Coal and Carbon Capture and Storage

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 23rd April 2009.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 12:33 pm, 23rd April 2009

I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. I know from our exchanges that he is an avid student of my policy documents, and he knows how long the Conservatives have been trying to persuade him and his predecessors to give Britain a lead in carbon capture and storage. Sadly, that leadership has now passed to China, Germany and the USA. It is two years since the Government's characteristic dithering led to the collapse of BP's CCS project at Peterhead. That work is now being done in Abu Dhabi.

A year ago, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition set out the policies on CCS that Britain should adopt: to build a network of pipes and connections that would allow captured carbon dioxide to be transported from generating plants to areas of storage in the North sea; to equip at least three new coal plants with CCS technology, financed by Britain's share of receipts from the EU emissions trading scheme; and to introduce an emissions performance standard that would limit emissions from any new plant to the equivalent of those from a modern gas-fuelled power station.

Our criteria remain those against which today's announcement must be judged, but let us be clear why the statement was so urgently needed. After 12 years, Britain's energy policy is as much of a horror show as our public finances, and for the same reason: the Government did not fix the roof when the sun was shining. We have known for more than a decade that a third of our generating capacity is to be turned off during the current decade, and that there is no remotely adequate plan to replace it with a low-carbon alternative. We have known for many years that North sea oil and gas are in decline, but our gas storage capacity is grossly inadequate. During the cold snap last February, storage dropped to just four days' worth. No other major European country generates less of its electricity from renewables, although we have some of the best wind, wave and tidal resources in Europe. If anyone thinks that the Government's handling of the economy was an aberration, let them look at the mess of their energy policy. While we welcome the Secretary of State's Damascene conversion to Conservative policy, it is from that appalling position that we now need to recover.

The Secretary of State will understand our need for reassurance about his intentions. Will he confirm that the new coal-fired power stations to be developed with CCS technology will be required to achieve an overall emissions performance standard of no more than 500 kg of carbon dioxide per MWh from the outset? If there is consent for four pilots, each generating 300 MW of abated electricity, that will mean the abating of 1.2 GW of new capacity by 2020. How much unabated electricity does the Secretary of State expect to be generated by those plants by that date? Is there any limit on the proportion of unabated electricity generated by them? Can we expect to see a monster new coal plant generating massively increased carbon dioxide emissions of which only a small proportion are abated by means of the measures that the Secretary of State has described?

As for the funding for the CCS clusters and the demonstration plant, will the Secretary of State explain why the Government have chosen to raise the money by means of a consumer levy rather than from EU ETS receipts? Will he tell us how much that levy will be and on which consumers it will fall, bearing in mind the burdens placed on households and firms by yesterday's Budget? Will he tell us how many clusters he expects there to be, and can he assure us that their locations will be chosen with technical viability rather than political convenience at the forefront of the considerations? Will he tell us plainly whether he will consent to new coal plants outside the cluster areas?

In yesterday's Budget speech, the Chancellor vainly tried to distract attention from the wreck of Labour's economic policy with a few meagre and meek environmental proposals. If the Secretary of State's conversion on CCS is genuine, I welcome it, but I sincerely hope that today's announcement does not turn out to be another example of Government greenwashing. The Secretary of State said that the Government must send a decisive signal, but much of the commitment that he has made is still subject to consultation. He has left it perilously late to secure our energy supplies for the decade ahead and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but it is absolutely vital that these decisions are finally acted on now, without delay.