Topical Questions

Energy and Climate Change – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 13 November 2008.

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Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire 10:30, 13 November 2008

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

The new Department of Energy and Climate Change is a recognition that energy and climate change should be considered not separately but together. It brings together the Government's work on three challenges that face our country: ensuring that we have energy that is affordable, secure and sustainable; bringing about the transition to a low-carbon Britain; and achieving international agreement on climate change.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. On the subject of secure supply, the Secretary of State might be aware that recently three of the new super-tugs that will be required to bring in the large cargoes of liquefied natural gas that we anticipate will start to arrive in the UK in the months ahead had to be rerouted via the Cape because of fear on the part of the company that they would not be adequately protected against Somali pirates in the gulf of Aden. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence about measures that can be taken to protect all energy-related shipping serving the UK to ensure that we have security of supply in the future?

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

International piracy is being considered at EU level, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise that important question. I think that he is also raising the question of the new terminal at Milford Haven, which we hope will be ready next spring. That is very important for bringing in supplies of gas as it will be able to provide up to 20 per cent. of UK gas supplies.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

In four weeks, the UN climate change conference in Poznan will consider the European Union's climate change and renewable energy package. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the stringent targets in that package are fully supported by the Government and that there has been no attempt to dilute the targets with which we are presented?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Energy and Climate Change)

May I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for that point? It is crucial that the 2020 package goes through. The UK Government have been in the forefront of trying to stiffen the resolve of other European members who have taken the position, which I think is wrong, that in this economic downturn that target cannot be pursued. We believe that it is crucial to jobs, to our future and to our climate change agenda that the energy and climate change package is taken forward. This is not the time, in any sense, to resile from that.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretary To the Leader of the Opposition

In his letter of 7 October, Lord Turner, the chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said that if there was to be any prospect of our meeting the target on emissions, the decarbonisation of electricity generation had to start now. Today, we have had boasts from those on the Treasury Bench about the great leap forward in generation by 2015, which is almost wholly dependent on fossil fuels. Either Lord Turner is wrong and the Minister is right, or it is the other way around. Which is it?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change

It is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests. We need always to ensure that we strike the appropriate balance between getting security and affordability and ensuring that we hit the targets. Lord Turner is right to say that we need to ensure that we hit those targets and start taking the steps now. We have made proposals for nuclear and for building up renewables, particularly wind technology. We are making Britain the leading country—we passed Denmark about a month ago—in terms of offshore wind provision from wind turbines. We are therefore taking the steps necessary to move towards our target. I do not deny that there is a lot more to do, and that is certainly what Lord Turner and his team have told us.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

The Minister will be aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the capacity of the national grid, and in particular about the queuing system, which adversely affects small projects such as community wind farms that are trying to get connected. What are the Government doing to address those concerns?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change

My hon. Friend is right to say that there are concerns about how those who are bringing forward renewable projects can get access to the grid and the transmission system. We have asked Ofgem to look at the problem: it is coming forward with proposals and we are looking to have a consultation sometime in December. In the immediate term, however, we have made it clear that we want provision to be made for connect and manage, which basically means that new projects can be brought on to the transmission system. Although the system has not been fully upgraded, it can be managed so that we can get some of the new projects on it.

We have also asked Ofgem to look at how the various cases and applications coming forward can be prioritised, and at whether some will actually be delivered. We know that some will not, so we need to prioritise those that are likely to be delivered and make sure that we get them on to the transmission system more quickly and at an earlier date.

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

In the Secretary of State's flagship Climate Change Bill, there is a chapter on waste recovery. Will he take this opportunity to say how the Government propose to get rid of the mountains of paper and plastic that have gone to recycling and are being stored by local authorities? I understand that we need energy-from-waste schemes around the country, but at the moment they are not going ahead to a sufficient extent because of concern about incineration. When will the Government take this theme to the country and explain why energy from waste is so necessary at this time?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Energy and Climate Change)

The Government have already made it absolutely clear that energy from waste systems is part of the waste treatment facilities that this country needs. Private finance credits worth £2 billion are available for the development of more waste infrastructure, and some of the facilities will indeed be energy-from-waste plants. The hon. Lady is right to say that there is a short-term problem with the accumulation of recyclables because of the economic downturn, but we expect that to be dealt with over time. This is not the time for us to begin to discontinue our recycling effort—we must recycle because that saves new resources being used. She is right that getting energy from waste can be one of the solutions to recycling, but it is not the only one. We still need plants that recycle waste and the new developments in recycling plants, especially for plastics, will help to resolve some of the problems.

Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South

I would appreciate it if one of the energy and climate change team would state clearly and boldly that biofuels are essential if we are to achieve our emissions targets. Will one of them visit the biofuels companies and farmers in the north-east? I should greatly appreciate that, as sustainable and innovative food and fuel projects are being developed that are receiving millions of pounds in investment.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

I will definitely volunteer one of my Ministers, or myself, to visit my hon. Friend's constituency. That is something to look forward to, but she raises an important point about biofuels. We are trying to get a provision in the 2020 EU directive for indirect land use in respect of biofuels, to ensure their sustainability. The Government believe that biofuels can play a role in our energy mix, but that we need to be careful that they are produced in a sustainable way. That is the right approach, and it is the basis on which we shall proceed.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Senior Parliamentary & Political Advisor To David Cameron

As the poor Minister of State was unable to do so, will the Secretary of State now try to explain why gas and electricity prices are lower in France and Germany than they are in the UK? Will he also allay my constituents' fears that, with French-owned energy companies in this country, there might be some form of cross-subsidy that is not helping us?

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question is clear: actually, our prices are lower than the EU average for the individual consumer. Historically, that has been the case. As was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, we are more subject to ups and downs in the market price. If the right hon. Gentleman does not like the market system that was introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, he can say so, but the most important thing that we can do, given the system that we have, is first to look at the system to make sure that it is the right one—we will do that—and secondly to put all necessary pressure on the energy companies to lower their prices. That is what we did four weeks ago, and that is what I will do at my meeting with the energy companies on Monday. I shall report back to the House on those discussions.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and I recently attended a reception where there was a demonstration of technology that can be retrofitted to coal-fired power stations to reduce their CO2 emissions by 50 per cent. That would enable coal-fired power stations to be kept in use after 2015, and will reduce our carbon emissions greatly. The technology was developed by British Coal, and it was called the topping cycle at the time. Incidentally, the funding for that topping cycle was abolished by the Conservative Government in 1988. It is ironic that that technology is now being used to reduce carbon emissions. Will my hon. and learned Friend urge the energy generators seriously to consider fitting that technology to existing coal-fired power stations?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change

Certainly, my hon. Friend and I attended a meeting where that new technology was discussed. A whole range of new ideas is coming forward from those who want to ensure that we get cleaner coal. One of the ideas brought forward was the one that we discussed the other day. I very much hope that the energy companies will look into such new projects, and run them alongside carbon capture and storage, so that we can ensure a future for clean-coal technology. We know that the Opposition—the Conservatives, at least—take the view that coal does not really have a role unless new technology is delivered in exactly the way that they want. We say that there is a range of ideas out there, and we want to see those ideas develop. We want generators to consider them, so that we get security, as 30 per cent., and at certain times in the year 50 per cent., of our energy comes from coal—

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Earlier, the Secretary of State admitted that as a result of the Climate Change Bill his progress towards, and policies on, meeting the Government's targets would be judicially reviewable. Subsequently, he said that he intended to go ahead with coal-fired power stations because he attaches more importance to security of supply. Is he aware that that is precisely the sort of decision that will be subject to judicial review? Will he tell us whether he has taken any legal advice on whether he will be able to get away with that policy? A yes-or-no answer will suffice.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Why do I sometimes feel that I am being patronised? What I say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we are determined to meet our targets on climate change emissions, and we will do so. We are also determined to meet our ambitions on security of supply, to ensure that we keep the lights on. I am convinced that we can do both. The question about coal-fired power stations is: how quickly can we get carbon capture and storage attached to new coal-fired power stations? The Opposition have said that there should be no new coal-fired power stations unless CCS can be fitted immediately. We take a less dogmatic position; we ask how quickly we can ensure that carbon capture and storage can be attached to coal-fired power stations. That is what we are considering at the moment.