Energy Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 29th March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry 6:15 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, with the amendment are grouped Amendments Nos. 193 to 195, which are consequential. The amendment deals with the need as I see it for an obligation for the use of electricity from coal. I moved a similar amendment in Grand Committee on 12 February and have taken careful note of what was said on that occasion. I have drafted this amendment accordingly.

Coal now represents our most substantial energy reserve. We are running out of oil and gas in the North Sea and shall become increasingly dependent on imports. It is therefore important to work out ways in which those reserves of coal can be used effectively to diminish our import dependence. As we all know, the problem with coal is that, burnt in traditional methods, it creates a lot of pollution. However, there are ways in which it can be burnt to minimise that pollution.

The Government have supported the concept of clean coal technologies—I refer specifically to page 92 of the energy White Paper—and have drawn attention to the fact that they can be relevant not only to our use in this country, but even more so to countries such as China and India that will use substantial quantities of coal. They have very big reserves of coal for the future and it is important, from the point of view of the global environment, that they burn that coal in as efficient a manner as possible. Therefore, the existence of plant in the UK demonstrating the ways in which that could be done would be of considerable importance not only here, but in the promotion of our activities abroad.

The amendment is drafted to limit the possibility of introducing such an order until substantial consultations have taken place and until, under its proposed new subsection (5), "clean coal technologies" are defined as,

"the generation of electricity from coal that meet specified pollutant emission performance criteria".

In other words, we are talking about issuing orders for the use of coal after it has been treated in a green manner, and after very full consultation.

Let us be quite clear: even if, as I hope, such a provision were included in the Bill, it would take a long time before the fuel could come on to the market. It would be at least three years before one, two or perhaps even three medium-sized electricity generating plants would be constructed and the order could bite. Therefore, there is not very much commitment to financial involvement.

On the other hand, such a provision in the Bill would achieve two important things. First, it would encourage the coal industry, which now has grave doubts about its future, and to which I believe the Labour Party has traditionally given its wholehearted support. Here is a way of reinforcing that support, having regard to future environmental considerations. Secondly, as I have pointed out, this could open up enormous prospects for exports. But I do not believe that we can persuade possible overseas customers to accept our technology unless we have something to show them. At the moment we have nothing. We have a limited amount of research, which is much overshadowed by greater research efforts in the United States and elsewhere.

This could be a positive measure that is much in line with the objectives of the energy White Paper. It could help to diminish our growing dependence on imports and could give some prospect of a future to our largest remaining indigenous energy resource. Therefore, I beg to move.