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Energy Prices and Profits

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] — Living Standards – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 4th September 2013.

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Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Conservative, Sherwood 6:17 pm, 4th September 2013

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, which is very important for my constituents. When the energy bills land on their doormats, the impact on their household budgets is enormous. All Members will therefore recognise how high up the agenda this subject has to be.

We should take a moment to look at how we got into this position. GCSE economics tells us that demand and supply drive prices. If there is low supply and high demand, prices inevitably go up, and electricity prices have been rising by more than inflation for a long time now. That is because we as a nation have not addressed our electricity supply. We did not go to the trouble of building power stations when we should have done, but we cannot build a power station overnight. It takes a long time to get it through the planning process and to put the funding in place, and that process should have begun under the last Labour Government. We should now have been turning on nuclear power stations that could supply the base load to keep the lights on in this nation. We are having to pick up that difficult position and try to deal with it.

At the same time that was happening, our coal-fired power stations have been going downhill. They have not been upgraded and repaired. We are therefore now in a situation in which the renewables sector is not growing fast enough, the nuclear power stations have not been built, and our coal-fired power stations are about to come to the end of their natural life. Dealing with that will be an enormous problem, and the impact on consumers will be massive.

What are we going to do to deal with that? Credit is due to this Minister for starting to deal with some of the problems. He is trying to get the green deal moving so people can insulate their homes. He is trying to reduce their energy bills and educate them about how they can reduce their energy bills and consumption, and he is working with Ofgem to try to put pressure on the energy companies to reduce the tariffs so people’s bills can be squeezed lower. He has also addressed the need to build new power stations to get new electricity supplies on stream. This is not easy, because not only are energy bills increasing, but some of those new technologies are not very popular, certainly with my constituents. Some new technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, are palatable and people will tolerate them. However, people are not as enthused about wind turbines and they are certainly not enthused about energy recovery plants, such as the one proposed in my constituency at Bilsthorpe; people do not want incineration. I hope that the Minister will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and ask them to consider what they build and where they build it.

Lastly, I wish to mention one thing that will have a big impact on some specific constituencies: the loss of concessionary coal for consumers who used to work in the coal industry. The collapse of UK Coal means that they will lose their right to free coal. I hope that the Minister will take that on board and talk to the Treasury to try to support those people, because that will have a big impact on them as the winter draws in.