Electricity Generation

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 5th March 2008.

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Photo of David Marshall David Marshall Labour, Glasgow East 11:30 am, 5th March 2008

What assessment he has made of the electricity generation capacity in Scotland.

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Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Minister of State, Scotland Office

The most recent estimate is that Scotland has about 10.5 GW of generating capacity.

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Photo of David Marshall David Marshall Labour, Glasgow East

Generating capacity has an effect on prices. As my hon. Friend is aware, Ofgem has launched a welcome investigation into the electricity and gas markets. In view of the similarities between the price increases imposed on consumers by energy companies, will the Minister ask Ofgem specifically to look into the possibility that the companies are operating a nice, cosy cartel against the public interest and are a major cause of fuel poverty?

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Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Minister of State, Scotland Office

My hon. Friend has reflected the concerns of many by talking about fuel poverty. As he is aware, given that in today's climate the cost of a barrel of oil is now in excess of $100, the issue affects not only the UK but countries right around the world. My hon. Friend is right to point out that Ofgem's role is to ensure that no cosy cartel exists, and I am sure that that will be part of the review that it is undertaking.

As a Government, we can ensure that those discussions can take place. My hon. Friends in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions have been talking with Ofgem representatives about those matters, too. In the meantime, we will continue our attack on fuel poverty through measures such as the winter fuel payment—now worth up to £300 in households where somebody is aged 80 or more—and by ensuring that the great inroads that we have made to reduce fuel poverty are not undone by rising fuel prices.

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Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Liberal Democrat, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross

Does the Minister agree that it is important to ensure Scotland's future generating capacity? In that regard, is he aware that the Pentland firth is estimated to have 31 GW of potential? People on both sides of the firth are working to exploit that potential. The last Scottish Executive helped, and the current one is helping; on the other hand, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is being somewhat slow. What can the Minister do to help that UK Department ensure that there is a UK supply of electricity from the far north?

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Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Minister of State, Scotland Office

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is, of course, a distinguished former Liberal Democrat Scottish spokesperson, and if press reports are to be believed, he may be back in that job tomorrow. I look forward to welcoming him back to the post, following the outcome of this evening's vote.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am well aware of the potential of Solway firth; I have been to look at it twice in the past couple of months, and the Minister for Energy has been to the hon. Gentleman's constituency as well.

I do not accept that DBERR is dragging its heels. We have ensured the correct levels of subsidy at the correct time in the development of technology. Because we have international targets to meet and the threat of climate change is real, those have been designed predominantly to meet the needs of onshore wind technology. However, the next generation of tidal and wave power will have a part to play and the Government stand ready to assist it.

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C

My local MP John Thurso asked about the PENTLAND Firth. Yet David Cairns replies with an answer about the SOLWAY Firth. No wonder nothing is happening to exploit the potential of the Pentland Firth when UK ministers don't even know where it is!!

Submitted by Christopher Gray

Photo of Anne Moffat Anne Moffat Labour, East Lothian

Does my hon. Friend agree that nuclear power generates more electricity than any other form of power in Scotland, and that the Scottish Executive are irresponsible and short-sighted to rule out building any new nuclear power stations?

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Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Minister of State, Scotland Office

Factually, my hon. Friend is entirely correct. Nuclear power is responsible for producing about 40 per cent. of Scotland's electricity. It should be part of a balanced portfolio of energy that includes renewables, which have a very important part to play, as well as clean coal technology and carbon capture and storage. I also agree with my hon. Friend's criticism of the Scottish Executive.

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Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is, of course, quite wrong. The last figures from DBERR itself show that nuclear power made up only 26 per cent. of generation and was falling as renewables rise. Is the future not with renewable energy, such as that to be produced by the Glendoe hydro-station, which, when it comes on line, will produce enough energy to cover the whole of Glasgow?

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Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Minister of State, Scotland Office

I support the Glendoe hydro-scheme, which the previous Labour-led Scottish Executive consented to. The fact is that, even if we accept the hon. Gentleman's figures—which are only the case because of temporary outages at Hunterston—historically speaking, nuclear power has been responsible for 40 per cent. of Scotland's electricity. How would the hon. Gentleman replace that? He could not replace it with intermittent renewables, and he is attempting to con the Scottish people if he says that he can.

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