House what measures the Government are taking to ensure that the full potential of wind power in Scotland is exploited to the benefit of energy consumption in Scotland and the UK?

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

I agree with my hon. Friend's suggestion that it is important to do everything that we can to extend the amount of power that is generated by wind and other renewable sources. It is unfortunate, however, that many people who call for an extension of renewable power set about opposing the very means to deliver it—both the generators themselves and the power lines needed to carry the electricity. I agree that it is very important for both Scotland and the UK that we generate as much renewable energy as possible.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Is the Secretary of State aware of the considerable socio-economic development potential afforded by wet renewables, especially in remoter parts of Scotland? There is a possibility of not only developing generating industries, but providing local, cheap, green electricity. What discussions has he had with the Minister for Energy about the application of section 185 of the Energy Act 2004, which was referred to in his Department's response to a recommendation in a report by the Scottish Affairs Committee? Will he ensure that any benefit that accrues from that will go not simply to the islands, but to remoter parts of the mainland?

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

The hon. Gentleman will know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy said on Friday that the Government intended to extend powers under section 185 so that an advantage could be given to the generation of electricity on the islands. It will be well worth examining that.

I assume that the proposal would apply to Thurso. I understand that the hon. Gentleman owns a large amount of water in the north of Scotland, if not all of it—I declare an interest for him since he forgot to do that. I shall have a word with my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy to determine whether anything can be done. The hon. Gentleman is right that electricity can be generated on a small and local basis. Indeed, that is one of the things that my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz wants to encourage. My hon. Friend's Bill received its Second Reading on Friday, so I hope that that will encourage such activity.

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Labour, Midlothian

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an advanced development is taking place on carbon capture, through which carbon can be put back into coal seams in the earth? Will he discuss with his colleague in the Department of Trade and Industry the possibility of arranging funding to develop that process, as we are sitting on billions of tonnes of coal—Scotland produces 6 million or 7 million tonnes of coal a year?

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

I am aware of those developments for not only coal, but gas. The possibility of carbon recycling is being investigated, especially at Peterhead power station. The Government are considering that process; the argument is whether it should be classed as renewable energy and treated similarly to that. We can all agree that it is absolutely essential to do much more to reduce the amount of CO 2 that is produced. Every bit helps, so we will certainly want to have a look at such energy generation.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

With respect, the Secretary of State did not answer the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone. If the Secretary of State agrees with the leaked Government report cited in today's edition of The Scotsman, which admits that Britain is set to miss its targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, why is he dithering and being so vague about alternative sources of energy, especially nuclear, wind farms and other renewable sources? He technically gave an answer to my hon. Friend's question, but it was so vague as to be meaningless. Is he going to do nothing at all to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

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

First, on renewable energy, the hon. Lady would be on much firmer ground if it were not for the fact that her colleagues constantly call for the postponement of planning consent for renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, and constantly complain about erecting the power lines that would be needed to transport such energy. The Conservatives say that we should be doing more, but at every turn they oppose measures that would encourage the development of renewable energy.

I said to Mr. Hollobone that we need to consider nuclear power. For a long time successive Governments have shelved the problem. Given the pressing need to reduce CO 2 emissions,we need to examine that matter because that is a sensible way forward. As I have said, the CO 2 targets are tough and demanding, but the Government will do everything that they can to meet them. That stands in contrast to the Conservative party—I do not recall that it expressed any enthusiasm for the subject during the 18 years in which it was in office.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

We are not here to talk about my colleagues or the Conservative party. We are here to ask the Secretary of State what he is going to do, and he still has not answered the question. We have had an awful lot of fine words—"This is good and this is bad; this party or that party says this or that"—but the Secretary of State still has not told us. There are some serious matters. There is the need not just to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, on which we all agree, but to secure supplies of energy, particularly electricity, which we have been warned—my party has warned—is not necessarily secure should there be a particularly cold winter. What, I ask again, will the Secretary of State actually do about it, rather than just saying "We'll review this and we'll look at that" and talk about what happened 18 years ago? We are interested not in 18 years ago but in what he is going to do now for the future.

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

I can understand why the hon. Lady does not want to talk about the Conservative party. Let us take, for example, renewable electricity generation, and particularly wind farms. We are in favour of that and we support those developments; the hon. Lady's party is against them. It is all very well having an energy policy and an aspiration, but if she is not willing to give effect to it by ensuring that such things happen, it is not a policy at all.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the burgeoning wave power industry in Scotland and he will know that it was very pleased when, after quite some delay, the European Union approved the Department of Trade and Industry scheme to support marine technology such as wave power. However, the industry is concerned that decisions on allocating the funding that has been approved will not be made until January at the earliest. Will my right hon. Friend encourage speedy decision making by the DTI to support that important industry, which has so much potential for Scotland and the entire UK?

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

My hon. Friend is right that the European Commission has only just cleared that funding for state aid purposes. I am told that the DTI expects to ask for bids in the first quarter of next year. I do not know whether anything can be done to bring that forward, but I shall find out and write to my hon. Friend.