I remind the House that I have certified clause 79 of the Energy Bill (Lords) under
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Government are focused on securing a better future for Britain. As the Chancellor set out to the House in his autumn statement:
“our job is to rebuild Britain...so that we leave to the next generation a stronger country than the one we inherited.”—[Hansard, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1357.]
Achieving this vision for Britain means ensuring our energy security.
Our modern society simply could not function without the electricity, oil and gas we use to heat our homes, power our business and industry, and drive our transport system. The wellbeing of our economy and our citizens requires that the first priority of the Department of Energy and Climate Change should be energy security. But no responsible Government should take a risk on climate change either, because it is one of the greatest long-term threats to our economic security.
Order. Before Margaret Greenwood intervenes, I should have said to the House, in case people are waiting with bated breath, not least an hon. Member from Brighton, that the amendment, although orderly, has not been selected. I wanted to release Caroline Lucas from her misery before we proceeded further. We took the view that there was adequate opportunity for her to dilate on these important matters, and I feel sure that she will not disappoint us in that, or any other, regard.
Underground coal gasification is an issue of major concern in my constituency, because Cluff Natural Resources has been granted a licence for the Dee estuary, which runs along the side of the constituency. In the Secretary of State’s speech of
I urge the hon. Lady to participate in the consultation we will be having shortly about the timing of the ending of coal. That would be an ideal opportunity for her to make her point on behalf of her constituents.
The historic agreement in Paris in December is a significant step forward towards reducing, on a global scale, the emissions that cause climate change. For the first time, nearly 200 countries have made a commitment to act together and to be held accountable. This agreement will help protect not just our environment, but our national and economic security.
Our national progress has been good to date, with greenhouse gas emissions down around 30% since 1990. Between 2010 and 2014 the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 15%, one of the biggest reductions in a single Parliament. Indeed, in 2014 we saw a reduction of 8%, the largest reduction measured in a single year. That is a fantastic achievement against the backdrop of an economy that grew at 2.9%. In June we will be setting the fifth carbon budget covering 2028 to 2032 and by the end of the year we will publish our new emissions reduction plan, on which we are already working with colleagues across Whitehall.
The emissions reduction plan will provide full details of our policy approach, but we already know where we will need to take more action: energy efficiency; a long-term framework for heat; emissions reduction in the industrial sector; and, of course, in transport, where progress has been slow. In all these areas we will need new thinking and we will work with academia and business to develop proper long-term plans.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take some comfort from the Paris agreement. Although the UK has possibly the most ambitious climate change targets in the world, the Paris agreement will go some way towards addressing the competitive issue that he has raised because other countries are also taking on obligations to reduce their carbon emissions. I specifically highlight China in that regard, which is now part of a global agreement for the first time.
As part of our action, the Government are focused on seeing through a long-term plan for secure, clean and affordable energy supplies for generations to come. The Bill delivers key manifesto commitments to achieve that objective. Over the next Parliament, that means ensuring that we continue to support investment in UK energy sources, including in the North sea. It also means continuing to support the deployment of new renewables so that we meet our objective of producing 30% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
If the Secretary of State still intends to scrap the onshore wind subsidy, will she tell us whether she intends to promote a more expensive form of renewable energy or simply to miss our renewable energy targets? Will she confirm that according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s estimate of the annual savings as a result of her proposals on onshore wind subsidy, the savings in the lowest range will be just 30p a year?
The right hon. Gentleman asks me a false question. The fact is that we have to deliver on our manifesto commitments, which is why we will be ending onshore wind subsidies. However, we will still be making our target, which in 2012 we put at 11-13 GW by 2020. That is consistent with our progress on our renewable targets. In regard to the amount that will be saved through taking these actions, our lowest estimate is about £20 million a year and our highest is about £200 million a year. Those are significant sums, and I urge him not to discount them by making them sound quite so trivial.
Further to the point that has just been made by Sammy Wilson, I do not agree with the way he put it but he made an important point, in a sense. The Minister is proudly talking about the way in which our emissions have come down, but if we take into account our consumption emissions—in other words, the emissions that are linked to our consumption patterns when we import things from places such as China—does she agree that our emissions have actually gone up? We must take some responsibility for those industries that we have outsourced to places like China while we enjoy the benefits of them here.
I will come back to the hon. Lady and say that she, too, should take comfort from the Paris agreement, which will oblige all countries to take action in this important area.
The other activities we are taking on in order to deliver on our low carbon future is to press ahead with a new fleet of nuclear power stations. We are also encouraging new gas-fired power stations so that we can end the use of coal for electricity generation by 2025.
Does the Minister accept that only 2.5% of world energy is created by nuclear power? If that were to rise to 15%, uranium ore would run out within 10 years. Given that 80% of fossil fuels cannot be exploited without breaching our climate change targets, does she accept that she is simply not doing enough on renewables?
I urge the hon. Gentleman to think carefully about the importance of striking a balance. However important we think renewables are—and we do—we need also to have absolutely secure baseloads so that there is never any risk to energy security. That is why this Government are so committed to delivering on nuclear.
Before the debate today, I checked and discovered that 1% of our power is currently being generated from wind, 30% from coal and 42% from gas. Does not that show us that the Secretary of State is right not to rely on all these renewables, because if she did, all the lights would go off?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful comment. He is indeed right: it is absolutely essential that we have a secure baseload while we deliver on our renewable targets as well.
Simply meeting the targets we have set ourselves is not sufficient if we are to secure energy security and decarbonisation. We have to achieve this in the most cost-effective way. Subsidies should be temporary, not part of a permanent business model. New, clean technologies will be sustainable at the scale we need only if they are cheap enough. We need to strike the right balance between supporting new technologies and, as costs come down, being tough on subsidies to keep bills as low as possible. We can only expect bill payers to support low carbon power as long as costs are controlled.
The Energy Bill is intended to enact our manifesto commitments in two key ways: first, by continuing to support the development of North sea oil and gas by implementing the recommendations of the review by Sir Ian Wood to establish the Oil and Gas Authority as an independent regulator and steward; and, secondly, by acting to control the costs of renewable energy by ending new subsidies for onshore wind and providing local people with the final say on new applications.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make some progress on those two things and then I will take a further intervention.
The North sea oil and gas industry is still of huge strategic and economic importance to the United Kingdom. It has been the UK’s largest industrial investor for many decades, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs, especially in Scotland. Since the 1970s, the industry has paid more than £300 billion in production taxes. In 2014, the UK continental shelf produced oil and gas equivalent to well over half the UK demand, but as the basin has matured, oil and gas has become more difficult and more expensive to access. That has been brought into sharp focus of late with the sudden and sustained fall in the oil price, which is putting considerable pressure on the industry to create a more competitive cost base and increase efficiency. As a result, 2014-15 saw falling revenues and falling investment—regrettably, we are also seeing job losses. In order to continue to attract investment and safeguard the future of this vital national asset, the Chancellor set out a significant package of tax reforms for the industry in the March 2015 Budget. We went further in the summer Budget, with measures expected to increase production by 15% by 2020. In the long term, a sustainable economic future for the North sea offshore industry will be achieved only if we can maximise oil and gas recovery. That is why the last Government set up the Wood review, and Sir Ian reported that with the right strategy in place, the recovery of North sea reserves can be boosted by an additional 3 billion to 4 billion barrels over the next 20 years.
Production increased in the North sea last year, which is welcome news at a time when most news for the industry is relatively bleak. Does the Secretary of State agree that the industry is at a point where it requires sustained support from this Government, which will require fiscal measures from her Chancellor in the coming Budget?
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, absolutely right to say that great progress has been made in reducing the cost of production already, and part of the intention of this Bill is to make sure that we can deliver further on that. I share his view that we need to give as much support as possible, but it is too early for me to comment now on whether the Treasury will be able to give that support. I know that this Government are committed to making sure that we continue to support those jobs and the industry.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the reason we have the massive deflation in oil prices, other than Saudi over-consumption, is fracking? The latest evidence shows that 5% of methane from fracking goes into the atmosphere, and methane is 83% worse than carbon dioxide in effecting climate change. Will she therefore hold negotiations with the United States about reducing this methane emission and put the brakes on fracking, so that we can actually lift the price of oil and have a more sustainable future?
I make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, the reasons for the fall in the oil price are multiple and complex. I will not analyse them here now, but there is not, as he suggests, just one cause. Secondly, the US has considerably reduced its emissions because of fracking, which of course we welcome.
Any oil and gas demand that we do not meet ourselves through domestic production has to be met by imports, at significant extra cost to the economy. Industry and government share the same ambitions and are working closely together to manage the remaining resources effectively and efficiently. As we progressively decarbonise our economy, we will continue to need oil and gas for many decades to come. It is far better that the jobs and revenue are in the UK, offsetting imports where we can. Maximising economic recovery from the UK continental shelf must be part of a balanced plan for a diverse and progressively lower-carbon mix.
This Bill will complete the work started in the previous Parliament to implement fully the Wood review. Key to Sir lan’s recommendations is the establishment of the Oil and Gas Authority as an independent regulator with a clear and focused mandate to maximise economic recovery of UK petroleum. Clauses 1 to 76 formally establish the OGA as an independent regulator and steward, which would take the form of a Government-owned company, transferring regulatory powers and functions to the OGA, and giving it new powers to support maximising economic recovery.
The OGA will take forward the principle of maximising economic recovery, set out in Part 1A of the Petroleum Act 1998, with powers taken in the Infrastructure Act 2015. In November, I launched a consultation on the strategy for maximising economic recovery of offshore UK petroleum, which is central to the OGA’s future effectiveness. An amendment made in the other place, which we will try to overturn, seeks to broaden the principal objective, greatly expanding the scope of the OGA’s role and going far beyond the vision set out in the Wood review. In our view, and indeed in the view of the industry and the unions, diluting the focus of the OGA at this critical time is not the right way to proceed. The OGA should be focusing on maximising economic recovery, as that is what it has been set up to achieve. In the current difficult and challenging circumstances, nothing should distract from that vital task.
The OGA requires clarity on its objectives, and we intend to provide that. This Government are committed to the Climate Change Act 2008, and to our target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. We will see the Climate Change Act framework in practice this year when we set in law the fifth carbon budget. Amendments made in the other place seek to change how we count carbon for carbon budget purposes from the fifth budget onwards. Given that the work to set the fifth carbon budget is well underway, and has been for nearly a year, and although it is right to keep our accounting practices under review, now is not the right time to change. To do so now, this far into the process, would threaten serious delay. Therefore, we will seek to overturn those amendments.
Let me turn now to the delivery of the Government’s manifesto commitments to end new subsidies for onshore wind and to ensure that local people have the final say on where onshore wind is built. On
There is no ambiguity on this matter, as it is a manifesto commitment. We signalled our thinking on ending new public subsidies for onshore wind long before the last election and put it before the British people in black and white. There are long-established and well understood conventions with regard to manifesto commitments and we will stand firm on them.
Onshore wind has deployed successfully to date and is projected to meet the planned range of 11-13GW by 2020. Without action, there is a risk of deploying beyond this range, potentially adding more costs to consumer bills and squeezing out opportunities for other renewables, such as offshore wind, to mature and bring down their costs. We have engaged widely on the June proposals, including with devolved Administrations, supply chain, investors and developers. It is important that Northern Ireland closes the renewables obligation to onshore wind on terms equivalent to those of Great Britain.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It is my position that, if Northern Ireland chooses to provide additional support for onshore wind, the consumers in Northern Ireland, and not Great Britain, should bear the cost.
We must make strategic choices on where public money is directed, because we cannot afford to support every project and every technology regardless of its contribution to energy security, and regardless of the cost. We need to concentrate our support on where technology has the potential to deliver at the significant scale that we need for energy security and decarbonisation, and where, to be viable, we still need to see significant falls in costs for technology.
In that context, will she clarify when the next contracts for difference round for these new advanced technologies will be held, and whether the widest possible range of those technologies will be suitable for that round?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have confirmed that there will be three new auctions for offshore wind. We are looking now at what would be included in that and the best way to drive down prices, because this Government are clear that that support will continue only as long as we continue to drive down prices, which is critical to looking after consumers.
The hon. Gentleman raises two points there. We have said that we are devolving to local communities and that we are ending new subsidies, so it would currently be unlikely for a new onshore wind project to go ahead, but we have agreed to discuss with developers the prospect of onshore wind without subsidy if it has local community support. In respect of Wales, I will discuss with the Welsh Government the best way to deliver on the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. Rest assured, the devolved Administrations are fully aware of the plans and now support them.
In pursuance of those strategic choices, we are pushing forward with proposals for low carbon base load with a new fleet of nuclear power stations, and we are consulting on a closure date for coal and working to get new lower carbon gas-fired power stations built. Energy security must come first because it is the foundation of our future economic success, but that future must be low-carbon too, because climate change is one of the greatest long-term threats to our economic security. That low-carbon future cannot be achieved at any cost, because it is the hard-working families and businesses of Britain that are ultimately footing the bill.
North sea oil and gas production has helped us to fund our public services, such as the national health service, through the taxes it has generated which are worth hundreds of billions of pounds. It has improved our national security by reducing our dependence on imports from other countries. It has bettered our energy security by providing a reliable supply of gas and oil, fuels that will continue to play an important role in our energy mix, particularly for heating and transport, as we become a lower carbon economy. Crucially, the North sea also sustains hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs in Scotland and the north-east of England and in world-class supply chain businesses right across the country.
For these reasons there has been a cross-party consensus for some considerable time that we should do everything we can to protect those jobs and to continue to maximise investment in our North sea oil and gas industry. The incredibly tough economic conditions faced by businesses operating in the waters off our shores because of the major fall in the price of oil only underlines the need for parties across this House to work together to get on and implement the recommendations of the independent review produced by Sir Ian Wood.
One of the most important things we can do to help boost jobs and skills in the North sea is to have a long-term plan. I will say more about that as I make progress.
Does the shadow Minister agree that to a certain extent she is speaking with forked tongue? On the one hand she is saying that we have to decarbonise the economy, but on the other she is saying we have to increase the output of a carbon fuel—oil? Which is it? Does she want to decarbonise the economy or does she want people to buy oil?
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman with that, as it is one of the things that he obviously struggles to understand. As we move towards a clean economy—there is widespread agreement in all parts of the House that that is a journey we must take—we need to think, too, about where we get our energy from in the short to medium term. There is no question about this—it is a fact that we will need to rely on oil and gas in the short to medium term. Because of that, the question that we face on all sides of the House is whether we import that oil and gas or generate our own.
Our view is that this transition must be made with due care and attention to the jobs, skills and investment we need in this country. It must also be made with due care for our environment, our health and our safety. That is a difficult thing to achieve. I very much welcome the fact that we are having this debate, but it seems to me that pitting the interests of the industry we currently have in the North sea against our interests in transitioning to a clean economy will not get us very far at all.
Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that, with regard to the need to convert to renewables in the long run, one of the dangers of a very low oil price, other than restricting margins in the oil industry, is crowding out investment in renewables, and that therefore the cost-effectiveness of investing in renewables now should not be engaged by the current spot price of oil in the marketplace?
My hon. Friend has made several comments, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not, but I think he is right to point out the very real problems created by the falling oil price, such as the economic conditions faced by businesses currently operating in the North sea. It is clearly in our national interests to move forward with the recommendations made by Sir Ian Wood. That is why we must move ahead with his proposals to establish the independence of the new Oil and Gas Authority, and why we support the Government’s steps to progress that plan. As the North sea enters a new, mature phase and as investment flows into decommissioning offshore installations, I hope that Ministers will do everything in their power to ensure that that work is completed using the skills and expertise held by workers in the yards of Fife and the north-east of England.
I commend the hon. Lady for her bipartisan approach to the Bill. She has talked about the Oil and Gas Authority, which of course will set fees for the services it provides, and the Secretary of State will be able to determine what those fees should be. Can the hon. Lady indicate at what level she thinks the Opposition would set those fees, and for how long?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, which the Secretary of State will have heard. I am sure that either she or the Minister of State will attempt to respond to it later in the debate.
It is clear that there are still substantial remaining oil and gas reserves in the North sea, and future investment must absolutely not be limited to decommissioning activities. We remain the second largest producer of oil in Europe, after Norway. There are 300 fields currently in production, and it has been estimated that as many as 20 billion barrels of oil and gas remain to be exploited in UK waters. Much of that is understood to be in hundreds of small and marginal fields, which are much more difficult and expensive to exploit, so it is important that the newly independent Oil and Gas Authority is able to maximise investment in those fields if we are to seize that potential. That will require strong powers to encourage collaboration within the industry, resolve disputes between firms, and drive greater efficiencies to make further extraction viable, including consideration of costs.
Does the hon. Lady also agree that it is not just a matter of extracting the remaining oil from around the United Kingdom but about the huge oil and gas support services industry, which does so much around the world, contributing to the balance of payments and to jobs in the United Kingdom?
Yes, I agree. In particular, the ripple effect of what we do now in relation to North sea oil and gas will be felt not just directly by the workforce employed there, but by the UK workforce as a whole and around the world.
The Wood review also noted that carbon capture and storage has the potential to be of huge benefit.
Is not the awful truth at the moment that, with oil at $29 a barrel, there will be practically no new investment in new projects in the North sea because it simply is not viable? What does the hon. Lady’s plan suggest on that?
We were keen to explore the future potential for the North sea for two reasons, one of which is the potential for the oil price to rise in future. While we have a rigged infrastructure worth a substantial amount of money still standing there, now is the time that we ought to explore the use to which we could put that infrastructure in the short term while trying to predict longer-term trends.
The fourth recommendation in the Wood review was that the Government need to work with industry to develop strategies in different areas, including for carbon capture and storage. Lord Deben, one of the Government’s own chief advisers on energy policy, argued:
“it would be very odd to produce legislation that did not allow specifically for the transportation and storage of greenhouse gases.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 7 September 2015; Vol. 764, c. 1227.]
Lord Oxburgh, the former head of Shell, said:
“We need some kind of strategic framework within which private industry can operate in the CCS area.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 19 October 2015; Vol. 765, c. 483.]
They are absolutely right. Some of the infrastructure in the North sea could be used to create an entirely new maritime industry with very many new jobs. This would also help us to realise the commitments on climate change that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State recently agreed, rightly, at the Paris summit.
The Wood review pointed to the need for the Oil and Gas Authority to be able to take a strategic view. It also pointed to the need for us collectively, including Government, to consider a long-term strategy for carbon capture and storage. In our view, unless the Oil and Gas Authority is tasked with considering the future of carbon capture and storage, it will not form part of the plan. As I said to James Cartlidge, now is the time that we ought to be considering what the long-term future of the North sea is. That simply cannot afford to wait. We also believe very strongly that this should not come at the cost of jobs in the North sea in the immediate term. However, we should not let our urgent need for short-term solutions preclude longer-term thinking. In future, CCS could become a huge new North sea asset. That is why we propose that consideration be given to the opportunities that exist to use North sea infrastructure for CCS where that is economically viable.
Unfortunately, since the Bill was discussed by peers in the autumn, resulting in the one now before us, the Chancellor took the reckless decision to axe the £1 billion fund that he had promised to support new CCS projects during the course of this Parliament. That is one of the clearest examples yet of how this Government are damaging confidence among the people we need to invest in this country’s energy system by once again chopping and changing energy policies without any notice. The mishandling of the Government’s CCS programme means that the public will most likely pay, as companies understandably seek to recover costs relating to the
CCS projects in Yorkshire and Scotland that they progressed in good faith but that will now not proceed. That is why I have written to the head of the National Audit Office to ask that he launch an investigation so that we can fully understand the cost to the public of the Chancellor’s sudden decision. It is also why we will seek to amend the Bill to require the Secretary of State to bring forward a new carbon capture and storage strategy within a year.
There used to be consensus on this. The Prime Minister used to be a strong supporter of CCS too. Back in 2007, he said:
“even though in the UK we have the depleted oil and gas fields that are ideal for testing this technology, not a single pilot is yet taking place in Britain. We cannot afford this kind of delay.”
He was right then, and he is wrong now. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that if we do not have CCS on a global scale, we are likely to see the costs of achieving targets on climate change being double what they would be otherwise. These targets may even be put out of reach entirely.
I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is also an opportunity for us to make sure that the British workforce benefit from the skills to be gained from investing in that technology, so that we can export around the world not just the technology but the skills and knowledge of our workforce. That short and medium-term investment would be for our long-term gain, and it is important that we see it as such.
Experts at the Energy Technologies Institute have estimated that, without CCS, by 2020 the costs of reaching our climate targets could be in the order of £40 billion to £50 billion a year more than if CCS were deployed. Ruling out technologies that can cut the cost of low-carbon transition is bad news for bill payers and for taxpayers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the debate about CCS should not be happening today because it should have been concluded at least half a decade or even a decade ago? We led the world in clean-coal technology for decades, but that is no longer the case because of the actions of the Conservative party. We should be doing it now, not talking about it.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I am not one who is keen to cast back into history to appoint blame, but what I will say to him and to the Secretary of State is that a 10-year promise was made not just to industries and companies, but to the communities that stood to benefit and to gain a huge amount from CCS. Given that the Government have announced £250 million of investment in a competition for nuclear small modular reactors, we seem to be creating a complete lack of confidence that any of the other schemes will proceed. Such decisions and the way in which they are taken damage our energy security, not just in the short term but in the long term. We have to give a signal that Britain is open for business, but the Chancellor’s decision has done precisely the opposite.
That brings me to the part of the Bill relating to wind farms. There was once a time when the Prime Minister was so keen on wind turbines that he even put one on the roof of his house. Now his Government are trying to legislate to close a scheme that has successfully driven investment into the cheapest low-carbon energy source available. Wind farms already provide power to more than 8 million homes in Britain, and once again it will be energy bill payers who pay the price for the Government’s short-term decision. The Institute for Public Policy Research has estimated that ruling out onshore wind farms and relying on other low-carbon technologies to achieve our energy targets could increase costs for bill payers to up to £3 billion through to 2030. There will also be a cost to jobs and growth in an important clean-energy industry.
There is one area on which we agree with the Government, and that is that wind farms should not be imposed on communities that do not want them. That is why we support the Government’s proposals to put local authorities in charge of approvals for such projects. Yet the reality is that the Government are using the Bill to try to block wind farms even where they enjoy strong local support, and they are taking powers away from local authorities in relation to other areas.
I am glad that the Labour party has effected a U-turn, because I argued for years under a Labour Government that imposing wind farms on communities against their will would lead to a backlash and to the project being brought to a halt. That is what has happened, so it is a bit late for the hon. Lady to say that she wants to listen to local communities. If we had listened to local communities all along, we could have had more onshore wind turbines where they were desired, rather than the backlash that has resulted in the current situation.
As the hon. Gentleman often reminded me when I served on his Select Committee, he is always right, and usually long before everybody else. We very much support the right of local communities to decide, but we do not understand why the Government do not. The real-time actions they are taking in this Bill will, in effect, block wind farms where there is strong local support for them. Moreover, the Government are taking exactly the opposite approach to fracking applications and seeking to deny local communities the right to decide what happens in their areas.
My right hon. Friend John Redwood has pointed out that now onshore wind generates 1% of generating capacity. At most, when the wind is blowing, it is 7% or 8%. What percentage of our generating capacity would the hon. Lady like wind to supply? If it is significantly more than 8%, how would it be done without imposing wind farms on areas that do not want them?
First, the hon. Gentleman is wrong about the figures. Wind generates about 10% of our power. Secondly, there is no question but that we need to move towards a clean energy-driven economy. I think he accepts that case, as do two thirds of the British public, who said in a survey as recently as last September, in a poll of 2,000 adults conducted by ICM, that they would be very happy to have a wind farm operating within 2 miles of their house, if the local authority or community had power over how it was operated. That is one reason I have told the Government we should not seek to block wind farms where they enjoy strong local support, and that we support the right of local communities to decide where they are based.
It looks as though the Chancellor has decided to sacrifice jobs and investment to win personal support from Back Benchers with a particular obsession with wind farms. It is unacceptable, and we will do what we can to defend wind energy from ideological attacks. The Conservative party manifesto said nothing about retrospectively shutting down this existing scheme—it was clear it would stop new subsidies for wind energy, but this is not a new subsidy; it is an existing one.
The key thing is that we take communities with us. We have to go to local communities and make the case for how we create jobs, provide energy stability, cut bills and take action on global warming. If we do not take communities with us, we will not do any of that. That is why, I say to Government Members, it is completely hypocritical to argue one thing in respect of wind farms and precisely the opposite when it comes to fracking applications. I hope the Secretary of State has heard me.
Nor does it make sense to claim that the change is about affordability, as Ministers have consistently argued, given that onshore wind farms are one of the cheapest options available to help us secure our power needs and that the Government are pressing ahead with much more expensive options. A Conservative Member asked about this earlier. The Secretary of State is yet to clarify —perhaps she can tell us today—whether subsidy-free onshore wind farms will be allowed to compete for contracts for difference. As with the Chancellor’s decisions on solar energy and carbon capture and storage, this is yet another example of the Government chopping and changing their energy policy to the detriment of investment in jobs, growth and our energy security.
More than anything, the energy sector as a whole needs stability and confidence to get on and invest. I particularly recognise the urgency of supporting our North sea oil and gas industry and that peers have improved the Bill significantly since the Government introduced it. For those reasons, I will support it on Second Reading, but I hope Ministers will engage constructively with the debate and our amendments in the weeks ahead.
It is a great pleasure to follow Lisa Nandy.
I rise to welcome the Bill. I particularly welcomed the original version, before noble Members got their hands on it and removed clause 60, which would have delivered on my party’s clear commitment to the electorate before the general election. We promised no new subsidies for onshore wind farms and to give local communities the final say on onshore wind farm applications. A failure to deliver that promise in its entirety would be a failure to balance the interests of onshore wind developers with those of hard-working families in my constituency and right across the country. I also welcome the strengthening of the Oil and Gas Authority’s powers to ensure that we make the most of our reserves.
Almost a year ago, I introduced the Onshore Wind Turbine Subsidies (Abolition) Bill. It had precisely the same objective as the original clause 60 of this Bill. I would like to think that my ten-minute rule Bill was a trailblazer for the Government’s Bill. I introduced my Bill, because if we are to subsidise renewable energy sources it is essential to support technologies that will produce power when we need it, not just when the wind blows. Given that one man’s subsidy is another man’s tax, it is crucial to make sure that when we spend money, we do so wisely.
Onshore wind farms generate below 20% of their stated maximum output for 20 weeks a year, and below 10% for nine weeks a year. That means that wind farms are, in effect, failing to reach maximum output capacity for more than half the year. On average, they exceed 90% of their rated output for only 17 hours a year. There is also a very significant issue about whether those wind farms will be able to reach such heady peaks when they are actually needed. Worse still, Britain’s wind farms are routinely paid large sums not to generate electricity—as much as £1 million each week in 2014. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Lady want to intervene?
First, the issue about being paid money when the power is not actually used is not unique to renewable power. [Interruption.] I am not going to engage with someone intervening from a sedentary position. My second point is that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to have heard of batteries or interconnectors, and does not seem to recognise that Germany is moving into renewables massively. He is in another century, while the rest of us have moved on.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about renewables, but is he not really making a case for a balanced energy policy? In the summer, there is a need to switch off some generation because of low demand. It is very expensive to do that for gas or nuclear power stations and then to bring them back online. Wind is actually cheapest, and we need such an intermittent energy source as part of the mix.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, or at least it would be fair if it was accurate, which unfortunately it is not. Wind has to be backed up by fossil fuels, which makes no sense whatsoever. We must take into consideration the full system cost of wind.
Such payments, which are described as constraint payments, ultimately end up on consumer bills, meaning that the public are in effect subsidising the UK wind industry not to produce electricity. One really could not make it up.
My right hon. Friend makes a perfectly sound point. That is the case today, for example. I will be more generous to the wind industry: I think that 1.11% of power today is being generated by wind. We all know what happened in November, but I will come on to that a little later. We are becoming more reliant on intermittent renewables.
I live opposite a wind farm in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I do not blame him for not preventing it, because it was before his time. Many of the people who are in favour of wind farms are not surrounded by them as people in my constituency are. On the issue of renewable energy and its intermittent nature, does he not agree that one form of generation that we should be promoting more and that we know very well in our area is biomass, which not only supports thousands of jobs at Drax power station, but is a source that we can turn on and off at will?
My hon. Friend and neighbour is absolutely right. I applaud the work that Drax power station has done and I look forward to biomass generation going ahead at Lynemouth, which is under new ownership. It is a much cleaner fuel than coal. Indeed, it reduces emissions by about 80%. I would like the Government to get behind more biomass. I am sure that they will have an explanation for why there might be three pots for offshore wind, but I would like biomass to be able to fight on an even keel with the other technologies.
There is increasing dependence on offshore wind and solar. The situation is getting worse, not better. The nuclear stations, when built, will form part of the solution, but they cannot react to changes in demand or failures in supply anything like fast enough to keep the lights on. They can provide only base-load power, which is important but is not the answer to the intermittency problem.
The hon. Gentleman lectures us on intermittency, but one of the most serious aspects of the intermittency in the UK is our ageing nuclear power plants, which go offline continuously, with catastrophic effects on supply.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. That is why we need the new stations to be built a bit sooner. If previous Governments had been a bit braver, we might not be in the situation that we are in now.
In the circumstances, is it wise to phase out all the coal in the system before sufficient gas and biomass have been deployed to make up the difference? I ask the Minister to restate the Government’s commitment that coal will be phased out of the system only after sufficient biomass and gas generation have been brought forward to make up the loss.
Does my hon. Friend accept that if we are to get the dirtiest of fuels off the grid and clean our atmosphere, we have to state that as an objective, as the Government have rightly done, because only after that signal will the investment come forward to replace it? If it will not definitely be phased out, why will people definitely invest?
That is a fair point from my hon. Friend, but we certainly need bridging technologies, because we will have a gap in which we could see days like those we saw in early November.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Although we are aware that coal is the dirtiest form of generation, it employs an awful lot of people in our area for one thing. Secondly, does he agree that the real concern is that losing Drax, Eggborough and Ferrybridge will put us in a position where the lights go off? Woe betide any Government who preside over the lights going off. We need certainty that losing coal will not lead to that.
I totally agree. That is another great advertisement for sustainable biomass. We have paid for these assets—the Central Electricity Generating Board built these power stations—so let us sweat them for more decades. Biomass is the answer in the short term. Who knows? There might be other technologies that we could be using at them, such as hydrogen power. I am sure that there are the brains out there to find a way to use that resource.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that another reason for keeping coal generation is that it is the cheapest form of electricity generation at present? Our competitors, for example Germany, are building new coal stations. When it comes to retaining jobs in the United Kingdom, we have to be cognisant of that.
You’re absolutely right I’m a grand fellow!
If we are to put public subsidies into trying to keep the lights on, why not subsidise the coal industry? As the hon. Gentleman said, we will continue burning coal, but it is not dirty British coal, it is from places such as China, Ukraine and Colombia where hundreds or thousands of men are dying every month or year. It is morally wrong to burn that coal and put British miners on the dole. That is completely wrong.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and if he was here at the back end of last year when we debated the closure of Kellingley colliery, he will have heard me very much echo his sentiments.
At the end of 2015 there were already 490 operational wind farms in the UK with an install capacity of 8.3 GW. The Government estimate that in 2015-16, £850 million of direct support will go towards funding onshore wind farms. A fraction of that sum could deliver reliable, low-carbon, cost-effective renewable electricity that can react to changes in demand if it were diverted to more and reliable renewables, such as sustainably sourced biomass. I use the words “direct support” on purpose because the £850 million refers only to subsidies that are paid to those wind farms. The inherent failings of wind farms must be compensated by someone, which comes at a cost. If there is a risk that the wind will stop blowing, National Grid must ensure that it has sufficient capacity to mitigate that risk.
If a wind farm has a load factor of 30%, National Grid must make provision for generation for the other 70% of the time. If the new wind farm has to be built deep within our beautiful countryside, or out at sea where it is more expensive, National Grid has to pay for new transmission lines. That all comes at a cost, and those costs are paid by all generators, not just the wind farm developers that caused the problem. It is yet another hidden subsidy for wind power.
The notification of inadequate system margin that occurred on
I warmly welcome the commitment made by the Minister last week when, in a written response to a parliamentary question from Tom Blenkinsop, she promised that in the first half of 2016 the Government would publish research into those hidden costs, so that we can see the whole system costs of different renewable generation technologies, and that the findings will be used to inform policy decisions. I hope that is the first sign that future contracts for difference auctions will not simply unleash new waves of intermittent renewable technologies. More sensible, reliable renewable generation options are available to us, but the hangover from the previous Government and our coalition partner’s love affair with wind will suffocate those options unless we act.
Of course, the madness does not stop with the extra costs, because there is also a carbon problem. If a wind turbine has an availability of 30%, National Grid needs either a vast number of other wind turbines spread all over the place in the hope that the wind will be blowing somewhere, or—this is more likely—a gas or coal station on standby to generate the rest of the time. We therefore subsidise a wind turbine to push fossil fuels off the grid, while simultaneously subsidising a fossil fuel power station to stay online and generate carbon dioxide for more than half the time when the wind is not blowing—you could not make it up, Madam Deputy Speaker. The same is true for offshore wind farms, albeit they have slightly higher availability.
In conclusion, I recognise that the Conservative Government cannot make up for the mistakes of the past with retrospective action. A deal is a deal, and existing onshore wind is here to stay. We cannot reverse the insane situation in which we banked our energy security on the vagaries of the weather, but we can put an end to the madness. We can stop all new investment in onshore wind, as we have promised to do, and we can think much more carefully about the case for investing in other intermittent technologies.
That was an interesting contribution from Nigel Adams. It was full of problems but not many solutions—the solution being a balanced energy market that allows flexibility. Probably the only thing I agree with him on is biomass. I also agree that a deal is a deal, but it is a shame that that has not been applied to onshore wind investors who have had deals scuppered because the goalposts have been moved.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on Second Reading of the Bill. It is important that we have finally got round to discussing it. It is nearly two years since the review by Sir Ian Wood of the UK continental shelf, which made a number of recommendations. As we have heard, it commanded, and still by and large commands, cross-party support, although there are problems with the details. I and some in the oil and gas industry have had a degree of frustration that progress has not been as swift as it could have been in fully establishing the Oil and Gas Authority, but the delay in introducing the Bill and the uncertainty that that has caused, particularly in respect of the grace periods for onshore wind, has been much more unhelpful.
Broadly speaking, the OGA is up and running and working effectively. The OGA and its head, Andy Samuel, enjoy tremendous respect and credibility within the oil and gas industry. It is beholden on all hon. Members to commend the work that has been done in setting it up. The team that is in place is impressive and is doing very well. The Bill will give them the full armoury of powers they require to ensure that the UK continental shelf thrives.
Scottish National party Members very much support the plans for the OGA in the Bill but—this will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State—we are not so keen on the onshore wind aspects. I am not required to explain the importance of the oil and gas sector to hon. Members. As has been said, it has generated in excess of £300 billion in tax revenue; 45 billion barrels of oil have been extracted, and potentially up to 24 billion are left; and it supports 360,000 jobs, with 36,000 directly involved.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree on these two things: first, that while we are burning oil and gas, it might as well be our own; and, secondly, that saying we are subsidising oil and gas simply because we tax it slightly less is a false narrative?
I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman. It strikes me that there are certain parallels with the coal conversation moments ago. That situation could come to pass if we do not support the North sea. We need to transition away from oil and gas, but that will take some time given the economics at play. If we are using oil and gas—we will be doing so for the foreseeable future—it might as well be ours. We might as well get the economic benefit of it, and we should certainly use that economic benefit to try to diversify and invest in other areas. The hon. Gentleman made the point on subsidies. The oil and gas sector is taxed very highly, and more highly than any other sector of which I am aware. It is taxed less than it was, but we probably require it to be taxed less if we are to see the benefit of the industry in future.
The OGA is vital to that future and it is hugely important that it is put on a firm footing. It must be given the regulatory powers it requires and the ability to engage fully with industry on access to infrastructure, plans for investment and so on. I very much support the Government in ensuring the OGA continues to have a laser-like focus on maximising economic recovery, which is fundamental to that purpose. Over the years, there have been umpteen changes to oil and gas. It is in the nature of the industry, with its huge capacity to generate income, that the goalposts have changed substantially during that time, but I plead with all hon. Members not to change the goalposts again. The industry has been working for two years towards proposals on maximising economic recovery, which have universal buy-in and require that the OGA’s focus is not complicated.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the focus must be on economic regeneration, rather than further regulation? The industry, especially at this time, cannot afford more costly regulation.
I disagree. The absence of a strong regulator is where there have been significant problems in the oil and gas industry, in particular with access to infrastructure. The inability to get two parties with competing commercial interests to agree a deal on access to oil and gas infrastructure—a pipeline, for example—has meant that investment decisions have not been implemented. The industry needs a regulator that is hard-touch where required. I very much hope that the threat of sanctions from the OGA will in itself be enough, and that they will not be required. The OGA probably recognises that itself. Issuing sanctions left, right and centre would suggest that its soft skills, its influence and the buy-in the Wood review has brought forward, are not working effectively enough. Where there is no compliance or buy-in to the idea of maximising economic recovery, and where disagreements about access to infrastructure are inhibiting investment, the regulator should go in—and go in hard—to ensure that what everyone is supposed to be working towards is delivered.
The hon. Gentleman mentions, correctly, the need for a laser-like focus on maximising economic recovery as the objective of the Bill—and goodness knows we need it. Is it therefore his party’s position that the amendment in the House of Lords on carbon capture and storage is not necessary at this point, because it could risk reducing that laser-like focus?
Yes. I am coming on to that point now. I have spoken about carbon capture and storage many times and I will continue to do so. We fully support that. However, there is a requirement, which the shadow Secretary of State talked about, to have the review and the strategy in place before it can be imposed as one of the principal objectives of the OGA. If we dilute the core functions of the OGA, we distract from that attention. We should remember that the OGA and the Wood review come from a time when oil was over $100 a barrel. Those were the circumstances required to support the industry, which was going through difficult times, at a very high oil price. Those pressures are much higher today. I agree that we need to allow the OGA to bed in. Perhaps in future, once there is a strategy in place and it can be demonstrated that it has the support of the Government from both a financial and strategic point of view, that might be something we want the OGA to do. At the moment, however, I think that is premature.
As I said, the Wood review comes from a time, two years’ ago, when oil was $110 or $115 a barrel. It is now $29 a barrel. The game has changed significantly. We have to accept that, while this is a vital step in supporting a vital industry, it will not be enough in and of itself. We need fiscal changes to the tax regime, particularly on incentives, and to review the tax level as a whole.
Immediately following the autumn statement the Oil & Gas UK economics director, Mike Tholan, said:
“Since the last Budget, the oil price has declined further, and we must continue to do as much as we can to help boost confidence and encourage investment in the UK Continental Shelf. If the oil price continues to be lower for longer, there is little doubt that alongside industry’s own concerted effort to improve its efficiency, we will need to work with Treasury on additional measures, including revisiting the current headline tax rate—consistent with the government’s commitment to the sector’s tax rate falling over time.”
This issue clearly has to be approached through partnership between the UK Government and the Scottish Government. That being so, and given that Scottish Government are about to get new tax-raising powers and that this is currently a real crisis for the key UK and Scottish strategic economy, will it be the policy of the Scottish Government to use those powers to raise funds to support the industry, if need be?
Frankly, I am not sure how income tax could be used to boost the oil and gas industry, but if the hon. Gentleman has any concrete suggestions—[Interruption.] On my understanding of the Scotland Act 2012 and of the progress made on tax-raising powers, I do not see how the Scottish Government would have the ability to do anything that would materially affect the fiscal regime. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to join us in calls for corporation tax for oil and gas revenues to be devolved to Holyrood—or, indeed, for full fiscal autonomy—he would be more than welcome to do so. The suggestion that the minimal powers devolved to Scotland for raising tax revenues and achieving economic objectives such as boosting the business environment could in some way be used to boost the oil and gas sector is, at best, naïve.
The UK Government are not currently collecting any special North sea tax revenues because the oil price is so depressed. I might agree with the hon. Gentleman if reforms were made in the future, but will he give us an impression of the industry’s perspective in the area around his constituency on what will happen to jobs and investment at these oil price levels?
The oil industry is going through a difficult period, but there is a fair degree of resilience and optimism in these difficult times. A concerted effort is being made to show that it is not a sunset industry, and that it will work through what needs to be done. As was clear in the quote that I cited, the industry is making efforts to reduce costs. We in this Chamber can do nothing about the price of oil, but we can do something about the investment climate, which I think would be significantly enhanced with changes to the fiscal regime. Aberdeen is seeing job losses on a fairly sizeable scale, but it is probably still performing above average, and I certainly hope that it continues to do so.
The issue of tax revenues is not only about the supplementary charge in corporation tax or the petroleum revenue tax, because the full range of tax revenues needs to be factored in, including income tax, national insurance and the corporation tax paid by the supply companies. This is a major sector, and if we can invest in the skills and ensure that we bridge over what everyone agrees will be a temporary downturn in the oil price—how temporary is a matter on which I shall not speculate, because that could end up with my looking daft—that support will help.
Changing the tax regime would send a very powerful message to those looking at investment. If investment is not made in the UK continental shelf, because of the nature of the business the investment will be made in west Africa, Kazakhstan, Brazil or the Gulf of Mexico. It is not a zero-sum game. Precisely because very little tax is being paid—unusually so—the Treasury is not banking on North sea oil to deal with what it needs to pay for, so it can afford to make the changes. The revenue forecasts for the next few years are low, and changing the regime now would make that viable. It would also send the clear message that this is a basin that is worth investing in. If there is investment, there are jobs, the skill base is maintained, and the supply chain is supported in a way that ensures that it can invest in and develop products not only for the North sea but for the global oil and gas industry, into which the United Kingdom supply chain—particularly around Aberdeen—is making great efforts to diversify.
I am very much in favour of the OGA’s establishment as an independent regulator. I am sure that, as we enter the next stage, there will be discussions about the nuts and bolts, but we want it to happen, and happen very soon.
Let me now move on to the closure of the renewables obligation. [Interruption.] Excuse me?
I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman. I will be brief, to a degree. I do not need to rehash the arguments about the closure of the renewables obligation, which is disproportionately affecting Scotland, because 70% of the wind farms that are in the pipeline would be there. I know that the Government have said that they want to try to reintroduce the closure in order to meet a manifesto commitment, but I urge them not to do so. If they do, we shall oppose the move.
Given that fuel poverty in Scotland has increased by two and a half times since 2002—from 13% of the population to 34%—how can the hon. Gentleman justify further subsidies for wind turbines, which are paid by consumers and most of the proceeds of which go to well-heeled large landowners?
I do not think that that is the solution to fuel poverty. I think that the solution to fuel poverty is to insulate homes, in which there is huge and disproportionate investment in Scotland, and to end poverty. We have made various suggestions about how to do that, but the fact is that fuel poverty does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in the environment of actual poverty.
Onshore wind is a cheap renewable, and the closure of the renewables obligation is set to save bill-payers the princely sum of 30p. Moreover, it will produce up to 63 million tonnes more carbon dioxide.
I am very grateful. I apologise to my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, who is far more senior than I am.
The hon. Gentleman talks of how cheap onshore wind is as a renewable. Does he not accept that it must be backed up by fossil fuels, which are not so cheap? If the full system cost of onshore wind is taken into consideration, it is one of the least affordable renewable technologies that we have.
So we are backing up the cheap renewables with fossil fuels that are not so cheap, and the solution to that is to use the fossil fuels that are not so cheap all the time? That sum does not quite add up. I am not sure that I have worked out the equation.
We have been EVELed out of the changes in the planning regulations, but I would not have opposed them anyway. However, I think that what is good for the goose should be good for the gander, and that the policies should respect the different attitudes that exist in the different nations of the United Kingdom. We in Scotland would like onshore wind generation to continue, and we hope that there will be mechanisms to enable that to happen—which brings me neatly to the idea of a subsidy-free contract-for-difference mechanism that would provide the price stabilisation and allow a route to market for onshore wind, the cheapest form of renewable generation. I am sorry; I could not help it. That was there for the benefit of the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty.
Finally, the emissions trading proposals would ban the Government from using carbon accounting through the European emissions trading scheme. I and my party are not opposed to that in principle, but would recognise we are probably a little premature in terms of agreeing that in advance of the fifth carbon budget, which is to come forward.
In principle, that apparently is the position of the hon. Gentleman’s party, because to leave the ETS, which is a Europe-wide system, seems an odd tack to take for a party that is always telling us how European it is. In particular, surely the way to fix this is to get a proper ETS, not one that has a price of carbon that is so low? That is the way forward, not by leaving it. Surely as good Europeans, that cannot be the SNP position?
I do not believe there was any suggestion to leave. I would not suggest we cannot use or do it, but, rather than looking to buy carbon emissions and the capacity off our dear friends on the continent we should be looking to be the leader and to have that high ambition. We could be in a position not only to stop counting those emissions towards our own contributions, but sell some to others who may not be quite so good in dealing with it.
In closing, as I see it there are three aspects to this Bill: the Oil and Gas Authority, the onshore wind and the emissions trading. We at this stage support two out of three, and, as Meat Loaf said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
Several hon. Members rose—
It is a great pleasure to follow the two previous speakers, my hon. Friend Nigel Adams, who made an extremely realistic speech, and Callum McCaig, who I thought was amazingly complacent about the primary industry in his constituency, which is going to suffer very considerably for a considerable time from the run-down in the oil industry. It is amazing to me that the SNP can abort two potentially valuable industries in Scotland—underground coal gasification and fracking—which might have provided alternative jobs for the people in his constituency, and I hope he will look closely at that.
Wherever we are on the spectrum on global warming, from sceptical to alarmist, we can surely all agree on one thing: that we should try to achieve the targets to which we are committed for reducing CO2 at the least cost to our constituents, because it is ultimately they who bear it either through their budgets or their jobs. So when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State found that subsidies were proving unnecessarily generous to achieve our targets and we were achieving them ahead of time, so that without changing those targets she could reduce those subsidies, she assumed the whole House would be in universal agreement with what she was proposing; even I, for once, was on her side. But it was not so: there were calls from the green lobby and the Opposition to keep subsidies higher than necessary for longer than necessary to achieve the targets to which we are committed, and key amendments in this Bill seem designed, likewise, to increase the costs of achieving our targets.
Clause 80 will not allow the use of the emissions trading scheme to achieve our targets, yet the whole purpose of the ETS is to ensure that those who can abate emissions at the lowest costs, do so. So by excluding the use of that, we are ensuring that higher costs are incurred to achieve a given abatement in emissions. Another amendment prolongs the subsidies for onshore wind for longer than needed, even though that is unnecessary. So I shall, unusually, be supporting the Front Bench in seeking to have both those amendments from the Upper House removed.
Above all, we have created a framework that commits us to load higher costs on UK consumers and businesses via the Climate Change Act 2008 and all its ramifications than any other country in Europe. Despite all that, we will ensure, because of the way the system works, that we do not reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by one molecule more than would be the case if we were doing the same as the rest of Europe.
Let me explain why that is so. At Paris all the countries of the world agreed to make commitments on what they were going to do in future to curb the growth of their CO2 emissions. The only exceptions were the countries of Europe, who put in a total figure for the whole of Europe and are now to allocate that figure among the member states. Because we are committed to doing so much more than the average in Europe—indeed, than anybody else in Europe—all that does is to reduce the amount by which the other countries in Europe will have to reduce their emissions. So we have increased the burden of costs on British households and business, reduced the burden of costs incurred by our partners in Europe, and not reduced the emissions of CO2 by a single molecule.
That is an extraordinary thing to achieve. It has puzzled me a for a long time how it is that we have a political class, particularly the green lobby that straddles both sides of the Gangway—
Indeed, not universally on the Opposition Benches. It puzzles me that the political class is committed to such perverse policies. Then I found a possible hint of an explanation, when someone mentioned to me, Madam Deputy Speaker, a book that I am sure that, like me, you have not read but have heard about called “Forty Shades of Grey”. It is apparently a mildly pornographic—
It is apparently “Fifty Shades of Grey”. [Interruption.] Have I any higher bids? I have not read it; I have not even read the title of it. However, the surprising popularity of that book demonstrated that sadomasochism, or the infliction of pain and the submission to pain, are far more widespread tastes than we had previously thought. It seems to me that in the political sphere there is a similar belief that it would be popular to inflict pain or submit to pain by green policies. We might say that what we are suffering from in this country is “Fifty shades of green”.
The trouble is that Members who are committed to this doctrine measure the success of their policies not by what they will achieve, but by what they will cost, and not by how effectively they will reach a given destination, but by how onerous are the burdens they can place on Britain, British households and British business.
That pain is very significant. The Committee on Climate Change worked out the costs of climate change policies in 2014-15, and it came out at about £250 per household. [Interruption.] Edward Miliband may disagree with the Committee on Climate Change, which he helped set up; if so, please intervene—but of course he cannot sustain his position. That figure is set to double by 2020, to double again probably by 2030, and to double again by 2050. That is the direct effect on household budgets both through their energy bills and the cost of more expensive products because energy prices feed through to product costs.
There is also the cost on jobs. We have lost the aluminium industry already, and earlier today we were seeing the serious the impact of job losses in the steel industry. Of course, the basic reason why there are job losses in the steel industry is that there is a worldwide glut of supply, but the reason that falls excessively on this country is that our industrial energy costs are higher than those anywhere else in Europe. That is why we are suffering disproportionately at the moment. I am reliably informed by my right hon. Friend John Redwood that we are importing bricks. I recently had lunch with a businessman who said that 7% of his output comes from the UK but that 28% of his energy costs were in this country.
Is it not the point that these green targets can bear down very heavily on our country without reducing carbon dioxide emissions at all, because these products are being made somewhere else and perhaps producing even more carbon dioxide?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is yet another example of the perverse effects of what we do. We impose costs on our own country, our own industries and our own households but we do not even achieve the objective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, in these cases we probably marginally increase them.
My appeal to the House is that we start looking at this whole business in a rational way. Let us take all the targets to which we are committed as a given. Like Sammy Wilson, I think they are unnecessary and unwise, but let us take them as a given and seek the least costly way of achieving them. Let us seek to achieve them in a way that will place the fewest burdens on British households and result in the fewest job losses and the least destruction of industry and output. Let us not measure our success by how much pain we can inflict and how much harm and burdens we can submit to, as we have done through the 50 shades of green up to now.
Given that the right hon. Gentleman is apparently genuinely concerned about costs, why does he not extend that same analysis to nuclear energy? For example, Hinkley is going to put a massively greater strain on household budgets than renewables would do and it will not help us to get emissions down for at least a decade.
When the Energy and Climate Change Committee produced its report, I voted against that project precisely because I was worried that we were committing to an unnecessarily high cost, although I am not against nuclear in principle. I do not agree with the hon. Lady that it is much more costly than offshore wind. In fact, I think it is less costly. It is still unnecessarily costly, however, and we should therefore look again at options such as modular nuclear. If she were to put forward a motion to reduce the subsidies for offshore wind so that they were equal to those for onshore wind, I would happily second it. I would happily join her in that because I am genuinely in favour of reducing costs.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure you would agree that my right hon. Friend’s speech is spanking this out of the park. Does he agree that the way in which we have moved forward by introducing an element of the market into the mechanism of bidding for subsidy in our energy profile is the right way forward, and that the renewables obligation is the wrong way forward? I also support the Government.
I agree. It was very late in the day when we introduced that system, so at least we incurred the minimum cost of subsidy to achieve the given objective rather than just plucking out a number, which would inevitably have been high, given that civil servants always are rather generous with public money and set targets high, just so that they can say, “Oh look, we have achieved our quantitative solution, even if we have done so at unnecessary expense.”
My right hon. Friend is making an entertaining speech. Offshore wind has a price of around £140 per MWh, but the industry expects to bring that down to around £100 by 2020, and by the time we have any nuclear power stations, it is pretty likely that it will be below the cost of nuclear and falling, whereas the cost of nuclear will be fixed for the entire time.
My hon. Friend is normally very rational, but on this occasion he is being irrational. He is suggesting we should invest in very expensive and currently inefficient products in the hope that the next generation of such products will be cheaper. However, other people would also be able to invest in those cheaper products and compete with us. If they are going to be cheaper in five years’ time, we should wait five years and do it then.
It is a privilege to follow the unique speech of Mr Lilley. I bow to his greater knowledge about 40 or 50 shades of grey—or green, for that matter. It is also fair to say that he has taken a consistent position on these issues. He was one of the three Members of this House—
I beg his pardon. He was one of the five Members who voted against the Climate Change Act 2008, which was supported right across the House. It will not surprise hon. Members to hear that I approach this subject from a slightly different perspective from his, and I want to focus on how the Bill can be improved. Given the scale of the challenge we face, the right question to ask about any energy or climate Bill before the House is this: will it do everything necessary to meet our obligations and the requirements placed on us to take a leading role in tackling climate change? I believe that things can be done to the Bill to ensure that it does so.
This Bill is unlike many other Bills that have come before the House, in that a very important event has happened in between its being introduced in the other place and its Second Reading today. That event was the historic Paris climate change agreement. I paid tribute to the Secretary of State when she made her statement on the Paris agreement, and I do so again today for the incredible job that she has done.
My case to the House is that we need to reflect the high ambition of Paris in the Bill. In particular, I want to set out why the Government, in the light of the Paris commitment to a long-term global goal of zero emissions, should use this Bill to legislate for the same objective here in the UK. We need to legislate for zero emissions in law, with the date to be advised by the independent Climate Change Committee. I want to thank Members across the House whom I have talked to about these questions. They include Members on my Front Bench, Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat Members, Scottish National party Members and, indeed, Graham Stuart, who plays an important role as the chair of GLOBE International, the international parliamentarians’ committee. If other hon. Members want to know more about this subject, a paper has been published today by the organisation Sandbag, setting out the case. My case is threefold. It is about consistency between international agreements and domestic action; it is about the economic case; and it is about the effect we can have on other countries.
Given what I said earlier about the effect of our having commitments that are higher than those of the other countries in Europe, which simply reduces the amount to which they are committed under the Paris agreement, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to raise our target even higher, would he not be reducing to an even lower level the amounts by which those countries would have to reduce their emissions in order to reach the EU global total?
No, because the EU target is set on the basis of effort-sharing between different countries, and we are one of the most important countries contributing to that effort-sharing: the more we do, the higher the EU target can be. That is part of being in the European Union and playing our role in raising these objectives.
My first case for acting relates to consistency between international agreements and domestic action. When I set a target of 80% by 2050 in the Climate Change Act, that was agreed on a cross-party basis and we were at the most radical end of the spectrum. That target was formulated to give us a fighting chance of keeping global warming below 2°C. However, Paris has crucially moved the world on from that. Paris sets a twofold objective: to try to keep global warming below 1.5°C, given that we are already at 1°, and, crucially, to achieve the long-term goal of zero emissions.
As someone who did not vote for the right hon. Gentleman’s climate change legislation, may I ask him what role he thinks the Act has played in the tragic job losses in the steel and other high-energy-burning industries in Britain?
It is totally simplistic to say that the Climate Change Act has led to that. It is a result of a whole series of decisions that the Government have had to make. As the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden will remember, Lord Stern’s report made the crucial point that the cost of not acting on climate change will be greater than the cost of acting. Just look at the floods that we have seen in the last couple of months! We are going to have a lot more of that—coming soon to a constituency near you! I am sorry to accuse John Redwood of sticking his head in the sand, but that is exactly what we are doing if we say that we do not need to act, that everything will be okay and that we should just carry on with business as usual. To be fair to the Secretary of State, who might not thank me for saying this, I do not think she believes that that is what we should do. She is on the right side of this argument. Of course we have to do it at the lowest cost we can, but let us not pretend that somehow this problem does not exist—we are seeing its effects all around the world, and if we do not act, we are going to have a lot more of them.
Although I agree with much of what my neighbour said about climate change, the perception, which seems also to be partly the truth, is that in trying to act in this country we have simply exported a lot of our emissions overseas and we are now importing steel which is dirtier than that which would be produced here. That is what steelworkers in my constituency, who are facing job losses, are saying.
The carbon price floor was introduced by this Government—or, rather, this Government when they were in coalition. The point is not to deny that transition needs to take place; the point is we have to do it in the right way, and I do not disagree with that.
I now wish to carry on making my case. If we support zero emissions globally—that is what the Secretary of State has done—the logical position is that we must also support it domestically. We set a target of an 80% reduction, but it does not make sense to have 80% as the target when we know from the science and from the global agreement that we will eventually have to get to zero emissions.
The second part of my case is based on economics, and I wish to make the following comments to Conservative Members in particular. They will worry that my proposal sounds as though it is going to raise costs, but quite the opposite is true. I ask them to listen to some of the business voices who are saying that they want us to set a clear target for zero emissions. Why are they saying this? It is because certainty is the friend of business in this area and uncertainty its enemy. Richard Branson has said that a net zero emissions goal simply makes “good business” as it
“will drive innovation, grow jobs, build prosperity”.
He is joined by many other business leaders in making that case. Just as it is the right thing to do for business, so, too, is it the right thing for government. We are going to have to make decisions on infrastructure now which will have implications for 20, 30, 40 years hence. It is right to make those decisions on the basis of what we will eventually have to achieve, albeit in the second half of the century, because we know that we will have to get there.
Thirdly, and finally, my case goes beyond our borders. The Paris agreement is a great one, but its biggest weakness is that if we look at the aggregate of the different commitments made by different countries, we see that although the aspiration may be to limit warming to less than 1.5°, when we add them up they seem to be more like 3°-worth of commitments. Some might ask what difference the UK can make, as it represents only 1% of global emissions. They might ask why our acting has an impact. I say to the House that it does have an impact. The Climate Change Act—I give credit to the Conservative party because it supported this and actually pushed the then Government to do this—had an impact, not only in Britain but around the world. When the Secretary of State went to the Paris negotiations and urged others to take action, they were not able to say to her, “You are pretending you care about these things and want to legislate for them, but actually you are not taking action in your own domestic legislation.” We did do that.
I am not going to give way, because I would lose my time if I did so.
I say to the House, and to those who are sceptical about action having been taken, that the 2015 global climate legislation study looks at climate change legislation in 99 countries and talks about the speed of response following the UK’s Climate Change Act. My threefold case is that we need to have consistency between domestic and international action; that there is an economic case for doing this; and that we have an impact on other countries if we act.
I wish to deal with two other points that might be made to me about why my approach is a bad idea. The first is that we should stick to our existing targets and not worry about having more ambition. People might say, “Why do we need more ambition when we have this framework already in place?” By doing so, they are sticking their heads in the sand, because if we have to get to zero emissions, we should start that process now. It is a hard task, but it is a feasible one and we need to know that we should get there. My case is a pragmatic one. I am not saying, “Pluck out of the air a date on which to get to zero emissions.” I am not simply saying we should get there in 2050, as some business leaders have urged. I am saying that we should get the independent experts—the Committee on Climate Change—to look at these issues and advise government on when we should put this into UK domestic law.
The second point, which I think has been made in interventions, is that somehow we are going far too far ahead of other countries—that this is us being far too far out in front. The simple point to make about that is that more than 190 countries have now signed up to this zero emissions goal in the Paris agreement. Every country is theoretically signed up to this goal, so the question is: are we actually going to do it? Is this goal just warm words? Is this just us pretending that we are going to act but not really following it through?
In conclusion, I hope the Government will come forward with an amendment such as I have been outlining. If they do not, I want to work with people across this House to seek to make it happen. The Government can support this measure, so I hope they will come forward with an amendment, either in Committee or on Report. It would build on the momentum of the Paris agreement, it is in the best cross-party traditions of the Climate Change Act, and it would send a powerful signal around the world and in Britain about our determination to act. Above all, it would increase our ability to tackle dangerous climate change. Notwithstanding the contribution from the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, this is something that unites the vast majority of Members across this House. I therefore hope the Government will give this suggestion the consideration it deserves.
It is a great pleasure to follow Edward Miliband, my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley and other colleagues who have spoken today. I do not think any more memorable phrase will come into the debate than the “50 shades of green” used by my right hon. Friend. As so often in this area of debate, people dispute the numbers, as he did with his initial “ 40 shades” effort.
The thread of agreement among everyone who has spoken so far, including my hon. Friend Nigel Adams, my right hon. Friend and others, is that if we are setting out to fulfil the requirements of the Climate Change Act, we must do so in the lowest-cost way. My right hon. Friend was right to point out that, given the burden sharing throughout Europe, there is an issue about our taking further steps. Would that simply provide greater slack elsewhere? People may or may not share his scepticism about the whole arena, but none of us would want our making progress to mean that someone else slacks as a result. Therefore, having a joined-up approach is a sensible part of delivering what we all want and doing so at the lowest possible cost, and that is worthy of further investigation.
Where I do not think my right hon. Friend is right is in suggesting that this is purely an exercise in sadomasochism. After all, the Committee on Climate Change’s brief is to fulfil that which was passed in this House, albeit without his support: an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. If we read the Committee’s fifth carbon report, which was recently published, we see that its whole premise is to try to work out a pathway to get us there at the lowest possible cost. That is one reason why I welcome the reset of the policy by the new Government and our new Ministers. They are not stepping away from the Climate Change Act, although some of my hon. Friends might wish that they were. On the contrary, they are saying that they want to look at how best to make sure we have a policy framework that incentivises activity to meet the outcomes that we all want.
I know from discussions with the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom, who is nodding in my direction, that one renewables issue we face—this picks up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty—is dealing with intermittency. One way of dealing with that is to develop storage. Have we had sufficient investment and created a framework that has incentivised enough focus on storage while we were also incentivising investment in things such as wind? The answer has to be no. We must therefore try to ensure that we get a framework that captures all the elements that we need in order to create a rational response, so that even if my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden does not entirely agree, he can see a more rational thread running through the policy in order that we can deliver.
The Secretary of State played a leading role in the negotiations in Paris, and Britain was at the table, helping to create a more ambitious deal.
My hon. Friend mentioned Paris. I wish to understand, perhaps from the perspective of GLOBE—the Global Legislators Organisation—why the EU intended nationally determined contribution submitted at Paris implied a degree of reduction in emissions that is half the rate of the UK’s. Why has the EU decided not to follow us with the Climate Change Act, and apparently to be so tight around it? Does it know something that we do not?
Indeed Austria is my hon. Friend’s favourite bête noire. He points out that the contribution of many countries that like to talk about this topic but not deliver on it is pretty woeful, which goes back to my earlier point about the need for a joined-up approach to ensure that we genuinely deliver collectively the outcomes that we desire. Thanks in part to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, EU ambitions were raised, but they did not go as far as the UK would have liked. In 2008, with cross-party support, we unilaterally decided on a pathway for this country, which was 80% reductions by 2050.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend is saying, but does he also agree that where the UK leads, as was outlined by the former Leader of the Opposition, very often other countries in the EU follow? Currently, Sweden is considering implementing its own climate change Act based on UK legislation.
My hon. Friend is right, but it is important not to exaggerate that, because it will quite rightly be picked up by colleagues, who will point out that something as all-encompassing, as specific and as road-mapped as our Climate Change Act has probably never been passed in another country in the world, and it is coming up for eight years since that Act was passed into law.
It is worth saying a little on the context, as we are seeing turning points. It is not correct to say that we are solely, in this sadomasochistic way, inflicting pain on ourselves while other entirely deny themselves these pleasures. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, last year, despite the fall in oil and gas prices, there was record investment in clean power, with an increase to $329 billion. In other words, the regulatory and legal framework has been set up across the world, and the GLOBE organisation, of which I am chair and in which I declare an interest, has, I hope, played a part in helping to create those frameworks around the world.
Chinese renewables investment last year hit $111 billion, which was an increase of 17%, while the US investment in renewables went up 7.5% to $56 billion. However, to return to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South, Europe saw the lowest level of investment in renewables last year since 2006. Therefore, while we may be delivering, Europe is not entirely doing what one might hope that it would.
On the subject of onshore wind, may I welcome the Government’s commitment to look at the whole system cost of renewables? My understanding is that onshore wind is currently our cheapest renewable, but there are issues around the back-up that is required. What we need to have is an objective assessment of the cost, so that we can make a proper judgment of the benefits of one form of clean energy versus another—for instance against biomass, which my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty was so keen to champion. Until we have that clarity over the real costs, it is hard to create the framework and the incentives that we need to bring on the cleanest possible transformation at the lowest possible cost.
On the issue of zero emissions, I just wanted to follow on from what Edward Miliband said. He is right. If we are to deliver 2° let alone 1.5°, we will need to move to what sounds like a slightly fantastical idea of zero emissions. If we can entirely decarbonise the power system and then use that power in other systems, we will start to move towards the ability to eradicate most of our carbon. We still need other ways to change our systems—and we have time to develop these—so that any storage we have offsets the emissions that are not avoidable. There will always be emissions in a developed and industrialised world, but what we can do is net that to zero. It is important to make that point in case any people at home think that we are dealing in science fiction rather than reality. Given the progress in technology that we have seen over recent years, it is credible to believe that we can move to zero emissions. If, given modern science, 1.5° will be achieved, such a rate will be necessary.
The Government are doing a reset. By June this year, they will legislate on the fifth carbon budget, which covers the distant years of 2028 to 2032. By the end of the year, they will produce a strategy to deliver that, which is welcome. What we need is something much more coherent than the renewables obligation system. We need something that uses auctions, which delivers, as the Secretary of State has said, a market driving out costs in which the Government are out of the way to the maximum extent that they can be. In the meantime, why are we investing in expensive energies such as offshore wind? It is because they would not be viably invested in otherwise. None the less, that investment is driving the costs down. I say to those who are more sceptical on this matter to look at how prices have come down in solar and in onshore wind and how they are coming down in offshore wind. Whatever the current eddies in investor confidence, going forward with these particular Ministers who are committed both to delivering our climate obligations and to doing so at the lowest cost and in the most coherent manner is exactly the right position for us be in. I am delighted to say that I will be supporting this Bill tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow Graham Stuart who made a number of points with which I agree, and my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband who continues to make such a contribution to this debate. I also wish to place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State, who is no longer in her place, for the excellent job that she did in Paris—I am sure that those comments will be passed on to her—on behalf of us all. We are all delighted with the outcome of the Paris talks.
This is a wide-ranging Bill, but I wish to focus my short contribution on the renewables element, particularly the removal of the renewables obligation for onshore wind, and how that is impacting on investment in the north-east of England. I am fully aware of the Government’s concerns about the financial integrity of the levy control framework, and indeed I share those concerns. We need a fully funded, functioning levy control framework to fund clean energy developments. As the framework is funded by bill payers, it is absolutely crucial that we protect it and ensure value for money, but this Bill does not do that. The impact assessment demonstrates that, in the Government’s central scenario, this policy is projected to save bill payers 30p. In terms of the levy control framework, again in the Government’s central scenario, this policy is projected to save £20 million, out of a budget in 2021 of £7.9 billion. This measure does not appear to be protecting bill payers at all. Rather, it seems drafted for the purpose of appeasing climate change sceptics.
Last week, the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to decarbonising at the lowest cost to the consumer, and for that he has my support, but his Secretary of State is going about things in an odd way. The Government remain committed to the EU renewable energy directive, for which the UK must source 20% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. We also have a fixed budget for clean energy in the levy control framework. Will the Minister explain how, given a fixed renewables target and a fixed budget, replacing the cheapest renewable electricity technology, which is onshore wind, with more expensive technologies, such as offshore wind, can possibly lead to lower bills for consumers and maintain the financial integrity of the levy control framework?
In its July 2015 report, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast a £1.6 billion overspend for the levy control framework in 2021, owing to higher take-up under feed-in tariffs and the RO, greater capacity from offshore wind, and lower wholesale electricity prices resulting from the lower than forecast gas prices and the freezing of the carbon price floor. No one is blaming the Government for not anticipating this remarkable fall in global energy prices, but in their efforts to restrain this potential overspend, the Government are doing serious damage to the UK’s clean energy future and to the investment we need to encourage in low-carbon generation.
The Bill cuts subsidies for onshore wind, but companies such as Solar King in my constituency will be hit by a double whammy, with cuts to the feed-in tariff and the proposal to increase VAT for residential solar. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very difficult for any renewable energy business or investor to trust this Government, given their betrayal of the sector?
I totally agree with that. The impact on the solar energy businesses in this country has been dramatic.
Let me give a specific example, which is relevant to my constituents in Sunderland and also speaks to the way in which this Government’s policies have suffocated the growth in clean energy generation and the jobs that go with it. Nissan in Sunderland recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change regarding a £3 million investment it wished to make in extending a wind farm on its site—a letter to which, I understand, Nissan has not yet received a reply. The aim of the project is to generate more, and cleaner, energy on site, so that less needs to be procured from outside. But the Government’s
Under current proposals, Nissan’s investment will not go ahead because it had not secured planning permission or a grid connection agreement by the time of the announcement. Nissan has been working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and had an application for exceptional regional growth fund money accepted. However, a condition of this funding is that work cannot commence on a project, such as planning applications or grid connection negotiations, until the support application has been determined. In Nissan’s own words, it finds itself in a “Catch-22 position”—under the terms of the regional growth fund it is unable to seek the necessary approvals before the cut-off date, and the continuation of the exceptional regional growth fund programme was not confirmed until after the 2015 general election. The business case and regional growth fund application were based on eligibility under the renewables obligation. Without this, the development cannot go ahead.
My hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson, in whose constituency the Nissan plant is based, raised this matter at Prime Minister’s questions last week. The Prime Minister answered in general terms and did not address the specific point, yet this is the sort of project the Government should be encouraging, not suffocating. The fact that that project, which is on a brownfield site, for a major company that wants to reduce its carbon footprint, enhance the UK’s energy security and support an onshore wind industry that now employs 19,000 people may now not go ahead should be evidence of a policy that is not serving the best interests of this country. I ask the Secretary of State to engage with Nissan at the earliest possible opportunity, if she has not already done so, so that a sensible outcome can be achieved.
It is such confused and counterproductive policy making that many find so frustrating. The independent Committee on Climate Change has stated that the Government policy has created a “stop-start investment profile” which has hindered cost reduction and industry development. This has been compounded by retrospective changes, like the one to the renewables obligation in this Bill. It therefore comes as no surprise that the UK has fallen down the global league tables for energy investment. EY’s respected global rankings show that under this Government, the UK has fallen from fourth in the world in November 2013, to 11th. EY singled out the UK Government for a lack of clarity and
“death by a thousand cuts”,
“misguided short-term politics obstructing long-term policy . . . in a vacuum, with no rationale or clear intent.”
What does that vacuum look like in real terms? It looks like cheap, clean onshore wind and solar subsidies being cut, while developers are being incentivised to install diesel generators, second only to coal in carbon intensity, on their sites. One thousand such generators have been installed in the past 18 months because current Government policy has led to such narrow margins this winter. This was not what energy policy should lead to in the second decade of the 21st century.
That vacuum looks like UK solar capacity falling 30% year on year in 2015 despite a global upward trend. It looks like clean energy developers losing their exemption from the climate change levy. It looks like the abolition of the zero carbon homes standard, and the green deal being axed due to uncompetitive high interest rates. It looks like mothballing carbon capture and storage in the UK, despite the knowledge of the fact CCS is not an option but a necessity for decarbonisation, particularly for energy-intensive industries. It looks like pernicious planning interventions, with claims that power is being devolved to local communities, followed, as we saw in the previous Parliament, by unprecedented intervention from Whitehall by Sir Eric Pickles.
I hope the Secretary of State will look again at the proposal from Nissan, and at what it is doing more generally in relation to clean energy. No one has a monopoly on wisdom, but in the face of opposition from clean energy developers, with the Government’s own independent Committee on Climate Change detailing its fears, when global consultancies show the UK falling down the global league tables, and when the Government’s own impact assessment discredits their argument about money saving, perhaps it is time for them to reconsider some of their policies.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. We have plenty of time for this debate but a very large number of Members wish to speak, so I am afraid I have to reduce the time limit to nine minutes.
It is a privilege to take part in this debate and follow so many incisive contributions.
I welcome this wide-ranging Bill, first, for the support it provides to our oil and gas industry, which is suffering greatly, as many have said, from the fall in global oil prices. As we have heard across the Chamber,
Members know well that the industry makes a substantial contribution to our energy security, employment and overall economic wellbeing, so the establishment of a new arm’s length body charged with regulating the sector is an important step in the right direction.
I shall focus my contribution on part 5 of the Bill, which will deliver on our manifesto commitment to end new public subsidies for onshore wind and give local communities the final say on planning applications. I speak as a Member who has joined many communities in my constituency fighting plans for entirely inappropriate wind turbines in Copmanthorpe, Wheldrake, Upper and Nether Poppleton, Murton and Kexby, to name but a few. Every single time it was the developers who were trying to impose their turbines on local communities, who simply did not want them. This was entirely unacceptable and I am pleased that every one of those applications was rejected by the local authority.
We need to end the current system whereby developers pocket the lucrative taxpayer-funded subsidies, and communities are stuck with turbines in their local neighbourhood and suffer the problems that accompany them. It is only right that local communities, not politicians in this Chamber, have the final say over whether planning permission for a new windfarm is granted. I am pleased that the Opposition Front-Bench team has accepted that. Only 18 months ago, the Labour-run council in York was proposing to encircle our great cathedral city with up to 40 wind turbines. Thankfully, the Labour council that instigated this insane project lost office in last year’s local elections. That was only to be expected, given that the common-sense wishes of local residents were completely ignored.
As my hon. Friend Nigel Adams mentioned, any visitor to the picturesque countryside across north Yorkshire and the neighbouring east riding can appreciate that the area has taken more than its fair share of wind farms. The cruel irony is that ultimately they are being funded, at least in part, by the very local communities that are so deeply opposed to them. As such, I am delighted that the Secretary of State has grasped the nettle and pushed for the early closure of the renewables obligation scheme, an endeavour in which she has the full support of the overwhelming majority of my constituents.
It is a great shame that, when talking about energy, all too often we overlook the energy trilemma: the need to ensure that our energy is affordable, secure and environmentally friendly. All too often we focus on the final consideration—the need to decarbonise—when more needs to be done to push down the cost of household bills and increase capacity. Any Government who pay lip service to our future energy security are playing Russian roulette with our country’s future. We need a balanced energy mix to deliver that security, as Opposition Members have said. Without action, funds for otherwise uneconomic wind turbines are sadly draining resources away from other, less-intrusive forms of renewable energy that could play a key role in our future energy security.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on the need to give communities the final say on any wind turbines in their area, but does he agree with me that we need to ensure that wind turbines that do have local support are in no way disadvantaged compared with other forms of energy generation, for example if they need to get involved in the CfD mechanism? They must be on a par with other forms of generation, so long as the local community have a say on whether they are built?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; it is very important that this is community-led. There are places where there will be community support for onshore wind, and that must be seen through. I would go one step further—this is probably where I disagree with Ministers—because I think that the same should apply to fracking as well.
Offshore wind in the North sea has the potential to generate far more renewable energy than onshore wind farms, and in a way that does not harm our countryside. However, as the Secretary of State mentioned, further investment is needed in other exciting areas of renewable energy generation, so that we can decarbonise our energy network in a way that delivers lower bills and improves energy security. Tidal energy is one of the many types of renewable energy that are yet to be exploited on an industrial scale, as wind and solar energy have been in recent years.
I am very pleased to hear what I think is the hon. Gentleman’s support for tidal energy. Therefore, I seek his views on the fact that the Government seem to be continuously prevaricating over granting approval for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project in my constituency, which would generate huge amounts of clean energy and create thousands of jobs, including—consider the job losses that have been announced today—in the steel industry. Why, then, are they taking so long to give an answer on proposals made by the tidal lagoon team?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer that directly when she responds to the debate. In essence, I support the Swansea Bay scheme. I very much hope that the Energy and Climate Change Committee, of which I am a member, can visit the scheme and look at it in more detail. Sadly, the Chair of our Committee is not here, but a number of other members are. That is something that we should push for. It would be a groundbreaking move that could trail-blaze in other areas of tidal generation.
It is essential that taxpayer-funded subsidies accommodate bids from all sectors in the renewables industry so that we can support the green technologies of the future. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that this will be a relevant consideration in the awarding of future support to the renewables industry. With the right framework in place, we could become a world leader in tidal energy, as I have mentioned, which would help us in our efforts to maintain a diverse energy mix and ensure security of supply.
Only by embracing the potential technological enhancements of today can we realise the bold commitments we made for tomorrow at the recent Paris summit. Ultimately, we need a more dynamic and secure energy mix that focuses on jobs, investment and local communities. The whole point of public subsidy is not to become dependent upon taxpayers’ money, but to help new industries stand on their own two feet. It is therefore only right that we now turn our attention to supporting other potential forms of renewable energy that remain in their infancy and enforce our manifesto commitment accordingly.
It is essential that we listen to our constituents’ concerns about the relentless spread of onshore wind farms. Local people should always be at the heart of the decision-making process. It is therefore wrong that our manifesto commitment has so far been blocked in the other place by those who are unelected and, ultimately, are unaccountable to the people whom we in this Chamber serve. We must not shirk our responsibilities or go back on the commitments on which the Government were elected. Frankly, people are fed up with so many wind farms being built in their backyards, with their own hard-earned taxpayers’ money and without their say.
More must be done to support other forms of renewable energy that remain in their infancy. That is the only way in which we can have a broad-based renewables strategy while decarbonising our economy and ensuring an affordable and secure energy supply.
It is a pleasure to follow Julian Sturdy. I know his area well, and I agree with some of the things he said in his contribution. Few people would oppose a new regulatory body for our oil and gas industry in the North sea. One of my first jobs was on a tanker in the North sea, and I remember that the highly regulated Norwegian sector seemed to be growing in leaps and bounds, so I do not see regulation as a huge hindrance for the British sector. Similarly, nobody could disagree with maximising economic recovery, as the Government say they are doing through the Bill.
However, high energy prices are hurting our industry. Given the announcements we have heard today on the steel industry and the situation facing colleagues in Port Talbot, it is worth reflecting on some of the things that the Secretary of State said. She said that the Government were cutting back on the cost of energy. Actually, they are just fixing the mess they made in 2011, because it was this Government who brought in the carbon price floor that hampered many of our energy-intensive industries. That was an Osborne tax made by this Government, and it has caused the problems we see today. I do not want to dwell on that; I just want to see a little consistency from the Government and a clear path.
I represent a constituency that has plans for new nuclear and for a biomass plant and that has potential for tidal energy. Indeed, it has been dubbed the “energy island.” I believe that it is a microcosm for UK policy. However, we must have that energy mix if we are to have a sensible policy for the future. If businesses are to invest, we need the continuity and stability that they are crying out for. I have said on a number of occasions in this House that I am pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency, and I see no contradiction in that, because in order to get the balance right we need the full suite of technologies available for the future.
I believe that the Government have missed many opportunities in this Bill. I will deal briefly with part 4. I agree that local communities should not be ridden over roughshod when it comes to planning applications by developers. I think that is sensible. However, I think that the Government have their sights on the wrong targets when they talk about reducing bills by cutting so-called green taxes, because the biggest contribution to bills after oil and gas prices are transmission and distribution. There is nothing in this Bill, or in this Government’s energy policy, to deal with that. Twenty-five per cent. of household bills and business bills are for distribution and transmission costs, and yet—we hear talk about “the market delivering”—we have district monopolies in distribution and a national monopoly in transmission. National Grid does not act in the national interest: it acts in the interest of the shareholders of National Grid. That is wrong. In the previous Parliament, the Energy Act 2013 gave extra powers to National Grid by making it the systems operator so that it decides where new builds are going to happen and then provides the transmission in a non-competitive way. The Government need to look at that if they are serious about giving value to money to customers rather than fiddling around with the green areas that have been agreed just to get headlines in the Tory newspapers, as with onshore wind.
There was early onshore wind capacity in my area, but it has now grown to a stage where we need to build more. I agree with the Government on that. There used to be consensus on these policies. When my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband was Secretary of State, and then the coalition Government came in and Charles Hendry was Energy Minister, there was continuity on policies. That has been lost, and we now have a very piecemeal energy policy that many people believe—I think they are right to say this—has been driven by the Treasury. We have had the Osborne tax and the hands-on approach, and DECC officials and Ministers do not have the leeway to develop a coherent energy policy. This Bill was an opportunity for us to have a coherent energy policy on which to move forward.
I welcome the Government’s talk about nuclear new build, because my constituency will benefit from it. A fortnight ago, I went to the closure of Wylfa A in my constituency. Over 44 years of generation, high-quality jobs were provided. Few people in few industries could say that they have jobs for life, but nuclear provides that. We therefore need this long-term baseload, and I very much welcome it. The Wylfa Newydd—New Wylfa—project in my constituency started in 2007-08; it is taking a long time. That is why we need renewables facilities that can be built without these long lead times to provide the necessary balance. We need flexibility in generation because in a warm winter or a hot summer technologies have to be switched off. Onshore wind provides that flexibility in many ways, as does offshore wind. I saw that in operation when I was a member of the DECC Committee. We visited wind farms that are switched off in the summer so that essential maintenance can be done. A nuclear power station will not be switched off because it cannot be brought back on without adding extra costs. We need this flexibility, and this Bill does not in any way provide that.
The Government talk about honouring a commitment, but I am afraid they have form on that. When solar power was immediately switched off, just like that, there was a real impact on jobs in the creative industries as well as in the solar industry itself. We saw jobs lost in Wrexham and inward investment stop because of that policy. Yes, we need to taper off solar, and the previous Labour Government had a policy to do that, but the manner in which this Government did it impacted negatively on business. I fear that the same thing will happen with wind power. Many of the companies that have invested in wind power have broad portfolios with not just wind power but gas and various other energy mixes, and they are worried about which sector is next. They want stability, and this Government are not providing it. The Bill is a missed opportunity. We need to get back to a coherent energy policy with a consensus whereby we plan for 30 to 40 years, not for five-year electoral cycles.
It is a pleasure to follow Albert Owen. I am not the expert that he is on these matters. I will focus on the bit of the Bill that is most controversial in this place—the removal of subsidies for the renewables obligation for onshore wind.
I will sketch out my own personal journey on this subject. I was a bit of a “greenie” when I was first elected to the European Parliament back in 1999, and I enjoyed working with Caroline Lucas on certain things. It confused the hell out of her, but it did not do me any harm, and we actually had some interesting areas of agreement on policy. In 2001, though, I met a young gentleman called Bjørn Lomborg, and my journey to the light side has continued since then. Between then and 2010, I was interested in energy but did not really pay it much attention. As a Member of the European Parliament there are some big issues to talk about, but one does not look at individual policy areas in the way that one does when one becomes a constituency Member of Parliament representing, as I do, 72,500 people in the beautiful constituency of Daventry.
When I came here, I had one majorly controversial onshore wind farm development in my constituency, and I thought that I would do what everybody else in this place would do. I met the developer and representatives of the industry from the British Wind Energy Association, as it was then, to talk through the problems that my constituents had with their development. When that organisation later morphed into RenewableUK, I still spoke to it about how to include communities in decisions —how to incentivise them to take onshore wind in their area by working with them, perhaps even giving them some sort of rebate on their energy bills, so that they felt they were attached to local energy production for consumption in their areas. I have to say—and I am pretty sure that history will prove me right—that the wind industry decided to ignore all my counsel.
Bringing this forward to the present day, I suggest that how the onshore wind industry has treated communities up and down this country has done untold damage to how people see renewables in total as part of our energy provision. There is history to this that goes back further than the 2015 general election.
I am not saying that there is not a moral responsibility on businesses, but they will usually act in the way that they are incentivised to act, and it is up to us to create frameworks that get them to behave in the right way. The previous Labour Government’s refusal to listen on giving a voice to local communities meant that developers felt there was little point in engaging with and listening to the local community and just went to appeal to get the decision overturned. The then Government’s refusal to listen has led to hostility in many communities, including mine, towards the wind industry.
I agree, mostly, with my hon. Friend. That is why I welcome the tone of Lisa Nandy when she said that her party would now recognise the views of local communities on these matters and consider how they could be engaged.
I had to learn this for myself first hand with regard to an onshore wind development in the beautiful village of Kelmarsh—along the A14, just down from the M1 junction —where a number of 126.5-metre turbines are currently being erected. I thought, as my constituents did, that if we formed a good local campaign with everything going for us, we could win the campaign and stop a proposed development being established on what was, in most people’s judgment, an inappropriate site—a grade 1 listed site. That view was borne out by the planning inspector. Because the local council did the right thing and turned the application down, the developer appealed. The gentleman from the planning inspectorate in Bristol came to visit and made a stunning, groundbreaking statement that changed how I dealt with these issues and culminated in the pledge on onshore wind that I am so proud of in the Conservative party manifesto that saw us into government.
The planning inspector said all the things that the local community had been saying about the development being on an inappropriate site and about it being damaging to local communities, and gave a whole host of reasons why he should not approve it, but he then went on to say that national policy trumped all this, and therefore, “You are having this onshore wind development no matter what you would like.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the same logic should apply—local authorities and local communities should have a greater say—when National Grid comes up with a plan to connect a new generation of pylons to the grid? Does he agree that the Government should devolve that responsibility to local authorities?
I would not go quite that far, because I do not know the context in which the hon. Gentleman phrases his question. However, I would always argue in favour of local communities having way more say in developments. In fact, we should go even further and take the same approach as the French, whereby local communities are massively incentivised to get involved in taking on developments that are deemed unpopular elsewhere. Indeed, they choose to get involved: they have local campaigns for what would be very unpopular planning decisions in the United Kingdom, because they understand that they will be to their benefit.
I decided that I had to do my bit to try to change national policy, so I walked around the Lobbies of this place and found 100 other Members who felt similarly aggrieved about the way in which planning and onshore wind had been developed. I got them to sign a letter to the Prime Minister on how we should change things. I also noticed that, in 2011-12, we were already hitting our 2020 targets for onshore wind development capacity. Logic would suggest, therefore, that the subsidy we were giving to onshore wind was too high. The number of developments was such that we were going to shoot past the target without any trouble whatsoever.
The subsidy was too high and local people felt that they were being ignored. I would also argue that wind farms produce expensive energy, which puts people into fuel poverty and has contributed to energy prices going skyward at a time when the cost of energy is beginning to fall. We can never forget fuel poverty or the fact that our industry needs cheap energy to compete internationally, but let us put those points to one side for a moment. If we make an argument to local people about the need for an onshore wind development on their patch when they know that the targets have been hit, that they will pay extra through their bills for the privilege, that they will not get anything from it and that developers are rubbing their noses in it, we end up with a bunch of very angry people whose idea of what democracy should look and feel like is disturbed to the greatest extent possible.
Over time, I was delighted to be able to persuade, cajole, elbow, nudge and force my own political party into changing our planning guidance. However, that did not have too much of an effect until—as Julie Elliott, who is not in her place, said—the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government reminded the planning authorities of exactly what he meant in his policy statements by calling in a number of developments at appeal stage and making the rulings himself.
We then went further and said in our manifesto that we would cut new subsidies for onshore wind, but that was not good enough for me: I had had enough of these people and how they dealt with my constituents, so I wanted to deal with them retrospectively. In the energy chapter of the manifesto, it was generous of the Prime Minister to take on my well-registered and well-documented concerns and my ideas about how we should progress, and to state that there would be no new subsidies for onshore wind.
Anybody who drives up the M1 and comes to the gateway to my constituency, where the M1 meets the M6 and the A14, will see 126.5-metre-high turbines—I think we are going to get 102 of them—in a very small radius. My constituents are annoyed by the noise and worried about health concerns. They cannot sell their houses as quickly as they would like and there are all sorts of other problems, but they want to know that that will not happen to other people locally and nationally. I was therefore proud to sell that part of the Conservative party manifesto in the 2015 general election campaign.
There were some who tried to argue that that was not what the Conservative party meant in its manifesto and that we were saying something completely different—that we were talking not about existing wind subsidy or the renewables obligation, but about new subsidy. Those people were dancing on the head of a pin and that only upsets people in my constituency and, indeed, everywhere else, because it feeds the perception that politicians do not tell the truth or deliver manifesto commitments. Opposition parties would do a lot better than to argue against individual elements, because the language we used was absolutely black and white and it was sold to everybody as such.
I do not want to cut off the hon. Gentleman as he comes to a conclusion, but if it was so patently obvious to everyone that that was the precise meaning of the manifesto commitment, why was industry taken by surprise?
Industry was certainly not taken by surprise—absolutely not. It knew exactly what was coming its way. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that that is why it campaigned so aggressively with his party. I am afraid I have to stop there, but I want to send a message to those at the other end of the corridor that they should watch and learn about democracy before they start impinging on decisions we put in our manifesto.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow some very thoughtful contributions. I would like to single out those of Graham Stuart, Mr Lilley and my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband. As Members might expect, I did not agree with everything they said, but they were none the less serious and thoughtful contributions.
When this Bill first came before peers in the other place, it was a rather meagre piece of proposed legislation that focused almost entirely on fossil fuel extraction. It was amended considerably in Committee and, although it is still pretty thin gruel in many respects, at least it now has some regard to the ways in which current industrial activities and investment might be made compatible with a low-carbon energy future.
As has been said, the Bill is mostly concerned with the establishment of the Oil and Gas Authority. How that arrangement adapts to a world of plunging revenues from offshore oil and gas remains to be seen, but there is broad consensus in the House, with notable exceptions, on the need to implement the findings of the Wood review. There is also a robust case, in terms of economics and energy security, for using the resources of the North sea continental shelf to reduce our dependence on foreign imports during the transition to a decarbonised energy system.
It was disappointing that the Secretary of State dug in her heels with regard to carbon capture and storage, because I welcome the amendments that would expand the principle objective of the UK’s maximising economic recovery strategy to incorporate a regard for CCS development. The precise wording of the relevant clauses will need to be revisited in Committee to ensure that the industry has the necessary flexibility and that jobs and investment are protected, but CCS presents a real opportunity for the North sea oil and gas industry to utilise its technical expertise and skills in a way that will give it a sustainable future for decades to come. That opportunity will not be realised, however, unless we get clarity about the Government’s ambitions for CCS and a strategy to achieve those ambitions. At the moment, all we have is muddle.
“strain every sinew to create viable and affordable”
CCS technology, yet eight years on we have a Conservative Chancellor recklessly cutting the funding allocated to help bring forward commercial-scale CCS just weeks before many companies were expected to submit their bids. The abrupt end to funding support for CCS is not an aberration, but is indicative of this Government’s cavalier approach to the energy sector as a whole. That approach was evident in the most controversial aspect of the Bill that originally came before noble Lords in the other place, namely the decision to close the renewables obligation a year earlier than had originally been legislated for in the Energy Act 2013.
I agree with the point, which many hon. Members have made, about the need for local consent when it comes to onshore wind, but noble Lords removed clause 66 on Report, through an Opposition amendment, and they were right to do so, because the early closure of the RO was yet another example of policy making on the hoof from the Government. The measure’s stated objective was to save customers money, but, as we have heard, in the Government’s own central scenario, in many cases that will mean as little as 30p, and we know that the cost savings are unlikely to materialise, because we are not on course to meet our EU renewables target.
Given the notable lack of progress in decarbonising heat and transport, and of meaningful cross-departmental working to make up lost ground, we will be forced to go further, under the current targets, on renewable electricity. In those circumstances, it is entirely counterproductive to make life more difficult for the cheapest form of renewable energy available. It strikes me that the decision has much more to do with the politics of appeasing Conservative Back Benchers and with the Government’s interpretation of the levy control framework as a fixed-budget envelope—it was never intended to operate in that way. The decision clearly signals that the Government have abandoned their previous commitment to a technology-neutral approach to energy policy at a time when the overriding priority, as hon. Members have said, must be decarbonising at the lowest possible cost.
Despite the nebulous wording of the Government’s manifesto commitment, they clearly feel they have a mandate to reinsert clause 66, or a version of it, in Committee. If they do, as the Minister said they would, I would urge them to reconsider the impact of the RO’s closure on projects that have local consent and in which people have invested in good faith and on smaller generators and to work to incorporate truly equitable grace periods into the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman said that the saving would be very small, but the number of turbines affected would also be extraordinarily small, would it not? Should we not keep this in perspective?
It might be small, but I hope the hon. Gentleman would agree that projects in which people have invested in good faith and which have local consent should be allowed to proceed, instead of being penalised by the early closure of a scheme that had a fixed end point—2017—in legislation anyway.
The way the Government have handled the matter of the RO has been hugely damaging and undermined the industry’s trust in the Government’s word. Last January, the industry was told that its investments were safe and that no changes to the rules were proposed, but six months later, despite there being no clear signal in the Conservative manifesto, the Government attempted to do just that.
“Despite these facts, onshore wind projects are under threat from misguided Tory and UKIP policies aimed at stifling their development”— blah, blah, blah. It was lobbying against a manifesto commitment that he says it did not know about.
We will have to disagree. I would assume it was lobbying against the closure of new investment in onshore wind, not against a retrospective change to commitments already made.
This is no way to treat investors or to ensure that the UK remains an attractive place for overseas investment. In all the months I have sat as a member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, I have not heard one expert witness make the case for indefinite subsidy for onshore wind or any other renewable technology. What many have argued for, often powerfully, is a stable and secure policy environment and a graduated reduction of subsidy. They know that to do otherwise would risk jobs, damage investor confidence and cut the legs from under technologies that we know are delivering—by driving down prices. Those technologies, particularly solar and wind, are great British success stories, and I have heard the Minister describe them as such many times. However, those success stories, at least in the short term, now have a much more uncertain future.
I will finish by touching briefly on what the Bill does not contain. As I have made clear, parts of the Bill are sensible and other parts, when they came before peers, were removed with good reason and should not be reinserted without considered thought or appropriate safeguards; but there are also notable omissions. There is nothing about storage. It is deeply regrettable that the Bill is completely silent on the need to reduce energy demand. If ever there was a chance to make energy efficiency an infrastructure priority, which it needs to be if we are to solve the trilemma and meet our emissions targets, this was it. It is sad that the Bill, which could have done so much more, does not do so, as it stands.
Given the energy challenge that faces our country and the ambition required to realise the full promise of the historic climate agreement reached in Paris, there is a great deal of room for improvement in the Bill. I hope that in Committee we will find some way to address many of its deficiencies.
It is a privilege to follow so many well-informed contributions in a debate that I am sure everybody would agree has been characterised by good humour and moderation on both sides.
Too often we hear that the interests of British business are somehow at odds with those of working people and strong public services, but that sentiment flies in the face of the facts. In 2012, Britain’s oil and gas industry paid enough into our public coffers to fund every GP surgery and every accident and emergency unit in the UK. Even in today’s depressed oil market, the industry pays enough tax to bankroll MI5, with change to spare. Meanwhile, across our country, the oil and gas industry employs 375,000 people—equivalent, almost, to the entire population of Teesside. For 30 years, this great industry has supported jobs and our public services, but today it is suffering and needs our help. When Sir Ian Wood first published his report on the future of the UK continental shelf, Brent crude was trading at $110 a barrel. Last year, when the bill was first read in the other place, the price had halved to $60. Today, it is under $30 a barrel —a 70% drop. As Unite’s regional industrial officer said:
“Approximately 65,000 jobs have been lost…this is affecting workers, their families and the economy as a whole”.
By creating a new regulatory body and giving it enhanced powers and strong industry funding, the House can ensure that we realise the potential of a great national asset. We have harvested 42 billion barrels of oil equivalent from the North sea, but the further prize is the 24 billion more that lie undiscovered. Yet, in the last two years, we have only discovered 150 million barrels—just 0.6% of this vast, untapped opportunity. The new Oil and Gas Authority can help to reverse this decline. Today, there are more than 300 operators in the North sea, often small, often interdependent. Sir Ian Wood’s review found more than 20 instances, in the last three years alone, where operators’ inability to collaborate on shared access to infrastructure, such as shipping and pipelines, had led to higher costs, delays and stranded assets.
The many new powers the Bill gives the OGA will help it bring parties together to resolve disputes quickly, ensure assets are used more efficiently and increase transparency. Our goal must be to send a clear and unequivocal message to the world that, far from declining, the North sea is an industry poised for growth and innovation. In order to do that, however, the OGA must have a single driving focus: to maximise economic recovery. To dilute this clear, simple mandate, however well intentioned, would put at risk the jobs, investment and tax revenues that Britain needs. For an industry already in deep crisis, this is a risk we cannot afford to take.
Vital as it is to safeguard the livelihoods of our energy workers, however, it is equally important that we protect those who heat their homes with that energy. In closing the renewables obligation to onshore wind projects one year early, we can save bill payers hundreds of millions of pounds while still meeting our renewables targets. In the last Parliament, the then Secretary of State announced that between 11 and 13 GW of onshore wind power would be required for the UK to meet its 2020 renewables commitments. It is clear that we now have enough capacity in the pipeline to deliver that, so the fact that the renewables obligation will close early is not a change of direction, but simply reaching our destination earlier than planned.
Furthermore, one of the most basic principles of sound public finance is that subsidies should not become a permanent feature of an industry’s financing. That is the road to corporate welfare. Subsidies cost money—bill payers’ and taxpayers’ money—and should be limited specifically to immature technologies to help them to become competitive in the market. Onshore wind is clearly now a mature industry, and according to the UK Energy Research Centre, levelised costs for wind have been reasonably flat for more than a decade. By ending the renewables obligation for onshore wind, we can divert our scarce resources for subsidies to less mature technologies, help them to realise their promise and deliver our renewables commitments.
In conclusion, what a good energy policy demands above all is balance between affordability for Britain’s households, security for the future of British industry and sustainability for the next generation. In its original form, the Bill does all three, and I commend that vision to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow
Having recently returned unexpectedly to the Back Benches, it was with considerable excitement that I saw we would have the Second Reading of the Energy Bill today. Frankly, that was before I realised we would be talking about sado -masochism in an energy debate, which I must say is a first for me and an interesting development in matters of this kind. With a different electoral outcome at the general election, I would have hoped to be one of the people presenting a different energy Bill today—one from a Labour Government. Although we may have different views on this Bill, there is no doubt that the UK certainly needs an energy Bill. Many policy questions need a direction and many energy issues require some political leadership. Because of that, I must say I find this Bill quite disappointing. A fairer title would be the offshore oil and gas Bill that does some quite harmful things to the renewables industry.
By any measure, I am not opposed to the oil and gas provisions we have talked about. We should do all we can to protect the industry, which has been vital for the UK. The Wood review was a good piece of work and made many sensible and impartial recommendations. However, we must acknowledge the reality about the supply and demand prevailing in the international commodity market, especially for oil.
With oil at $30 a barrel, we cannot deny that there will be an impact on investment in the North sea. In many ways, we should take two notable things from that. First, to follow the logic of successful energy policy across the world, divesting and getting more into low-carbon generation will reduce demand for oil, which will be reflected in its price. Secondly, we cannot mention the oil price without remarking how silly it has made the SNP Members’ economic case for independence appear. It is a matter for them, but it should not go unmentioned. That deals with the entirety of one section of the Bill.
The section of the Bill on renewables is equally straightforward in that, except for the local consent provisions, we should not do it. I understand from the many times I have attended energy debates in the House what the general feeling of Conservative Members is about the wind industry. I would simply say that when we talk about this, whatever the personal positions that may come into it, we should not try to introduce personal facts, because some of the things said today are simply untrue. The figure for the contribution of UK wind to our electricity mix during the past 24 hours is 5%, not 1%. That information is very easy for anyone to obtain from their smart phone. It is equivalent to the contribution of biomass and, frankly, it is about a quarter of the contribution of our entire nuclear fleet, so it is not insignificant.
Constraint payments are a feature of any electricity system, which is a system that requires supply and demand. The best way for any hon. Member to see that for themselves is to go to the control centre, which is quite a fascinating place to visit. Constraint payments apply to every form of generation, and they go disproportionately —the numbers are much greater—to fossil fuels than to renewables. It is simply not the case that that feature applies just to our renewables sector.
The main point I want to raise on the provisions for onshore wind is that although financial support should of course be tapered out as the industry matures, ending it for what are seen as arbitrary or political reasons based on Conservative Back Benchers’ prejudices will damage not only that industry but all energy investment. I have been in the Chamber so many times to hear Conservative Members say, “We don’t like wind. We need some solar farms. The price of solar is coming down, and it looks great.” A few months later, the same people are back saying, “Actually, I don’t like solar farms now. Let’s talk about marine technology and tidal generation.” The fact is that if they undermine investor confidence in one sector, they will undermine it across the board.
It is true that there has been a set of long-standing opponents of wind energy in the Conservative party, and the industry might reasonably have been expected to anticipate that. I would say that there must be due regard to sunken costs, and amendments were made in the Lords that reflected the need to protect investor confidence, but they have been disregarded by the Government. For much of the time, especially when we talked about the price freeze proposed by Labour during the last Parliament, investor confidence were buzzwords for Conservative MPs. Frankly, in looking at such provisions, they seem to have deserted such a case. It must be acknowledged as factually true that if the cheapest form of renewable energy is scrapped, bills will increase. It is hypocritical to have one set of provisions for renewable energy and a completely separate set of provisions for fracking: if one set is good for one sector, it has to apply to all of them. That is the kind of inconsistency or incoherence that many people find frustrating.
Having dealt with those two parts of the Bill, I cannot help but use the rest of my speech to lament the issues and the sectors that have been missed, and to lament the missed opportunity that the Bill represents. The first such issue, which my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook mentioned, is energy efficiency. The Government’s record on energy efficiency is frankly abysmal. It has cost thousands of jobs, made fuel poverty worse, made bills worse and has hindered our ability to tackle climate change. Whatever form of generation people favour—there are cases for different forms and there is certainly a need for a mix covering almost everything—such generation will be expensive, and I would say that not getting the most efficient use of energy we already have is a scandal. In our access talks when we were in opposition, we looked at all kinds of things—from short-term measures we could bring in to emergency legislation to extend some obligations on energy companies—because we are going to need the jobs we have lost if we are to have any hope of hitting our targets and keeping bills low.
The second missed opportunity is carbon capture and storage technology, which, broadly, is essential to any of our plans. We know that it works, and the UK could be a world leader in it. Frankly, it is worth a punt: we should put some money into it. We are all left wondering whether any financial support at all will be available from the Government for carbon capture and storage. This is not just about electricity, but a principal means by which we can decarbonise industry. It seems tragic for the Government to have retreated from that area.
The third missed opportunity is decentralisation. The comments on that by Chris Heaton-Harris were extremely thoughtful. There is a need to decentralise and diversify the benefits and costs of energy subsidies, as well as where they are put, to make the situation more equitable and to deal with the issue of local opposition to planning new energy infrastructure. My own political party—not the Labour party, but the Co-operative, by which I am dually sponsored—has a fine record of being consistent and actively campaigning for that.
If we want communities to host electricity generation closer to their homes than has been the case historically because of the system we have used, we must find ways to bring them in and for them to see some benefit from it. Some of the hon. Gentleman’s comments were a little harsh, because some developers offer, for example, substantial reductions on energy bills for people who host nearby onshore wind. We should, however, look at ways in which to diversify the ownership structure of many such developments, as has happened on the continent. As he rightly said, if local communities feel that they are receiving a benefit, they will pay greater heed to the need for such developments close to them.
The last thing I want to mention is low-carbon heat. I try to get it into all debates, because if we are talking about hitting our targets or about trying to tackle climate change, heat is as important as electricity. Frankly, big political decisions need to be made during this Parliament if the UK is to make any progress whatsoever in this field. I still believe that we are nowhere near making such decisions, but we cannot wait much longer before starting that process.
In conclusion, the Bill has many worthy provisions, but it does not feel in any way as if it tries to meet the challenges in the UK energy market today. There is a sense that that is no longer a priority for the Government, when it should be a major one, not just because of the international climate change agreement that we made in Paris, but because of jobs and energy security in the UK. The right policies are available—policies that would simultaneously cut bills, tackle fuel poverty and cut emissions. My hope is for a much greater level of ambition from this Government and subsequent Governments.
With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will speak briefly about the provisions in the Bill that relate to onshore wind generation. Many Members have mentioned that the provisions in the original Bill reflected Conservative manifesto commitments. However, as my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris said, they had a much longer genesis. Having played a small part in the formulation of the policy during my time in Downing Street, I think it is important to understand the wider background to this debate.
As my hon. Friend said, the policy reflects a long period of campaigning. I pay tribute to the work that he and other Members of Parliament did before I entered the House to bring the policy to fruition. The policy also reflects the work of my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, the former Energy Minister, who played a large part in persuading the Prime Minister to take it forward when we were in coalition.
The policy reflects three principles. The first is local consultation—the idea that local people should have a say in decisions that affect them.
I just want to highlight the inconsistency between the principle that local people should have a say, which the hon. Gentleman has set out, and the Government’s approach to decisions about fracking.
I have great sympathy with the argument that local people should have a say, whatever the circumstances. Indeed, my constituency has faced a terrible situation with the Radlett rail freight terminal, in which local decision making has been overridden by national planning policy. I know that adverse sentiments persist for a very long time after such decisions so, wherever possible, one should give priority to local feeling.
As my hon. Friend Graham Stuart said, a lot of the anger about onshore wind farms has come about because local people have not had their say. That is why they have become the cause of such political contention, which was not the case previously. Local communities feel that wind farms have been forced upon them when this has patently been against their interests.
The second principle that the policy reflects is economic viability. There has been much debate about the exact amount of subsidy, but there is clearly large public subsidy for onshore wind. Whether the figure is £20 million or, at the higher end, £270 million, it is still money that is being paid by individual energy consumers, and those individual energy consumers are the least able to pay it. Since every consumer pays pretty much the same amount of subsidy, aside from variations in the size of their house, the impact on the poorest members of society is far greater than on the richest. It surprises me that Opposition Members do not take into account the regressive effect of subsidies on individual energy bills.
The third principle, which is one that we do not talk about enough in this House, is the value of the landscape, the general wellbeing of people who live in beautiful places and the need to preserve those beautiful places. Many of the most beautiful parts of this country have been defiled by ghastly, ugly, enormous wind farms that nobody has consented to. [Interruption.] Opposition Members mention fracking from a sedentary position. A fracking station tends to be a small building and most of the work is done underground. The ghastly great wind farms are often dozens of feet high and block the landscape for miles around. It is not a sensible comparison.
The important point is that if Members are arguing that we should protect our environment in the long run —I agree that we must do so if we believe the scientists that there is a threat, and I have to accept the overwhelming balance of evidence—why should we destroy what we so love in the short term by failing to conserve some of the most beautiful parts of this country?
The important point about these principles is that one cannot take one individual element, as Opposition Members have tried to do. One cannot say, “We agree with giving local people a say on the planning element, but we disagree with the removal of the subsidy.” The two are part of a coherent policy that has been developed over a number of years in opposition and then in government. Most importantly, those policies have been voted for. They were clearly flagged in the Conservative party manifesto and the Conservative party won a majority. The extraordinary thing is that the people who were defeated in that election—principally the Liberal Democrats—have used their superior force in the other place to defeat the elected will of this Chamber.
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. From being a party that long advocated the abolition of the other place and its replacement with an elected Chamber, the Liberal Democrats seem to have become the party of the unelected other place who seek to impose their will on this democratically elected place.
I wish to address the idea that these measures are somehow extreme. That is quite extraordinary when one looks at the amount of onshore wind we already have. We are on track to generate 30% of our energy from renewables. Renewable energy capacity has trebled under the coalition Government and this Conservative Government. At the moment, there is Government subsidy worth £800 million for renewable onshore wind, with 490 farms and 4,751 turbines. Onshore wind farms already account for a large part of the energy mix in this country. They have an important part to play, but they really should not play a dominant part. That is why it is important that we start to scale back the level of subsidy that is given to them so that we have a balance between different renewable technologies.
Onshore wind has many flaws. We have heard that it is not reliable and often requires large amounts of back-up. It is often in the wrong place, far distant from the industry that requires the energy. That means that further pylons and other forms of transmission are required to get it from where it is generated to where it is needed, which further adds to the subsidy that is required. It is often against the wishes of the local community.
In conclusion, I argue that the Government’s policy is a reasonable proposition. It has the support of the British people, as reflected in the general election. We should resist attempts by unelected Members of the other House to force a view that is not shared by the British people on this place. I urge Members to support all the measures outlined in the Conservative manifesto when they are reintroduced by Ministers, as I hope they will be.
It is a pleasure to follow such interesting and thoughtful speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who talked about the poverty of ambition in the Bill. It is also a pleasure to follow Oliver Dowden, who talked about the regressive nature of fuel subsidies. One thing that he did not talk about was the regressive nature of fuel poverty, which is something that I will talk about in my speech.
I will begin with the big picture. A couple of months ago, scientists declared that we are now living in the Anthropocene age. That is something that we will all have to learn to spell and pronounce properly. I hope that I have spelled and pronounced it properly, although I am sure that Hansard will step in if it is badly spelled. It basically means that humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife has created a new geological epoch. The challenge for our age is how we eradicate fuel poverty and lower carbon emissions to keep global warming well below the 2° increase agreed at Paris, while ensuring that we reach the sustainable development goals that were agreed in New York a couple of months earlier. We must protect our planet and pass it on in a good condition to our children and grandchildren.
We take our warm homes and electricity supply for granted. I remember—as, I am sure, do other right hon. and hon. Members of a certain age—scrapping the ice off the inside of my bedroom window as a child. That was a common feature in my home in Coventry, and the discovery of North sea oil and gas transformed this country’s energy infrastructure and meant that families such as mine were able to have heated bedrooms instead of just a gas-bar heater. That has changed people’s lives immeasurably for the better, so today I will talk about warm homes, the importance of low bills, and green energy—I have perhaps a different trilemma to some Conservative Members.
Energy must be affordable, and when we were in government we understood that. We invested £20 billion pounds in the decent home standard, making people’s homes warm and weatherproof. We installed 1 million new central heating systems, rewired 740,000 homes, and helped a further 2 million homes through the Warm Front scheme. That stands in sharp contrast to the 16,000 homes that have been retrofitted since 2013 under this Government’s Green Deal. Such things have a very real impact on people’s lives—there were more than 40,000 excess winter deaths among old people last year.
Five years ago in Wakefield, I discovered that Derwent Road and Windermere Road—both built from prefab homes—were not connected to the national grid and there was no possibility of a gas connection. I conducted a survey in 2009 with my colleague, Councillor Margaret Isherwood, and we discovered that the average fuel bill there was £2,000 pounds a year. We fought for those homes to be connected to the national grid, and we got Government help to warm up that cold spot, together with the local housing association, Wakefield District Housing, and Community Energy Solutions. Those were some of the 1,000 homes in Flanshaw, in a western area of the city, that were connected to the grid. One resident from those roads came to a recent surgery. and described her joy and how much she enjoyed seeing all the little gas boilers and their condensing pipes puffing out steam during the recent cold snap. We take such things for granted, but if someone has been paying £2,000 to heat what is essentially a metal home, that change makes a real difference. Each home that was insulated and had a new central heating system saved 2.6 tonnes of carbon every year. Warm, well-insulated homes make an impact in the virtuous circle of reducing our carbon emissions.
Sadly, Wakefield still has nearly 4,000 households in fuel poverty, and nationally bills have risen from an average of £500 a year in 2010, to £606 in 2015. The Government’s advice for people to switch tariff is simply not enough. Most people have to go online to switch, but the people that we are talking about do not have the landline, computers or computer skills to switch. I know that colleagues across the House have held switch sessions so that people can come in and switch tariff, but often the lowest fuel bills are internet-only and paperless, and people simply do not trust them. I for one will never switch to an internet-only bill—hashtag “just saying” [Laughter]—or banking, or anything like that.
Briefly, I want to mention the Government’s record, and particularly solar subsidies that have now been reduced by 87%. Plans to sell off the Green Investment Bank were criticised by the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit, for risking the bank’s unique green identity. The Government have cancelled proposals for carbon capture and storage technology, which could have been a huge new industry in Scotland and Yorkshire. People in Yorkshire were ready to bring in subsidy from the EU and to use the subsidy that the Government offered. That cancellation will have a massive impact on the creation of new jobs in Yorkshire and Scotland, and we must quickly come up with a new CCS strategy to ensure that we do not miss out on opportunities from that new technology.
The Bill also scraps support for onshore wind—one of the cheapest low-carbon energy options—and that will have a big impact on business confidence and inward investment. Figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance published today forecast that over the next five years investment in renewable energy could “fall off a cliff”. Graham Stuart spoke about the big investment, but the world in 2016 is a more uncertain place for such investment. Bloomberg predicts that the country will lose at least 1 GW of renewable energy generation because of the early closure of the renewables obligation, which is not good news. As with solar feed-in tariffs, the Government are changing energy policy with very little notice, and that damages investor confidence and puts at risk jobs and our energy security.
Hundreds of those jobs, particularly in the solar industry, are in Wakefield. Kingspan Renewables has its main manufacturing plant in my constituency and employs 140 people. Crompton Solar also wrote to me five years ago with the first proposed changes to the feed-in tariffs. It is an electrical engineering company that manufactures excellent inverters that are used in solar installations, and it is based in the city. I want those high-skilled jobs at Crompton and Kingspan in Wakefield to be safeguarded and secured for the future.
The Government’s programme on smart meters is behind schedule and behind time. They have tasked energy suppliers with installing those smart meters by 2020, but will the Minister consider using that installation as a way of educating householders about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning? More than 200 people a year go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, and around 40 of those people die. We have a once-in-a-generation chance of going into people’s homes. People should wear the carbon monoxide monitors so that staff are not at risk, but they should have that opportunity to educate people about any difficulties with their boilers. At a conference that I hosted on carbon monoxide poisoning in November, that was one concrete area that we wanted the Minister to consider.
In conclusion, our energy policy should focus on the trilemma of warm homes, low bills, and green energy. The Government’s track record in all those areas has been chequered, and they need to stop changing the goalposts on green energy. All changes reduce and affect our ability to meet our climate change targets. They affect families, businesses and growth, and we must live up to our past record as a leading player, not just on the big picture of climate change, but on green energy investment and tackling fuel poverty.
It is a privilege to speak about this Bill and to be asked to serve on the Bill Committee, as well as to follow so many excellent contributions, especially from my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, and my hon. Friend Oliver Dowden who made a passionate defence of the beautiful English countryside.
It is also an honour to follow Mary Creagh, although I will not attempt to spell or pronounce the age that she said we lived in. She spoke a lot about fuel poverty, but I cannot think of a single measure to help my constituents tackle fuel poverty that even begins to compare with the fact that, with so many people heating their homes with oil tanks, it is now 60% cheaper to fill those tanks than it was a year ago. The same goes for petrol and diesel, although the percentage falls are not as steep. I welcome that fall in oil and diesel prices, particularly for our hauliers who have been so hard hit of late. I was intrigued to hear Geraint Davies call on those on the Labour Front Bench to lobby the American Government to curtail shale, so that we can increase oil prices. I would be interested to know what the leader of the Labour party thinks about that policy.
Oil prices are key, and the most important part of this Bill is that it brings forward the Oil and Gas Authority in what is clearly a time of crisis for the industry. Hon. Members have mentioned the cost of oil falling to $29 a barrel. In fact, according to the internet, today it fell to as low as $27.70, and Ladbrokes are now offering odds of 10:11 on its falling to below $25 in the coming weeks, and 10:1 on oil being below $10 a barrel—incredible prices.
As several hon. Members have said, 65,000 jobs have been lost in the oil sector since the beginning of 2014. It is a difficult time for the industry, but there are roughly 24 billion barrels of oil left in the North sea, which one day will not sell for tuppence ha’penny. We need an effective regulator, because that can bring stability and encourage investment.
I have no expertise or background in the industry—my background is as a director of a small business that was regulated by the Financial Services Authority and is now regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. It is fair to say that the FSA was not a brilliant regulator—it failed fundamentally—but it is incredibly important that there is now a trusted regulator in the sector. I am sure it will be the same in the oil and gas industry. Oil & Gas UK has said:
“We believe the OGA is a critical catalyst for the work being undertaken to sustain offshore oil and gas activity and the associated employment in the sector, and its tools and capabilities should remain focussed solely on this task”.
I have one other point to mention on oil and gas. I am glad Callum McCaig is back in his place. When I intervened on him earlier and asked what the SNP could do, he suggested that it was naive to think that the Scottish Government should try to do anything about the crisis. It is a UK crisis, but it is hitting Scotland hard, particularly his constituency.
That is not a fair assessment of what I said. In response to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the Scottish Government should use their new fiscal powers to support the oil and gas industry, I said that I did not see that as manageable, and that to think otherwise would be naive. Support is being provided by the Scottish Government and is being well received.
The Scottish Government will have the power to raise tax. They can do that and say to the Chancellor, “We are extremely worried about the crisis hitting our countrymen and countrywomen. We will contribute to a fund to reduce the tax rates on North sea oil.” What is so controversial or naive about that? We had all that passion from the SNP at the referendum about Scotland. Now that we have a crisis in Scotland, what are the SNP Government doing about it? They have a duty to pull their finger out, put their hand in their pocket and step up to the breach.
On the subject of devolution, we also have devolution in England. I have a question for my Front-Bench colleagues. There is an important measure in the Bill on planning and onshore wind. The result of the Bill is that power will go to local people, but I ask the Minister what will happen if a combined Suffolk and Norfolk authority has strategic economic powers. Will that take over the planning powers that will be devolved to local authorities under the measure in the Bill? That is a question about the impact of the measure and English devolution.
As in other constituencies, there have been significant cases in my constituency. In the run-up to the general election, there was a major case of a wind turbine in Pannington farm in Wherstead, near the famous “Jimmy’s Farm” of BBC TV fame. I am pleased to say that it was soundly rejected by Babergh District Council, with great support from the affected communities of Pinewood, Belstead and Wherstead in the northern part of my constituency bordering Ipswich. Of course, those communities will very much welcome the measures in the Bill.
On the subject of planning, several hon. Members, including Lisa Nandy, asked this question: if communities have a say in onshore wind, why should the same not apply to fracking? I see the point they make, but that planning currently rests with the minerals planning authority of the higher authority—in Lancashire, that meant Lancashire County Council. As a result of the time that it is taking, I understand that the decision will eventually go to the Secretary of State.
Is the hon. Lady trying to intervene?
I did not say that it did not; I was talking about Lancashire, which obviously has an extremely important fracking issue at the moment.
My position is that fracking is clearly incredibly controversial. The point is that, because of some of the stuff coming out in the media—warnings of terrible things that could happen—I do not see how a district council in that climate would ever approve a fracking application, and yet that industry potential offers so much. We at least have to give it a go. Indeed, shale production could create up to 74,000 jobs, many in areas of high unemployment. It has to be said that it is easier for the MP for South Suffolk to support it—east Anglia apparently has no shale deposits—but we have to recognise the different context. Renewables is a developed industry and shale has not got going. We have exploratory drilling but no commercial drilling. We at least need to give it a chance to get commercial drilling going to see what impact it has in reality, so that we can get away from some of the hysteria and examine the potential. It could be a vital economic resource for this country.
I am sorry to detain the hon. Gentleman on this matter, but is he really arguing—I cannot honestly believe he is—that, because fracking is incredibly controversial, communities should be denied a voice? Surely that is a reason why communities should be given a say.
That is the point I am making. If there is a lot of hysteria about a sector, it can be very difficult to achieve a rational, objective decision. Let us not forget that the whole point of planning applications is that they must be considered in a semi-judicial and balanced fashion. That might not be possible—that is just a statement of fact—and yet, strategically, we need that industry. That is my view. I know it is divisive and that not all hon. Members share that view. As I have said, if I were an MP in Lancashire and had the problems that some of my hon. Friends have had, it would be difficult to cope with that pressure, but there is no doubt that shale has huge strategic potential.
Does my hon. Friend share my view that, with the plummeting price of oil and while the oil price is as low as it is, there is no way that the OPEC countries will allow another country to develop a commercial fracking enterprise, and therefore that the costs associated with the planning process, land acquisition and so on will not present a sufficient dividend on the investment to support a UK fracking sector?
I hope that that is the case. The point I was about to make is that there is no doubt that US shale has had the single biggest impact on the falling oil price, although it is not the only factor—there are many factors. I am grateful for that because the economic impact will be huge. Many in the other place said in that debate that, because the oil price was so low and energy prices were falling, we should use the opportunity to introduce new charges for renewables or whatever. First of all, we know those prices will not be temporary. Secondly, energy prices are low but there are other, negative impacts of the energy crisis, such as loss of jobs, lack of confidence and the up and down in the stock market. In effect, falling energy prices are an automatic economic stabiliser—they relieve economic pressure and help the economy to keep growing, supporting the consumer and so on.
I support the Bill because I believe it will give stability and a future to an industry that is struggling at the moment. That is the single most important part of the Bill. I also support the measures on the renewables obligation. I look forward to going through it thoroughly in Committee.
It is a pleasure to speak after so many engaging and insightful contributions this evening. As we meet today, it is easy to forget that it is almost 10 years since the Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, decided it was time to hug a husky, and five years since he declared his determination to lead the greenest Government ever. As soon as he had walked down Downing Street and made his way through the rose garden, and once he was out of the earshot of Mr Clegg, what did he do? He instructed his advisers to “cut the green crap”. I say that not to imply that the Prime Minister and his party were lacking in sincerity—of course they were not—but because it shows the undeniable truth that talking is easy but action is hard.
We saw that today in the Government’s failure to act to support the steel industry and jobs in my constituency, and we see it on climate change. Warm words will not stop global warming; only concrete action will. The connection between how we tackle climate change and how and where we get our energy is self-evident. It was for that reason that the Department of Energy and Climate Change was set up and why the Climate Change Act 2008 committed to reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. Alongside the Act was a detailed plan for moving to a low-carbon economy. Today, however, the Government are enthusiastically dismantling it, injecting as much uncertainty and instability into the energy sector as possible.
When I worked at the World Economic Forum, I was privy to the thoughts of CEOs and leaders of some of the world’s biggest companies. I have to say that most of those people got it. They would simply tell me, “Look, our business is not sustainable if our planet is not sustainable.” It is not just the case that business and the private sector could or should be partners in sustainability; the truth is that the business community desperately wants and needs to partner government on green growth. Like me, they have seen the reports that unchecked climate change threatens at least $4.2 trillion of assets around the world. They know that a sustainable business needs a sustainable planet.
I have seen the revolutionary capacity of private sector actors in attaining public goals—but that requires support from government. Part of that government support must be about creating an environment of certainty. Business can only mobilise and invest its intellectual and financial capital in green energy if it can have some sense of certainty—if it can be sure that the floor will not be pulled up from underneath it overnight. It is on this, and with the Bill in particular, that the Government are failing. Already the Government have decided effectively to block the solar industry from any certainty over the feed-in tariffs it will receive once projects are finished. Now we see greater uncertainty being injected into the issue of carbon capture and storage and wind farms with the early closure of the renewable obligation.
Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective and low carbon energy sources available to us in the UK, so the Government’s decision retrospectively to close the existing subsidy scheme, which was not in the Conservative manifesto, is an example of the Government’s reckless chopping and changing of energy policy. It should be particularly worrying for the following reasons. First, it will cost jobs. Hundreds of highly skilled workers will be laid off because of the Government’s mismanagement of clean energy subsidies. Secondly, the Government claim that ending solar and wind support will save households 80p on their annual bill, but most of the savings will be offset by hand-outs they have announced to more expensive energy projects, such as Hinkley Point B. The Government’s approach is inconsistent: stripping support for clean energy—for the cheapest energy we have—just when it is on the verge of reaching parity with non-renewables, while announcing new subsidies for the most expensive forms of energy. That is not about a fair market, but about ideology.
Thirdly, all this has been done with almost no notice, so it will totally wreck investor confidence. I have to ask the Secretary of State to put herself in the position of an investor in the energy market. Faced with the choice of investing in the UK or the US, where renewables investment has doubled under President Obama, where would she choose? Faced with the choice of investing in the UK or Germany, which has seen renewables rise from 6% of the energy sector in 2000 to almost a third of the sector by 2014, where would she choose?
The hon. Gentleman mentions Germany. He is right that there are more renewables there than in the UK. It is also a fact that in Germany carbon emissions per capita are one third higher than in the UK and one third more per unit of GDP because of its reliance on coal. Does he not accept that the Government have a responsibility to decarbonise as cheaply as possible? There was a terrible announcement today in his constituency. The cost of electricity for making strip products in Port Talbot is double the price for an equivalent company in Germany. Does he not accept that part of what Government must do is mitigate that?
I absolutely accept there have to be exemptions for energy-intensive industries. The steel industry has needed the energy-intensive industry compensation package for over four years. The Chancellor recognised the need for that in 2011 and it has taken until now to get it sorted. One reason for that is that we are expending so much political capital in Europe trying to negotiate a Brexit, but that is another case altogether.
Does the Secretary of State really think that investors are going to choose the UK, where one could be liable to see governmental and regulatory support wiped away overnight with no warning, or choose to invest in an environment of ever-increasing certainty? In fact, would she not consider investing in emerging markets, such as China, which is now investing more in clean energy than the whole of Europe combined, or in India, which is planning a fivefold increase in its clean energy investment by 2020, instead of putting money in an uncertain British market? We must be clear: the uncertainty will affect not only the renewable sectors explicitly covered by the changes; there will be contagion elsewhere from this assault on investor certainty.
On today of all days, I feel the need to talk about a specific example of where the Government’s failure to act decisively to support sustainable energy and create certainty for investors is costing our country dear: the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. As hon. Members will be aware, Tata Steel announced over 1,000 redundancies today, with 750 of them at the Port Talbot plant in my constituency.
I can scarcely believe that I would hear such a clear example of sado-masochism: an hon. Member representing a steel constituency calling for the highest-cost energy in the western world to go ahead. That can only make the problem of the jobs of his workers even worse. I just cannot imagine how he stands any chance of being re-elected.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his excellent advice. I will leave the last bit of his intervention for my constituents to decide. As I explained to David Mowat, there is a need for a compensation package for energy-intensive industries. As I have mentioned many, many times in interventions and speeches on the steel industry, the Government’s foot-dragging on the compensation package is a major reason why we are seeing the crippling of the steel industry. It has been too little, too late.
This happened because of the Government’s failure to act against the dumping of subsidised Chinese steel, the failure to produce a long-term industrial strategy for steel, and warm words backed up with no concrete action on procurement and energy. The priorities for my constituents are preventing further job losses and Government action to support retraining and transition for those made redundant. The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project is an opportunity for both job creation and support to the steel industry, because steel turbines would be at the heart of the lagoon project. The Government, however, have dodged and delayed the decision. Every missed deadline sets the project back. Every day or week of delay costs months or years—and it costs jobs. The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would be the first of its kind in the world and shows how important it is for the Government to act decisively and create certainty. My constituents urge the Secretary of State to take urgent and decisive action to support the project. We have been let down by the Government too many times, today being a prime example. It is about time the Government took action, so I would appreciate a specific answer from the Secretary of State about the tidal lagoon project in her wind-up.
It is not just on the tidal lagoon and the arbitrary scrapping of the renewables obligation that the Government are failing. The decision to axe the carbon capture and storage programme, just when Britain is on the brink of securing major investment from the private sector, puts the entire future of UK CCS at risk. CCS technology not only offers the chance of decarbonisation and of transforming non-renewable energy into something that can be made part of a viable sustainable energy mix, it supports jobs. But, again, we see a Government who are unable to create an environment of certainty for investors, employees and our country, and so our energy security is put at risk, as is the future of our planet. There can be no doubt about it, the Government’s actions are being noted around the world. The Prime Minister will parade his signature of the Paris accord, but colleagues around the world, as well as in this Chamber, see him slashing vital support for clean energy.
The UK's reputation as a world leader on climate change is under threat, and we now face an uphill battle to meet our legally binding EU renewable energy targets. We should ask: what is the theme running through all this? It is of a Government and a party driven by the politics of now: that is why in 2005 we saw “hug a husky” and in 2010 the pledge to be the greenest Government ever; that is why we saw the ditching of the green deal when those pesky Liberal Democrats had left the Cabinet table; and it is why today we see an end to support for wind, solar and CCS. Government Members have had too many complaints at their local association meetings. Government Ministers have been too preoccupied with expensive nuclear projects and cosying up to China. The Government—or Mr Lynton Crosby—do not feel green issues and the environment are fashionable any more, and the internal politics of the Conservative party pushes them again back to their comfort ground and away from a commitment to a sustainable future.
The climate challenge cannot be met by the politics of now. It cannot be met by short-term thinking and internal party management. The Conservative party claims to be the party of entrepreneurs. I say it is about time it started acting like it, with an entrepreneurial state willing to collaborate and work with the support of all those in the private sector who want to build a sustainable future. There has to be a collaborative approach between business and Government. At the heart of that, there has to be an environment of certainty. That is how we will secure investment and how we will secure jobs. Most importantly of all, it is how we will secure a sustainable future.
I implore the Government today to rethink and to go back and pay heed to those saying stop. They should stop destroying investor confidence, stop the uncertainty and start supporting a sustainable energy market and future.
I remind the House that I offer business advice to an industrial and investment management company.
With oil at $28 a barrel, the North sea and its supporting investments face a very damaging threat. None of us can know whether in the near future OPEC might change its policy and suddenly reduce capacity to put the price up; and none of us can know exactly when enough capacity will be closed elsewhere in the world where there are exposed investments and very high costs to get supply back into line with demand and to get the oil price higher. All we can do at the moment is try to manage what we have. Today, we have a very low oil price by recent historical standards, and it has completely undermined the business model and the investment case for many parts of the industry.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State has pledged strongly that she sees the North sea as a fundamental part of Britain’s energy requirements in the future and a fundamental part of our whole industrial base, as indeed it is. The North sea has not just spawned substantial energy reserves and large tax revenues for us, but enabled the growth of a large number of highly skilled and technical jobs, with talented people working in a large number of companies.
The Scottish Nationalists are saying, “Let us review oil taxation again and have lower rates going forward”. At the moment, as there is no revenue coming into the Treasury from North sea taxes because the oil price is so low and the investments so damaged, I am quite relaxed about that advice, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be thinking very carefully about how he can support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change going forward with more investment. I have to warn Members that even if he were exceedingly generous about future rates of North sea taxation, it is not going to be enough to make a difference against the background of oil costing $28 a barrel.
What we are now battling for is not the revenues we used to get from North sea oil taxes. What we are now battling for is the very substantial income tax revenues that we have been getting, as the United Kingdom and as Scotland, from the very highly paid jobs in the Aberdeen area and the other supporting areas for the North sea. If we are not careful, $28 a barrel oil will lose a large number of those jobs—some have already gone—and flatten the incomes of many others. It will mean a very big hole in the Scottish income tax revenues on top of the damage done to the United Kingdom/Scottish revenues from the oil itself. That is why I hope that the Treasury and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will work with the industry to come up with any kind of scheme to give us a chance of reinvesting. We need to use the best extraction techniques and the best modern technologies. Of course we need the industry to work on its cost base, but that will require something very major.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also right that security of supply must be her single most important consideration. She is trying to balance security with costs and green issues, but I think she is right to regard security as fundamental. If there are tensions, the Government must surely put security of supply before all other considerations.
I notice that we are beginning to rely rather more in our policy on interconnectors. Let me provide a word of warning: they may provide a short-term solution, but to interconnect our supply to the continent of Europe— a continent very short of its own indigenous energy resources—does not necessarily make us more secure. Bearing in mind the importance of Russian gas throughout our continent, particularly the further east we go, I do not wish my country to be geared in the long term to an energy-short continent dependent on Russian good will. I think our security of supply must rest on indigenous UK energy resources—renewable and carbon-based in the right balance, but above all coming from generation sources that provide continuous and flexible supply.
I fully support the Bill in its wind provisions. I am a long-standing critic of wind, which I think is far too expensive. The main reason for it being far too expensive—let us be clear on the Conservative Benches, if not elsewhere in the House—is that we cannot rely on wind, requiring the building of two lots of power generation in order to be secure. There is the wind, which works sometimes, but 100% cover is necessary in many cases via other types of generation in case the wind does not blow. Given that the wind has a habit of not blowing when it is really cold and when industry might need quite a lot of energy, it is important to have that further back-up.
That brings me to the second most important proposition that my right hon. Friend has to handle, which is cost. We all witnessed an extremely sad announcement earlier today—one of a series of sad announcements about our steel industry. The Minister chided me when she said that if I believed in markets why would I want British investment projects to be buying British steel? Let me reassure Ministers that I always buy a British-made car because I live in this country. My salary here is paid from the taxes paid by people who go to work in my country, so I think it only courteous to buy some of its more expensive products when I have the money to be able to afford a car. Similarly, I like to holiday in England because it adds to the jollity of nations and provides circulation of the salary I am paid here.
I have always been someone who believes that if we live in a society or a political community, we should accept mutual obligations. I thus strongly believe that when we are voting on huge sums of money to go into very large investment programmes that have a large steel component, we should go to the next stage and say, “By the way, we want competitive British steel to be at the core”. We should be able to lay that down as a requirement. There would still be competition between the different British producers to keep them honest, but we should surely want to use our public money in that way.
Our problem on cost is that because we have so much wind in the system and we have to provide alternatives and back-up on top, the cost of our energy has become very high, which is undermining the industrial policy that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in the previous Parliament seeking the march of the makers. We will get the march of the makers on the scale we want only if we offer cheap energy. Our energy needs to be cheaper than Germany’s, not dearer. It needs to be competitive with that in China and the United States of America, whereas it is far from competitive at the moment.
Modern industry is very energy intensive. It is not just the so-called energy-intensive industries that might attract some subsidy; the general process industry is energy intensive as well because it is highly automated and the grunt is now provided by electricity-driven machinery, not by human hands and arms. We need to understand that one of the core elements of any successful industrial policy must be cheap energy, so I wish my right hon. Friend every success in trying to bring together those three different components of her policy to put more emphasis on cheaper energy. To do that, we need to end these large onshore wind subsidies. To do that, we need a new generation of electricity plant that has cost as one of its main considerations. That may well be gas plant, but it will have to operate for considerable lengths of time in order to get the proper economies of scale.
The danger of the system we have inherited is that it makes sure that we pay as much as possible for energy at any given time. If very dear energy is available as wind energy, we have to run with that, which makes the cheaper energy dearer, because the base-load cannot be run any more, so the costs of switching on and off become rather large.
Three cheers for the Bill; I fully support it. Three cheers for the Secretary of State, but for goodness’ sake let us not rely on foreign supply and let us not rely on wind. Let us have some decent reliable base-load electricity at a price industry can afford.
“meet our climate change commitments, cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible, to save you money.”
Although I welcome action towards achieving this goal, and particularly the introduction of the OGA, recent action seems at odds with the climate change agenda. While I agree with the Secretary of State when she says that this is one of the biggest challenges facing this generation, with the advances in technology, clean renewable energy can be less expensive to the consumer than traditional carbon-based energy.
The £92.50 strike price at double the current rate for Hinkley C, guaranteed for 35 years, is a case in point. As for alternatives that might be cheaper in future, one possibility is compressed air energy storage, allied to the admittedly intermittent nature of wind power.
I could also tell the right hon. Gentleman about advances in technology in the context of the carbon capture projects in Scotland and Yorkshire. Before coming to this place, I was fortunate enough to work in the energy sector for 13 years, and for some time I was Shell’s contract leader for the carbon capture project. I moved it from the coal-fired power station at Longannet to the Peterhead gas fire power station, so I understand all too well what “advances in technology” means.
When we were talking about the amine process—before the rug was pulled from under our collective feet—we likened the technology to that of the mobile phones of the 1980s—the right hon. Gentleman is not young enough to forget those clunky phones—which would capture 90% of emissions. Given the advances in technology, were we to retain and develop that process, the figure could rise to 92, 94 or 96, with ever-reducing costs. This was a missed opportunity: that is the point that I was making.
Creating market incentives to achieve the two-pronged goal of cheaper and cleaner energy requires a reworking of the United Kingdom Government’s involvement in the energy sector, and a rethinking of their relationship with energy. In the Bill, the Government propose to close the renewables obligation to new onshore wind projects from April 2016, a year earlier than originally planned. Given that the RO is the only current mechanism that enables large-scale onshore wind to enter the power market, the proposed closure poses a significant threat to the future of the onshore wind sector and the United Kingdom’s growing green manufacturing, export and investment potential, while increasing the difficulty and costs associated with meeting the challenging decarbonisation targets.
In the House of Lords, the Government proposed a number of grace periods designed to allow projects that had already committed significant investment on the basis of an expectation to deliver before April 2017 to proceed. Peers rejected the clauses on the RO closure, calling for the Government to respond more fully to the substantive concerns expressed by industry about the closure and the grace periods. I support that position. Investors and developers need clarity from Parliament on the future of the renewables obligation. Without that certainty, investors will be unable to proceed with projects that were expected to be delivered on the basis of RO grace periods. The Government must also explain how new onshore wind projects will in future be able to access and compete in the market for low-carbon power.
No, I will make some progress.
Without such a route to market, the Government risk increasing the cost of meeting our long-term carbon reduction targets.
The deployment of onshore wind has greatly helped to keep the cost of decarbonisation down, while creating business opportunities for UK firms. The onshore wind industry has grown significantly in recent years, and now supports some 19,000 jobs. In 2015, the 8.5 GW of operational onshore capacity in the UK met nearly 6% of the UK's electricity demand.
We need to invest in research and development to establish that. R and D is another shortfall on the part of this Government and others, which is why we lag behind in respect of wind technology. We are well advanced with North sea and sub-sea technology, because we had the conditions that encouraged research and development, but since that time this Government and its predecessors have failed to do the same for wind.
Scotland in particular has embraced the benefits of onshore wind, with over 5 GW of operational projects, and the country is home to around 70% of the onshore wind projects that are currently in the UK planning system. Onshore wind has been the driving force behind the fact that renewables now account for nearly half Scotland’s gross electricity consumption. It is also the cheapest source of renewable energy, and it will soon compete with conventional forms of power generation. According to the Committee on Climate Change, the full cost of onshore wind projects will be
“similar to that of gas generation in 2020 (e.g. £85/MWh). In practice, some of the best sites could be considerably cheaper and costs should continue to fall” as efficiencies increase.
The Bill’s impact assessment states that the Government aim to achieve 11.6 GW of operational onshore wind by 2020, and that currently 10.4 GW is operational or under construction, leaving a further 1.2 GW to come forward before RO closure in April, or in the grace periods that the Government propose. It also states that that there is 2.9 GW of onshore capacity with planning approval awaiting construction which could have come forward under the RO. That means that up to 1.7 GW of capacity will be lost under the Government’s plans. That amount of onshore wind capacity would generate about 3.8 terawatt hours of electricity, which is equivalent to the annual power needs of more than 900,000 homes. Closing the renewables obligation without explaining how further onshore wind can access the market poses the risk that the UK will fall further behind on our 2020 renewable energy targets, and that the cost of continued decarbonising of the energy system will increase.
The central estimate in the Government’s impact assessment is that early closure of the RO would reduce annual household bills by 30p per year. While the Government and industry must ensure that we minimise the bill impacts of achieving our renewable energy and carbon reduction target, the potential impact of RO closure on the onshore wind sector and on wider energy investor sentiment could increase the overall cost of investment in our energy infrastructure. Moreover, unless a route to market for new onshore wind projects is set out, consumers could face higher bills, because the UK must rely more heavily on more expensive generation technologies as we seek to cut carbon from the power sector into the 2020s. The £92.50 strike price for nuclear generation at Hinkley C, guaranteed for 35 years, is an example of that.
The latest edition of the EY renewable energy country attractiveness index, which was mentioned earlier, now puts the UK at No. 11. For the first time, it has fallen outside the top 10, and it has fallen from its position as No. 5 in February 2014. Indeed, industry and business groups, including the CBI, have been warning of the damaging effect that short-term changes in the framework for renewable and low-carbon technologies are having on the UK’s ability to attract investment into our energy infrastructure more widely. Moreover, a recent EY survey of lenders in the onshore wind sector found that more than half those who responded were not prepared to lend until the Bill had received Royal Assent, largely owing to the current political and regulatory concerns about the RO and the lack of guidance on the process and timing of the Energy Bill’s amendment in Parliament.
As a leaked letter from the Energy Secretary acknowledged in November 2015, the UK is not on track to meet its 2020 renewable energy target covering the use of renewables in electricity, heat and transport. Of the three sectors, only renewable electricity is on track at present. The overall shortfall—estimated at 50 TWh—is made up of under-delivery in heat and transport. Increasing the share of electricity sourced from renewable sources is a cost-effective method by which the UK could seek to make up at least some of the shortfall, and has the benefit of established industries with a track record of delivering significant capacity over relatively short periods. The lack of clarity for renewables projects in both the RO and its replacement, the contract for difference, means that Scotland is also now at risk of not meeting its own 2020 target to generate the equivalent of 100% of its annual demand for power from renewables by 2020.
In conclusion, I thank those Members who have contributed to this critically important debate, and while I welcome the Government’s energy market reform, as it is an essential step in achieving clean, cheap, and secure energy, I have serious concerns about the ways in which the UK Government have enacted it, particularly in regard to onshore wind, carbon capture, the retention of core oil and gas infrastructure, the green investment bank and solar energy.
The closure of the RO a year early has been a huge blow for small, independent developers, whose projects have now potentially been compromised. Amendments introducing a robust grace period scheme must be introduced in Committee. The UK Government’s backpedalling on the closure date of the RO has created uncertainty among investors.
I look forward to hearing proposals from the UK Government as to how these issues will be addressed and urge all involved to expedite the implementation of this Bill as quickly as is reasonably possible. The energy industry in the UK has been undermined by the Government’s continuous moving of the goalposts and needs legislative stability to attract and retain finance, and to bring back much needed investor confidence that is essential to the success of this industry.
It is a great pleasure to follow Philip Boswell, who readily admits—although with undue modesty—that he has a huge wealth of knowledge about the British energy sector. That said, I cannot be alone on the Government Benches in being slightly surprised at the sanguine—I was going to say “relaxed”—nature of the SNP with regard to its trumpeting of the bona fides of renewables when one of Scotland’s largest industry sectors and employers is in such crisis. I am sure that commentators and others in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and elsewhere will note this.
It is a pleasure to speak in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. Those of us who look for what could be described as a golden thread to run through UK energy policy probably look in vain, because, as we have heard in many speeches, it has broken down into many sectors, all trying to generate one particular commodity, but looking to different modes of generation in order to achieve it. The Government have to wrestle between tensions which other Members have referenced. There is tension in cost-effectiveness for large-scale users in industry as well for domestic users, and in trying to reduce demand through energy efficiency in new-build and the type of refit that Mary Creagh was talking about to try to address climate change, and to ensure, as my right hon. Friend John Redwood made clear, energy security. Security of supply has to be absolutely at the top of the tree. I believe that the Government and the Department wrestle with those often competing tensions on a daily basis, but clearly have security of supply at the top of their agenda as well, which is to be welcomed.
A number of hon. Members have spoken about fuel poverty, and I share that concern. That is why I trumpet the huge reduction in the oil price. For a constituency such as mine, which has well below the average annual take-home pay, low oil prices for domestic heating are a godsend. I do not think there is a single house in North Dorset that has access to mains gas, so most of us will be looking to oil heating. Therefore, that is rather good news.
On the specifics of the Bill, it is good news that we seem to have bipartisan support for the creation of the Oil and Gas Authority, and I welcome its creation. There are, however, some notable points that could be focused upon. The fact that in the Bill the Secretary of State retains the environmental regulatory functions, notwithstanding the creation of the OGA, is important. Those environment regulations should be dealt with by democratically accountable people, as we have seen with regard to fracking.
I also welcome the fact that the OGA will have access to company meetings and to data acquisition and retention, and will have a role to play in dispute resolutions as well as imposing sanctions. I welcome the proposed changes to fees and charges to ensure that the OGA’s costs are far more closely linked to those who will benefit from its services and functions.
I hope that the Scottish National party will support the Government’s stance on carbon capture and storage when we come to debate the Bill in Committee. An amendment that was proposed and agreed to in the other place by another unholy alliance—Labour and Liberal Democrat peers—will only place a further burden on the industry, particularly but not exclusively those operating in the North sea, by requiring them to keep in place and up to scratch certain facilities that they might consider redundant and wish to decommission. That would only add to their costs. I hope that we will be able to reach agreement on that.
Following the vote in the other place on tax credits, I suggest that the Lords are skating on incredibly thin ice by voting against something that was clearly stated in our manifesto, which was endorsed as recently as May 2015. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris has done on onshore wind. Our proposals on those changes were clearly set out in the manifesto. I welcome the Bill’s proposed changes to the planning regime that will result in such developments being determined by local planning authorities, irrespective of the amount of power to be generated.
I share the view expressed earlier by the shadow Secretary of State, Lisa Nandy, who is currently engaged in conversation with the Leader of the Opposition’s representative on Earth. The hon. Lady is still not listening to me. I am trying to agree with her, but she is engrossed in conversation with Clive Lewis. I agree with her point about the presumption of a principle of greater community consultation and involvement in determining planning applications for fracking. That would be a sensible conclusion.
When the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom considers the planning aspects of the Bill further, may I urge her to have a detailed conversation with her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about the national planning policy framework? In my life prior to becoming a Member of Parliament, I saw too many instances of an inspector and/or planning officers saying, “Yes, yes, we hear all the arguments and we understand that this is an area of outstanding natural beauty, but the presumption of planning policy set by the Government is that in principle this development should go ahead.”
I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to be acquainted with chapter and verse of the national planning policy framework, but the second bullet point in paragraph 97 states that local authorities are mandated to
“design their policies to maximise renewable and low carbon energy development while ensuring that adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily”.
Paragraph 98 goes on to state that a local authority is expected to approve an application
“if its impacts are (or can be made) acceptable.”
I think the NPPF might need some tweaking to better reflect the Minister’s welcome ambitions with regard to planning.
This has been an interesting debate, and a lot of people have spoken forcefully. I hope that as the Bill proceeds through Committee, Report and Third Reading, it will take head-on the arguments deployed in the other place and shred them, because the basis for those arguments is very shaky indeed. I understand that I am to serve on the Energy Bill Committee, and I look forward to playing my role to ensure that my constituents in North Dorset and every constituent in this country, whether north or south of the border, can have reliable, secure energy that is cost effective to them and reliable to the Exchequer.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I want to focus my brief comments on three areas: the overall aims of the Bill; carbon capture and storage, given the Lords’ activity on that issue; and the Paris outcome, and why there is a strong economic and employment case, not just an environmental one, for going back to the drawing board with this legislation.
When the Energy Bill was first published, it appeared to be competing for an award for the least fit-for-purpose legislation of the year, and I have to say that competition for that award is strong. Some positive amendments have been made in the Lords, and since the Bill was first introduced we have had the Paris climate conference, but the overall picture remains unchanged. At a time when we should be speeding up the deployment of renewable energy, getting serious about energy efficiency and working out how to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground, the Bill takes us in precisely the opposite direction. That is why I tabled a reasoned amendment to completely oppose it.
The bulk of the Bill takes forward the oil and gas industry’s Wood review wish list. It continues the delivery of the strategy to maximise the economic recovery of oil and gas, which, quite shockingly, is made into a legal duty in the Infrastructure Act 2015. Were it not for the Lords amendments, the Bill would also be hammering a nail in the coffin of the UK’s onshore wind industry. The early closure of the renewables obligation for onshore wind undermines investment, destroys jobs and flies in the face of ministerial rhetoric on cost, especially compared with the eye-watering subsidies for new nuclear power. Moreover, this ideological attack on onshore wind will crush the aspirations of many local people and businesses to harness wind power for their own benefit. The Bill is also unfit for purpose because of what it leaves out. It contains nothing on energy-efficiency, fuel poverty, community ownership or maximising the economic energy security and employment contribution of home-grown renewables.
As I said, the Lords made a number of welcome improvements to all parts of the Bill, and I particularly welcome clause 80’s moves towards honest accounting of the UK’s carbon reductions, making sure that UK emission reductions count only when they happen here, rather than relying on the EU emissions trading scheme as an excuse to carry on polluting. The global carbon budget is so small that there is no room for free riders, least of all rich European countries such as those in the EU.
A lot of debate in the Lords was about carbon capture and storage, and there are new clauses on that, too. The fossil fuel industry is desperate for CCS as its get-out-of-jail-free card, but not only is CCS hugely expensive, uneconomic and largely unproven; it does not stand up to scrutiny, against either the speed or scale of the carbon reductions needed. To colleagues who may disagree on this, I recommend a Carbon Tracker 2013 report showing that even if CCS were deployed in line with an idealised scenario by 2050, it would only extend fossil fuel carbon budgets by 4% of total global reserves. Nor am I aware of any serious suggestions that CCS could even come on line before 2030, by which point the global carbon budget may already be used up—even that timescale is subject to a long list of “ifs”. If politicians fail to heed the climate science and if our actions continue to fail to measure up to our words, not only will we perpetuate widespread disillusion and disengagement with politics, but more citizens—students, grandparents, social workers and scientists—will be putting their bodies on the line and taking peaceful direct action to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This Bill demonstrates why they have my support.
Carbon is not the only reason to keep fossil fuels in the ground and go all out for renewables instead, and it is not the only reason why this Energy Bill is completely unfit for purpose—there are strong economic and employment arguments, too. Let me end by looking again at what the Paris climate agreement should mean for the UK’s energy policy. The conclusion from Paris is, unquestionably, a diplomatic triumph, and if the UK is serious about keeping well below a 2° goal, let alone making our fair contribution to the 1.5° goal, which is a matter of life and death for many countries, there are major implications for energy policy. It is important to emphasise that the response, including from business, has in many respects been positive. An increasing number of businesses are recognising the need and advantage of shifting to post-carbon economics. As James Murray, editor of
, wrote recently:
“From the tech billionaire’s multi-billion dollar R&D commitments to the states and cities detailing plans to cut emissions by a level equivalent to the total current emissions of China. From the development banks unleashing billions of dollars of new climate funding to the various sector alliances promising to accelerate the development of solar power, green buildings, zero emission vehicles, and various other clean technologies. From the Financial Stability Board’s climate risk disclosure commitment to multinational firms sourcing all their power from renewables. It is increasingly clear the shift in corporate engagement with climate change that has been gathering pace for the past decade is finally starting to come of age.”
We have also had the entrepreneurs’ call to climate action, a joint statement from 121 chief executive officers with international operations issued in the run-up to the climate talks. They made an incredibly powerful point that the technology and the business models already exist for
“100% fossil free solutions, as opposed to a slightly better version of an already existing polluting alternative.“
That is the direction of travel and it is recognised by many businesses, yet this Government are lagging far behind and this Energy Bill appears blind even to the economic case. To make the Paris agreement meaningful, the Government have to do more than simply restate their commitment to the Climate Change Act, important though that is, and parrot out past achievements. There is a very big difference between meeting existing targets and being on track to deliver future commitments, and Ministers should stop conflating the two.
There are some red lines for a post-Paris Energy Bill, which include provision to get to 100% renewable energy by 2050 at the latest for the UK, and for keeping the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground. Should this Bill proceed, I look forward to working with Members across the House to change its direction. At this stage, it falls short of those red lines. The Paris agreement provides an even stronger case to refuse to give this Energy Bill a Second Reading. We should reject it in its entirety and demand that the Government go back to the drawing board.
It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas. It will not surprise the House to learn that there was not one paragraph in her remarks with which I agreed. [Interruption.] I am sure that she will wear my words proudly like a badge of honour.
We should remember why we are all here tonight, because, with a few exceptions, we have not really addressed the main purpose of this Bill, which was to implement the Wood review. That is why the Bill was initially introduced. That review, compiled by Sir Ian Wood, was very necessary as it looked to create a more participative and sharing environment in the North sea over the last decades of its life. At the time, the life of the North sea looked longer than it does now. We should recall that, over the past two decades, this country has had two world-class industries—banking, and oil and gas. The latter has been centred in Aberdeen and has made a massive contribution to the Exchequer, to jobs and to our prosperity. The situation that it finds itself in now—I think the House is a little sanguine about this—is worse than some of the speeches have implied.
Right now, the operating costs—not the development costs or the exploration costs—in the North sea are round about $28 to $30 a barrel. That is where the world oil price is now, which implies that, unless something changes, not only will we not develop new oilfields, but we will struggle at current oil prices to keep operating the platforms we already have and our current activities. It behoves this House to sort that out and do what it can. I do not think that the Wood review will make a big enough difference to make a big enough impact, but let us remember that there are 475 installations in the North sea that have to be decommissioned in the next few decades, 10,000 km of pipeline and 5,000 wells. The industry employs nearly 400,000 people, and it does not employ them all in Aberdeen. When I knock on doors in Warrington and speak to people, I ask where they are working. The answer is often that they work offshore or in some part of the supply chain. Every Member here will find that many of their constituents works in highly paid jobs in the North sea. It therefore behoves us to get this right.
We are trying to create a facilitative environment. In the future, for example, when Shell wants to abandon a platform, or no longer use a pipeline that might be useful to Total, it will be prevented from doing so because people will be looking at the bigger picture and trying to maximise the whole basin. That has to be a sensible target, as is the central objective of the Bill, which is the maximisation of economic recovery. That is why I really regret the fact that the Labour party has sought to change that in the Lords, with this point on carbon capture and storage. It is not that we do not agree with CCS, or that it is not important, but, to use the good phrase Callum McCaig used earlier, we need to have a laser-like focus on the objective of keeping that industry and those 400,000 highly paid jobs in existence for as long as possible. That is why the amendment is wrong; it is not because we do not believe in CCS. [Interruption.] If the shadow Secretary of State wants to intervene on me, she should please do so.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that that is precisely why we need a long-term and a short-term strategy. We should not be seeking to pitch one against the other, which is why we will be seeking to amend this Bill to ensure that, where economically viable, those options will be considered.
I just go back to this point: how many objectives can we give a new agency such as this? The North sea is not that far from being unviable. We need to put our shoulders to the wheel in this House to come up not with caveats but with a practical set of solutions that were set out in the Wood review.
My hon. Friend makes some important points. Does he agree that the challenges he has outlined in relation to the long-term viability of North sea oil and gas are further highlighted by the Iranian nuclear deal that has been signed, and the fact that that supply of oil will be coming on to the global market when prices are already depressed?
My hon. Friend is right. That development was probably already discounted in the market. Nevertheless, more oil will, of course, put the price down. Like Philip Boswell, I worked in the oil industry for a period of my life. During that time a phrase that was often used was that the solution to low oil prices is low oil prices. At some point there will be a market reaction, but it is a long way off. My hon. Friend is right—the Iranian thing does not look helpful.
I have two points on this part of the Bill. The first is one that the SNP may agree with. The new authority is to be based, apparently, in Aberdeen and London. I do not understand why any of it has to be in London. I leave it at that. We have a need in this country to have everything in London. If anything needs to be only in Aberdeen, it is the new authority.
The second point is whether the new authority is going to have issues with US competition law. I do not fully understand that, but my experience is that there could not even be a meeting between US oil companies in the same room without lawyers involved, because of their incredible concern about US anti-trust laws. I wonder how the authority will deal with that, but no doubt somebody cleverer than I am has thought about that.
We have spoken about CCS. Clause 80 is an interesting amendment proposed by the Opposition in the House of Lords. That clause says, broadly, that should we no longer take credits from the EU emissions trading scheme as part of the process. If we step back and think about that, it is the Opposition saying that they do not want a European solution to cap and trade. I made this point earlier and I think I am right. It is true that the European ETS system is useless; that is a different problem. It is completely useless because the European Parliament would not increase the cost of carbon as we have, for example, but that is no reason to give up on a European solution. It seems odd that the two more pro-European parties in this House—I think it is fair to say that—want to go away from a European solution to sort out emissions.
I have taken two interventions and time is not on our side.
The two Opposition parties want to ignore the fact that what the world desperately needs—this might be a point on which the hon. Lady would agree—is a cost of carbon in the system somewhere. If there was a cost of carbon, the investment decisions right across the world would be affected in the same way—that is what the ETS was supposed to deliver—and we would be in better shape. It is little odd that the Opposition take that view.
I shall not speak at length on the wind point. Others in the House feel more strongly about it than I do and I have spoken about it previously. It is clear that it was in the manifesto and we need to do what we are committed to do. The wind point goes to the core of one of the issues in the climate change debate—the continuing confusion between renewables and decarbonisation. I have heard speeches today in which Members said that other countries are building renewables more quickly than we are, even though their carbon output is vastly more than ours. Germany is an example, but there are many others. We need to be focused with laser-like efficiency on decarbonisation. That brings in CCS, nuclear and other technologies which the focus on renewables has damaged.
On Paris, Stephen Kinnock, who is no longer in his place, made a speech that I found strange in parts. I say to the whole house—I make this point every time—that the European commitment on the rate of decarbonisation, which it put forward in Paris in its intended nationally determined contribution, and of which we were a part, implies a rate of decarbonisation that is half that which the Climate Change Act 2008 requires us to achieve. Now, it may well be that those countries do not yet realise that we are leading them. It may well be that they have not yet cottoned on to the fact that they are slower than us. Or it may be that they desperately want to protect their Port Talbots, their Motherwells and their Redcars, in a way that has not reached the consciousness of this House to the same extent.
I will finish with a point about jobs. We often hear how many jobs are at risk in solar and wind as a result of changing subsidy regimes, and of course that is regrettable, although I do not know the extent to which those numbers are true. However, it is wrong to say that higher electricity prices do not also cost jobs. It is not just about giving relief to energy-intensive industries. If we in this country expect to have a march of the makers—to use that phrase—and for that to be based on an energy regime in which our manufacturers are paying up to 50% more than manufacturers not in China, or even in the US and Singapore, but in France, Germany and Holland, it is going to be tough. I think that Members of this House need to respect the Government’s duty to balance cost with decarbonisation and all that goes with it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am going to have to drop the time limit to seven minutes, but hopefully I will not have to drop it again.
It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend David Mowat. He is modest, but his expertise in this area serves only to embarrass me by highlighting my lack of it. However, I am a passionate supporter of climate change action. I join other hon. Members in congratulating the Secretary of State on her work in Paris a few weeks ago. It does not necessarily support the campaign that I am helping with for the European Union, but it is a great shame that the EU did not follow where she was leading. I want to focus on two key aspects of the Bill and explain my concerns, and those of my constituents, and seek further reassurances from the Minister. I thank Ministers for answering some of these concerns over the past few weeks.
As oil prices around the globe tumble, the Bill is obviously timely, as other Members have said. Workers across the UK who rely on this industry are starting to struggle, so we should be supporting them as much as possible. That is why I was a little shocked to hear the earlier comments from Callum McCaig about not necessarily supporting his constituents in the best way possible, as echoed by my hon. Friend Simon Hoare. Companies are also seen not to be passing on these cost reductions at the petrol pumps, which the debate has not focused on so far. I hope that the Secretary of State will join the call from me and other Members for the cost reductions to be passed on to the consumer.
I welcome the formal establishment of the Oil and Gas Authority as an independent regulator. Like many of my constituents who have contacted me on the issue, I fear that the regulatory framework has not been helpful enough. As Mr Anderson said earlier—he is no longer in his place—the Labour party did little in 13 years in government to improve regulation. That is why I congratulate this Government on drafting the Bill. The creation of one independent regulator to oversee the whole sector is a positive step, ensuring that it grows and develops in the best interests of the nation’s health.
I am particularly pleased that the OGA will be able to consider and make recommendations to resolve certain disputes. As the Wood review suggested, that is necessary to guide the industry and ensure that one of the most crucial sectors is protected from major disagreements. Where there are disputes that have the potential to put the successful recovery of the oil and gas industry at risk, it is crucial that there is an independent body that can take action. As the OGA can choose to get involved in a dispute even without having the incident directly referred to it, it can take steps to mitigate any risk and resolve the issue. Looking forward, once the independent regulator is set up, I am keen for it to take greater control over the potential energy production industries. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that an independent body taking a holistic approach across the sector can ensure effective regulation of these new industries.
Secondly, I turn to the provisions relating to onshore wind. As I have said in the House before, I am a strong advocate of renewable energy—for me, it is where we should be focusing our attention. These sources of energy will ultimately save our environment, as other Members have said. Climate change exists, and we need to ensure that we are taking the essential steps to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Despite the fact that I want a greater reliance on renewable energy, I understand the Government’s reasoned decision to remove the subsidy for onshore wind. Combating climate change is essential, but it must be done logically. To this end, it is essential that in tight fiscal times developments are not relying on subsidies to survive and can instead develop into their own viable, successful entities.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about a logical approach to energy. Why is it logical to lock ourselves into extremely high subsidies for nuclear for the next 30 years and not give a few more years of subsidy to renewables, which is all they would need to become commercially viable?
Particularly as we have Hinkley Point, which will benefit the economy of Somerset, only a couple of miles away from Bath, I believe that the long-term impact of the nuclear industry on the UK economy will be vastly felt in the pockets of the consumer. The hon. Lady missed that point in her speech.
We already have enough onshore wind in the pipeline to meet our 2020 aim. It is interesting that only a tiny proportion of the constituents who have contacted me about the Bill have identified that the sector is projected to propose that more onshore wind farms can actually be achieved. Given the number of studies showing that onshore wind production produces fewer kilowatt hours of energy than offshore wind and a wide range of other forms of renewable energy production, would not this money be better spent on other renewable technology rather than wasting it on projects that will never be delivered? I would like the funds previously earmarked for onshore wind subsidies to be channelled towards alternative renewable energy that could be supported by an investment injection. In the west of England, renewable energy is emerging as one of the key new economies, and it is contributing to the national economy as well. I hope that the Minister can reassure the House on both those aspects of the Bill.
I am pleased that the Government have listened to the Wood review. However, I agree with hon. Members who need assurances from the Minister that the Government consider that we should be focusing on climate change as one of the most important areas affecting our planet today, and recognise the need to invest in our renewable energy sector sustainably, productively and effectively.
The bishop will be delighted that the Members for Bath and Wells should speak so soon one after the other.
It is an honour to rise to speak in this debate, not least in my capacity as a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee. The Bill is relatively limited in scope, but the energy challenge faced by the Government generally is significant. For too long, the energy policy of previous Governments has focused exclusively on climate change and not on the cost to consumers and energy security. I therefore applaud the current Front-Bench team for their work on rebalancing that so that all parts of the energy trilemma receive equal prominence.
As we transition from mostly carbon generation to carbon-free generation, it is important to recognise that, while that is absolutely the target of this Government, we must employ technologies of some sort—gas and biomass seem the most obvious—to bridge the gap until the renewables sector is fully ready to stand alone to meet the needs of this nation. We cannot risk the lights going out by jumping to that too soon. I entirely agree with the Government that coal’s race is run. However, it is important to understand that an enthusiasm for gas generation, biomass and any other bridging technology that we employ is not mutually exclusive from continuing to promote and invest in other renewable technologies that are available.
Much has been made of the reductions in subsidies to the solar industry, but members of the Committee have been struck by the fact that other things hamper the industry just as much, not least the European Union’s insistence that British consumers pay more to Chinese producers of photovoltaic cells for their solar installations, which results in price inflation. There is also an insistence that VAT is charged on solar cells, as if they were a home improvement rather than necessary energy generation. As we have heard, tidal, wave and offshore wind offer opportunities, although there is a clear challenge in making sure that those technologies are cost-effective before they can be employed and charged to the bill payer.
Onshore wind forms a big part of the Bill and I make no apology for having been involved in some successful campaigns to keep wind turbines off the Mendips and the Somerset levels. The Conservative party—now the Government—made a manifesto commitment to deliver a reduction in onshore wind, so I urge the Government to reinstate the original clause 66 so that we in this elected Chamber of Parliament can vote on our manifesto pledge without the intrusion of the Liberal Democrats, who seem to have abandoned this Chamber altogether and are instead using the Lords to do whatever it is that they have left to do.
I encourage my Front-Bench colleagues to be similarly enthusiastic about pushing on with the development of large-scale storage; the digitisation of our energy system, particularly the roll-out of smart meters; and the decarbonisation of the transport system. I think that every member of the Committee has been struck by the collegiate way in which the Secretary of State has dealt with her colleagues in the Department for Transport, even though they might not be running at her desired pace.
The green technology about which I have a reservation is carbon capture and storage. Undoubtedly, the technology is exciting and the Government have invested £130 million in research into it, but the reality is that it is simply too expensive to push on with at present. To require our and gas industry to maintain spent wells in the North sea for the purposes of carbon capture and storage would be a wholly unnecessary complication for and, indeed, additional burden on the industry at a time when it is struggling enormously. I therefore hope that clause 8 will be removed.
Ditto clause 80, where the House of Lords has been most unhelpful in adjusting the carbon trading legislation. It would make no sense for us to account for the totality of our carbon emissions when, under the EU trading scheme, anything that we do not use will simply be used by another country. We would make no saving whatsoever in carbon emissions by employing clause 80 as drafted by the other place.
I want to conclude by speaking briefly about security of supply, the reinvigoration of the oil and gas industry in the North sea, which I applaud, and my reservations about the onshore oil and gas industry. Both the Secretary of State and the Minister have been very kind in working with me to deal with the concerns of my constituents and to help me to fully understand what recent legislation will mean for them. There is an inconsistency, however, whereby the localism that we advocate so strongly for wind turbines is not being extended to fracking and gasification, so I hope there might be some scope for incorporating that.
None the less, I think that our push for a fracking industry may be premature, given that there is already a surfeit of liquefied natural gas on the European and Asian markets. A significant amount is also being stored in the United States, which is awaiting the opportunity to export it, and that will serve the European market further. Moreover, the Iranian rapprochement gives an opportunity for even more oil and gas to flow.
How does my hon. Friend square his argument? He is in favour of maximising returns from the North sea but cannot see the same argument for maximising gas on land, to keep money here and avoid handing it to a foreign regime.
I square it simply by having a profound concern for how the industry might affect the areas in which it is sited. Some areas will have a geology and a community that support it, and that is for them to determine, but my plea is that Ministers extend to fracking the same localism as we advocate so strongly for wind.
To conclude, the Lords amendments are unhelpful, so I would be grateful if Ministers could strike them out and bring back the original Bill. More than anything, however, it is important that the Bill makes quick progress from here onwards. The delay is causing great uncertainty, which is having an impact, in particular, on our oil and gas industry, which can ill afford it at this moment. If the Government can restore clause 66 and remove clauses 8 and 80, they will have my full support thereafter.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend James Heappey.
There is a remote chance that either you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or my hon. Friend have not yet booked your summer holiday to the fine resort of Skegness. If you have not, I know that the booking is imminent. As everybody knows, a visit to Skegness is a bracing experience. When you arrive, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be able to look out, while enjoying the finest fish and chips in the country, on to one of the finest skylines in the country, dotted with a few offshore wind turbines. In a couple of years, you might be able to look out on to many more wind turbines, if the Triton Knoll project goes ahead. When originally proposed, it was on course to be the largest offshore wind development in the world. On my behalf and that of many tourists, I say that this view demonstrates that we can have economically successful offshore power generation that is not entirely unpleasant to look at and works well for everyone.
That said, Mr Deputy Speaker, the journey to Skegness offers a sad indictment of what happens when energy policies go wrong, because you might find yourself driving past, on the beautifully resurfaced A52, grade 1 agricultural land studded with solar panels. The finest land in the country, thanks to a broken subsidy market, is better used for solar panels than for growing the finest crops that Lincolnshire so often provides. We see in Lincolnshire what happens when these sorts of policies go wrong.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. If one chose to approach Skegness from the north, rather than the direction he suggests, one would be unfortunate enough to see a great many onshore wind farms. On a swift calculation, I counted six wind farms, with well in excess of 40 wind turbines, that scar the local landscape and have been paid for by subsidies. I am sure he will join me in asking whether that is the best use of land in my constituency.
I trust you refer only to the route, rather than the destination, which I know is a fixture.
My hon. Friend Victoria Atkins makes a fair point: these developments emphasise why it is only right we give local communities a greater say over onshore wind farms.
On a subject even more serious than your holiday, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make one major point about the Bill. The establishment of a regulator providing genuine certainty over the coming years will be the single greatest thing the Government can do to try, I hope, to put the oil and gas industry on a more sustainable footing. We know that, in the past 10 days alone, the oil crisis has been one of the many issues that have wiped £113 billion off the FTSE market. We know that the number of people employed in the oil and gas industry has fallen from 440,000 to 375,000. We know that, in the last financial year, the Treasury has received the lowest level of taxation from oil and gas in 20 years. More than ever, we now know that a stable regulator will provide the stable footing that the industry desperately needs.
Edward Miliband said that
“certainty is the friend of business”,
the shadow Secretary of State said that we need to provide a stable environment if we are to encourage growth in an industry that employs many people now, and will, I hope, employ many more in future. As has been said, there is therefore cross-party support for much of the Bill. I hope that that will continue, and that some of the uncertainties introduced to the regulator’s role by amendments in the other place will be removed so that the regulator has a set of clear and very stable objectives to allow it to improve the position of an industry that this country needs to be stable. As hon. Members have said, as we rely more and more on interconnectors, we must make sure, when Europe does not have the energy reserves that we are lucky to enjoy in this country, that we are not in the unfortunate position of exporting some of that energy, rather than ensuring our own stable supply.
Apart from referring to your newly sorted holiday, Mr Deputy Speaker, I conclude simply by saying that I hope the Bill will provide the certainty that the oil industry needs to grow for the future, rather than continuing to suffer from the terrible situation that threatens it and which indicates that even the strictures in the Wood review may yet need further revision to safeguard the industry better for the future.
I should point out at the outset that I am the chairman of the all-party group on offshore oil and gas, and that the industry is a significant employer in my Waveney constituency, with Lowestoft and its port being an important service centre. I am also a partner in a family farm that has a solar farm, but I will not comment specifically on such technology this evening.
Most of the Bill focuses on the Oil and Gas Authority, so I will concentrate my comments on the offshore oil and gas industry on the UK continental shelf. The Bill also contains provisions on onshore wind farms, about which I will say a few words. It is right that all such planning applications should be determined locally, regardless of their size. Local communities and local planning authorities know their areas best, and planning decisions should rest with them.
The Government should remove support for onshore wind and, indeed, other renewable technologies openly and transparently. Investors need to see a clear and smooth pathway to a point in time when there will be no subsidy. That best attracts investment, creates secure long-term jobs and reduces costs to the consumer in the long term.
The oil and gas industry on the UKCS faces very serious challenges. It is fighting for its very existence. The livelihoods of tens of thousands of people are on the line. Some 75,000 jobs have gone in the past 15 months. That is primarily due to the dramatic collapse in oil prices. An example of the problems facing the industry is that, at the beginning of the year, the combined market value of 112 publicly traded oil companies—the entirety of Britain’s listed oil and gas industry, excluding Shell, BP and BG—was, at £7 billion, the same as that of Marks & Spencer. Two years ago, one of those companies, Tullow Oil, was worth more than M&S on its own.
The UK offshore oil and gas industry still has a vital role to play over the next 30 years. First, as the Secretary of State has stated, energy security is the No. 1 priority. Maximising the production of oil and gas at home will reduce our dependence on imports. Secondly, while 42 billion barrels of oil equivalent have been produced from the UKCS, there are known reserves of 20 billion barrels of oil and gas to be recovered from our offshore waters. As she set out in her resetting speech, gas has a key role to play in powering our future economy.
I wanted to be here earlier for this very good debate, but unfortunately my travel arrangements got in the way. The hon. Gentleman mentioned oil reserves. Does he lament the loss of carbon capture and storage for the enhanced recovery of oil reserves, as the maximisation of that would have added further to our energy security?
The Bill, in its original form, was right to concentrate exclusively on maximising the economic recovery of oil and gas in the North sea. I regard carbon capture and storage as an important technology that has a future in the UK energy mix, but it is not yet mature. We need to home in on the challenges facing the oil and gas industry.
The Secretary of State’s resetting speech set out a potentially exciting future for offshore wind. This industry has the potential to bring exciting opportunities to my area. The offshore oil and gas industry has an important role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Its supply chain is broadly the same as that of the offshore wind industry.
We have heard about the importance of setting up the Oil and Gas Authority and endorsing the Wood proposals so that we can move forward. I will not go over that, but in the time remaining to me I will comment on what else the Government need to do within the framework laid down by Sir Ian to help and support the industry at this crucial time.
In the March Budget last year, the Government brought forward a package of fiscal measures to support the industry and encourage investment and exploration. As Callum McCaig has mooted, we need to look closely at those measures again. We should look to reduce the supplementary charge and the petroleum revenue tax still further or, I suggest, get rid of them altogether. We should also consider providing more funding for seismic surveys, which will be the very lifeblood of the industry going forward.
Secondly, in line with Sir Ian’s recommendations, there is an urgent need to commence work on regional plans. I want a regional plan to be started as soon as possible for the southern North sea, where there are still significant gas reserves.
Thirdly, although the North sea is a mature basin in many respects, we are embarking on a final chapter of oil and gas recovery there, which is, in many ways, a new venture, built on a cornerstone of co-operation, collaboration and consolidation. In the past, innovating, investing in technology and reducing costs have been done by the big oil companies. I suggest that we look at what has happened with the catapult industry of offshore wind, in which the Government have led the way.
In conclusion, we need to get on with it. Time is of the essence. The approach that Sir Ian has advocated is in the best interests of energy security. It will give the jobs on which the industry depends the best chance of a secure future in what are very uncertain times. Moreover, it will give the UK offshore oil and gas industry the real prospect of an Indian summer.
I am delighted to speak in this important debate, not least because I follow many excellent speeches from Members from both sides of the House, and especially my hon. Friend Graham Stuart who chaired the GLOBE conference so ably in Paris in December. I have also now managed to make my holiday plans. When driving up the beautiful A52, which has been freshly resurfaced, I will have some of the most beautiful fish and chips in the country and look over the Boston and Skegness skyline—I hope my hon. Friend will join me on my holiday. I attended the conference in Paris in December, and I extend my congratulations to the Secretary of State for her leadership during that conference. She did an excellent job.
I wish to speak about clause 79 and how it relates to my constituency in South Gloucestershire. The clause sits alongside changes made last year by the Department for Communities and Local Government to transfer decision-making powers from the Secretary of State to local authorities, allowing them to become the primary decision makers for planning applications for onshore wind farms in England and Wales. That pledge in our manifesto to decentralise decision making on new community developments such as onshore wind farms, and to give the green light to a project only if supported by local residents, was welcomed and supported by the vast majority of my constituents. This issue is close to the heart of many in my constituency. In Thornbury, Yate and the surrounding towns and rural villages, we have seen significant expansion and development in recent years, including applications for onshore wind farms across South Gloucestershire. Development continues to be one of the burning issues for rural communities in my constituency.
One concerns that gets raised time and again is that local people feel their concerns are not heard during the planning process. Indeed, a number of people said that no matter what they did, they felt that their voices were being ignored. There are many examples of local community groups in my constituency opposing wind farm developments, including several examples across South Gloucestershire. Those include an application for two 130-metre wind turbines on a farm in Olveston, although because it lay on the green belt, thankfully it was protected. In 2013, an application for a 37-metre turbine on Wapley Road—which I and many of my neighbours see from our kitchen windows—was refused because it sat within the green belt and there were a large number of local objections. However, that decision was appealed and overturned, against the express wishes of local people. The further devolution of powers in the Bill is an extremely welcome additional protection to allow communities to have more say over their local area. I am a passionate advocate of local people being given the right to appeal.
What the hon. Gentleman says about communities is important. I come from an area where many communities want wind farms. Would he support communities that want wind farms and the Government not taking away the mechanism to enable that to happen?
If the hon. Gentleman’s constituents want to support wind farms, I am delighted that he will hopefully support any further measures that will allow people a greater say. People in South Gloucestershire continue to come to me and say that they are frustrated by applications such as those for 37-metre wind turbines being allowed or overturned against the wishes of the community.
I have campaigned time and again for a community right of appeal, and it is especially concerning that decisions could be taken contrary to an existing or pending neighbourhood plan, especially when that conflicts with the local development objectives of a community. I am therefore delighted that clause 79 of the Bill addresses that imbalance, as that will help to reassure local people in South Gloucestershire of the Government’s commitment to devolving power and including people in the planning process.
I am also reassured to hear that provisions in the Bill will ensure that onshore wind farm applications will be granted only in an area already outlined as suitable for wind energy development in the neighbourhood plan, and following a consultation in which the concerns of the local community have been addressed.
May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to my constituency, which is one of the most beautiful in the country—perhaps those who do not wish to go to Skegness should go there? My constituency has the prospect for perhaps 500 turbines, and 40 miles of cable, and the scale of what is happening is outrageous—
It sounds like the second half of my holiday plans have been made, so I thank my hon. Friend.
The formal establishment of the Oil and Gas Authority as an independent regulator is a welcome step forward. I see it in the context of the Government’s target of combating climate change in a cost-effective manner. That approach can be taken alongside action in local communities. Volunteers in Thornberry run an effective community composting site, encouraging local composting, which takes wagons off the road and helps to reduce carbon emissions. Just today I have called on South Gloucestershire Council to continue to support that scheme.
The Government support renewable technology standing on its own two feet rather than encouraging it to rely on subsidies. I wholly endorse the further devolution of power to local communities. I will support the Bill this evening.
Providing affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is a key commitment of this Government, because climate change poses a threat not just to the environment, but to poverty eradication abroad and economic prosperity at home. The global deal secured at Paris last year goes far in tackling that threat head-on. I commend the Secretary of State for all her efforts in securing that historic agreement.
UK energy usage fell by 18% between 2000 and 2014, and yet domestic energy bills almost doubled during that time, driven largely by gas prices. Since 1990, the proportion of the UK’s electricity generating from renewables has increased by about 19%, which is good news and encouraging for the renewable energy sector.
At this point, I must mention Fareham and the role it is playing in keeping the lights on. IFA2, an electricity interconnector between France and the UK, is due to be connected at Chilling near Warsash on the south coast in Fareham, with a convertor station at the Daedalus site in Gosport. IFA2 will provide the capability to export or import more than 1,000 MW of power and provides three important benefits, the first of which is in relation to affordability. By giving Great Britain access to the European electricity market, IFA2 will help to create downward pressure on wholesale energy prices. Our wholesale energy price is forecast to be higher than the price in France for many years to come, but it is estimated that, with each 1,000 MW of new interconnector capacity, there is the potential to reduce wholesale prices here by about 2%.
Secondly, interconnection will give us access to a wider range of electricity generation sources, increasing our supply from elsewhere, which will only assist our energy security. Lastly, on sustainability, IFA2 will help to manage the fact that not all electricity sources can generate consistently and predictably, and that electricity cannot be stored efficiently on a large scale. IFA2 will help to forge a lower-carbon economy in Great Britain and Europe.
I am proud that the Government have committed to meeting their objectives on cutting carbon emissions and continue to make progress towards the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets. The renewable electricity programme aims to deliver 30% of the UK’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020, and we are on course to achieve that objective. Renewables already make up almost 20% of our electricity generation, and there is a strong pipeline to deliver the rest.
As we decarbonise, it is imperative that we manage the costs to consumers. Although renewable energy costs have been coming down, subsidies still form part of people’s energy bills. As the share of renewables in the mix grows, so the impact gets proportionally larger. That is why the Government’s priority to bring about the transition of our carbon generation as cost-effectively and as securely as possible reflect their approach to fairness and sustainability. The levy control framework covering the period up to 2020-21 is one of the tools that will help to achieve that—it limits the impact of support for low-carbon electricity on consumer bills. We have a responsibility to manage support schemes efficiently within the levy-controlled framework to ensure we maintain public support for the action we are taking to bring down carbon emissions and combat climate change. Government support is designed to help technologies stand on their own two feet, not to encourage dependency on subsidy.
We therefore need to take tough decisions on which projects to subsidise. Onshore wind has been deployed successfully to date and is an important part of the energy mix. In 2014, onshore wind made up approximately 5% of electricity generation, supported by £800 million of subsidy. At the end of April 2015, there were 490 operational onshore wind farms in the UK, compromising 4,751 turbines in total. The wind farms have an installed capacity of 8.3 GW, which is enough to power 4.5 million homes. It is projected that we will require between 11 GW and 13 GW of electricity provided by onshore wind by 2020 to meet our objectives. We have enough wind in the pipeline, including projects that have planning permission, to meet that requirement comfortably.
This is the right approach, because otherwise we could end up with more onshore wind than we can afford. That would lead, ultimately, to higher bills for consumers, or to other renewable technology, such as offshore wind, losing out on support. The Government now need to refocus investment on less mature technologies. I am proud that we are acting on our manifesto commitment. The Bill has my full support.
We have had a wide-ranging debate on the Bill. Indeed, it has been so wide-ranging that in some instances I forgot there was a Bill in front of us. I was pleased to hear from Peter Aldous who, in a thoughtful contribution, kept us on track. I intend to talk about the Bill in my closing remarks, as well as about what various hon. Members who did address it had to say.
My hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook spoke about the original Bill in another place being thin gruel, improved by amendments in another place. He is exactly right. My hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds dispelled some of the myths and inaccuracies of some of the anti-renewable contributors tonight. He was also right about the missing parts and the ambition of the Bill, as was my hon. Friend Mary Creagh who reminded us, in the light of our move to an Anthropocene age, of the ambition we need to have for our energy policy, in particular in relation to fuel poverty and energy efficiency.
Caroline Lucas appeared to suggest that the best idea we could take was to close down the North sea. That is not something I buy into. Since we know gas and oil will be with us for some time, albeit in reduced amounts relative to the overall energy mix and more concentrated in transport and heating, it is better that it is sourced from a secure resource in the North sea than bought in from across the world. The North sea is a great sustainer of jobs, industry and supply line for the UK, as we have heard from a number of hon. Members. It is right we look to gain the best out of it for those jobs and that industry and for the security of the UK. It is not an either/or. It is right that we should pay full attention to the climate change commitments we have made. Labour will be seeking to strengthen some of the commitments as part of the Bill. The creation of the OGA to secure the best outcomes for the next phases in North sea development is an essential plank of Sir Ian Wood’s report. We fully support its creation as a free-standing body with powers to develop and co-ordinate the industry.
The North sea is, as Sir Ian Wood states, a mature resource. While we inevitably strain to know knowns and known unknowns, a number of authorities estimate that the North sea is up to 80% exploited already. Future finds and future fields will be small, possibly increasingly difficult to exploit, and will require support from existing infrastructure to ensure that production is logistically and economically possible. Increasingly, production will be underpinned from now on by co-operation and sharing of resources. One of the OGA’s particular tasks will be to ensure that this works equitably and effectively—a point underlined by
There must be concerns about current responses to the low price of oil and their effect on longer-term considerations of the future development of the North sea. BP has just announced further job losses in the North sea that may well impact on maintenance work, safety and operation, and readiness for exploration, which reminds us of the sort of short-termism that, if the OGA works well, it can tackle effectively. Through the MER—maximising economic recovery—consultations, we need to see that the OGA really has suitable powers to sustain the UK offshore skills space and that phrases such as “cost reduction” are about efficiency and operation, not just code words for stripping back safety and imposing longer shift patterns and cuts to pay and conditions.
In thinking about the future of the North sea, it is right that we take care to ensure that what is there in the form of infrastructure—both in structures and skills—is used to best advantage. That is not a theoretical point about future exploration; it is a very practical point about present realities. According to Oil & Gas UK, there are currently some 300 finds that have not been exploited further, some dating back 10 or so years. That is due not only to the current low oil price but to difficulties with infrastructure, and since the bulk of those fields are below 50 million barrels of oil equivalent, they are unlikely to sustain infrastructure connections by themselves.
The OGA has some powers in the Bill to ensure that decommissioning is thought about, and that platforms and pipelines are not just taken away and disposed of in a rush to develop what some might see as a new industry for the North sea—important though that is. That thought carries over to what could be a very important future for the North sea as a repository for carbon dioxide sequestered as part of the carbon capture and storage process. This is not just for the UK, because the capacity and extent of potentially available strata for deposit mean that the North sea could be Europe’s depository of choice in the future. An elegant underpinning of the need for a carbon capture strategy came from my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich.
The fact that the Government very unwisely scrapped the UK’s plans to get ahead of most of the world in CCS at scale technology does not mean that CCS will not come or that it is needed any less for future energy and intensive industry production. It just means that we will be buying someone else’s technology more slowly at a greater cost, but the least we can do now is to ensure that the storage end of the process is secured in one of the best places in the world to undertake such activity and, on the back of it, to develop jobs, supply chains and income in parallel with the continuation of that mature field—and possibly at some stage even securing crossover between what is happening with oil recovery and the storage of CO2.
I do not agree with Callum McCaig, who said that these two issues, though connected, should be proceeded with separately. They are completely connected in respect of how the North sea will work now and for the future, so it is important to take careful note of what CCS has to offer the North sea in the longer term. We will therefore be pressing in Committee to secure a better overview of CCS by the OGA, and indeed to ensure that for the future the Government have a full strategy for dealing with CCS both in the North sea and across the country.
We will not divide the House tonight because some of the work to improve the Bill, which comes to us from the other place, has already been done. We shall seek in Committee to maintain those improvements, particularly in the part that deals with renewables and low-carbon energy, most notably in the Government’s clear intention—it is yet not with us as the Bill goes into Committee—to close the renewables obligation for offshore wind early. I am reminded of the strong contribution from my hon. Friend Julie Elliott, who told us just how wrong-headed a decision that looks to be.
I am afraid that the agenda that we have seen over the past few months—one of downgrading options for renewables in order to pursue a gas-based strategy overall
—is at the heart of this particular issue. We say that there is, and should not be, a contradiction between supporting the continuing secure supply of the gas and oil that we will need for the foreseeable future and the development of renewable energy as a key component of the United Kingdom’s energy mix.
The hon. Members for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), who talked about subsidies for renewables, should be reminded that all energy is in effect now subsidised in one way or another. Indeed, we have just completed an exercise that subsidises gas, coal and nuclear generators to the tune of £940 million in one year —just to be there, not to produce anything. Perhaps that puts the figures for renewables subsidies that we have heard today into context.
In Committee, we will seek to defend the present status of the Bill without early closure of the renewables obligation, and will remind ourselves that we are talking about an existing subsidy rather than a new one. We will also seek, by means of new clauses, to clarify Britain’s longer-term low-carbon energy targets.
I am afraid that I have no time to take interventions.
My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband gave a clear and lucid indication of his wish to go further, and to table amendments in an attempt to underpin those longer-term targets. I detected strong support for that position on the part of Graham Stuart.
We have an opportunity to forge, in a spirit of joint endeavour across the House, a key piece of legislation that will provide security and a clear way ahead for energy investors and operators, and for Britain’s energy workforce. My hon. Friends the Members for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) reminded us of the need for coherence, long-term planning and stability in energy policy. We all know that that clear way ahead will be necessary for the health and prosperity of Britain’s future energy activities, and for clarity about the future direction of our country towards a low-carbon economy. Let us hope that, in Committee, the Government will recognise that compromise and discussion on both sides provide a joint opportunity to make that vision a reality, and that the Committee stage will produce a Bill that truly represents the interests of the whole House and moves us towards a low-carbon economy that will take account of our oil and gas in the context of that wider ambition.
It is a great pleasure to sum up a debate to which there have been many contributions, to which I shall try to do justice, on subjects ranging from oil and gas and wind to carbon budgets and climate change. It has been fascinating. I am glad that the hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) welcome the work that is being done to give more powers to the Oil and Gas Authority. I have a great deal of respect for, in particular, the hon. Member for Wigan, who takes a commercial approach to the issue. I am also glad to note that the Opposition spokesmen are keen for progress to be made in this regard.
I should point out to all Opposition Members that carbon capture and storage is part of the OGA’s mandate. The OGA issues carbon dioxide storage site licences, approves carbon dioxide storage permit applications, and approves the termination of storage site licences. In addition, when there are synergies between the oil and gas and CCS industries, we expect them to be exploited. For example, the OGA is considering the role of CCS in the technology and decommissioning strategies that they are developing. I hope that that gives all Opposition Members some comfort.
With the continuing job losses and increasing gloom in Aberdeen, I welcome the shift in rhetoric from Members on the Government Benches. Will the Minister reassure me that the UK Government will do as much as possible to support Aberdeen to continue to be as productive as possible for as long as possible?
I can assure the hon. Lady that that is exactly what this Energy Bill is all about, and I will come on to the comments made by her hon. Friends. To finish off my remarks to the Opposition Front Benchers, this closure of the onshore wind subsidy is a very clear Conservative manifesto commitment. No ifs and no buts; it is a very clear commitment. The then Minister with responsibility for energy, my right hon. Friend Matthew Hancock, told the House of Commons on
“We have made it absolutely clear that we will remove onshore wind subsidies in the future, and that the current 10% that is in the pipeline for onshore wind is plenty.”—[Hansard, 6 March 2015; Vol. 593, c. 1227-28.]
This is a clear manifesto commitment.
I am glad that the Members who spoke for the SNP, the hon. Members for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell), support the establishment of the OGA. I know that they want to see, as do I and Kirsty Blackman, a thriving industry for home-grown oil and gas that supports the 375,000 jobs that we are looking to sustain. With their help, we will continue to do everything we can to support that, and we hope to be able to count on it. They have raised the issue of a subsidy-free CfD, and I can assure them that my Department is looking very closely at that.
The Government are totally focused on seeing through a long-term plan for secure, clean and affordable energy supplies for generations to come. As we set out in our manifesto, we will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible while upgrading and expanding both base-load and intermittent sources of energy generation. That means ensuring we continue to support investment in UK energy sources, including supporting the North sea. It also means continuing to support the deployment of new renewables, but we have to achieve this in the most cost-effective way; we have to get the right balance between supporting new technology while then, as costs come down, being tough on subsidies to keep bills as low as possible. However, as we progressively decarbonise our economy, we will continue to need oil and gas for many decades to come, as so many Members have pointed out, and it is far better that the jobs and revenue are in the UK, reducing, where possible, our dependence on imports.
The Energy Bill is intended to enact our manifesto commitments in two key ways. The first is by continuing to support the development of North sea oil and gas by establishing the OGA as an independent regulator and steward. A number of Members have spoken very clearly on this area. My right hon. Friend John Redwood, and my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (David Mowat), for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Wells (James Heappey), for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) all spoke very knowledgably about the vital importance of doing everything we can to sustain the North sea, not just for now but for the long-term future, recognising that we must cut the cost to consumers as far as possible, which means not continuing with subsidies for those technologies that are now well developed. My hon. Friend James Cartlidge specifically pointed out how lower oil prices right now are helping consumers, and I take this opportunity from the Dispatch Box to call on energy companies again to pass on that drop in oil prices wherever possible.
Caroline Lucas made a somewhat extraordinary contribution. She effectively rejects the Energy Bill in its entirety and seems to want it to be a pick-and-mix Bill that covers absolutely every aspect of energy policy. I want to be very clear: what we are seeking to do is establish the OGA properly and implement our manifesto pledges on onshore wind. I had hoped that, for once, she would be pleased that, combined with the superb result to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State contributed in Paris, we are now absolutely focused on decarbonising at the lowest possible price to consumers, with all the implications that that has.
I cannot allow the Minister to keep getting away with telling us that she is committed to reducing prices in a way that helps consumers when she is still locking us into nuclear, with its huge subsidies that ordinary consumers are going to have to pay. Her hypocrisy and double standards on this are absolutely shocking, and if people in here do not know that, the people outside do.
Well, I don’t know where to start! I completely disagree with the hon. Lady.
We are acting to control the costs of renewable energy by ending new subsidies for onshore wind and providing local people with the final say on new applications. Members who spoke about renewables included my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, who gave us a spanking good speech on the importance of keeping costs lower for consumers, and my hon. Friend Graham Stuart, who rightly raised the need to deal with intermittency. I can tell him that, since 2012, my Department has invested £18 million in innovative support for energy storage.
The hon. Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) again criticised the early closure of onshore wind subsidies. I find it extraordinary that Labour Members seem to equate the deployment of renewables with decarbonisation. That is simply not the case. They fail to recognise that fuel poverty and endless renewables subsidies go hand in hand. They need to recognise that.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion asked where to start. We need to start by getting rid of the most noxious of the current fuels, which is coal. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that if other Governments followed our example in replacing coal with gas and then with other technologies as they develop, it would make a bigger contribution than almost anything else?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are the first developed country to talk about getting rid of coal and moving to gas, which will be the best thing we can do for decarbonisation in the near term.
My hon. Friend Julian Sturdy spoke up strongly for the right of communities to decide on the location of wind farms. I want to pay a real personal tribute to my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, who has done much to support communities and had a big impact on our policy relating to our manifesto commitment on onshore wind. I was glad to hear my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) and for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) highlight the plight of the bill payer as a result of the renewables obligation subsidy. On this we have a clear manifesto commitment to get costs down.
Edward Miliband is owed a great deal of gratitude from Members across the Chamber for his personal work and commitment to the climate change agenda. He made a proposal for a zero carbon emissions strategy, with the Climate Change Committee deciding on the appropriate date, but as things stand, we are committed to meeting our legally binding commitments for 2050, and that is where our focus lies. I am sorry to disappoint him on that.
The hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) criticised the Government for not being green, but I can tell them that, since 2010, we have reduced the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 15%, which is the biggest reduction in a single Parliament. We are over-delivering against our first three carbon budgets, and according to the Climate Action Network, the UK is the second best country in the world for tackling climate change, second only to Denmark. This Government have done so much! My hon. Friends the Members for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and for Bath (Ben Howlett) pointed out that the Opposition did not equate subsidies with fuel poverty, but they need to do so. They need to understand that the more we subsidise technologies, the more we add to fuel poverty.
In finishing, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Suella Fernandes, who gave a knowledgeable and supportive speech on the importance of supporting both the OGA and our manifesto commitments. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their contributions, and I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.