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 Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy) 6:15 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, the role of clean coal technology is likely to be important in our energy policy and the sustainable use of our coal resources. Coal-fired power generation is likely to be with us for many years and if we are to meet our energy targets we need to use it significantly more cleanly than at the moment. I somewhat refute the suggestions that the Government have been doing nothing about this matter. We have recognised for some years that clean coal technology has a role to play and we have been investing in R&D in this area. In fact we have committed some £9 million of support for this programme, including 39 projects and another £4 million for cleaner coal technology over the next two years. That includes not just the cleaner use of technology and the mitigation of negative carbon effect; the DTI also has a programme under way looking at the feasibility of underground gasification of coal, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, which could also make a contribution. As the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said, it could help not only us but elsewhere in the world.

In addition we are starting to develop, in collaboration with the energy industries, a new carbon abatement technology strategy and coal will be a key element. Some of that will be published next year. So I do not believe that the Government's commitment to clean coal technology should questioned. We have our own R&D and we learn from international R&D.

However, the amendments before us would effectively create a clean coal obligation. A mechanism for clean coal similar to the renewables obligation would be hugely more complicated. We know that renewable technologies do not create any emissions, but for fossil fuels there are not only carbon emissions but a number of other gases which can damage the environment, particularly sulphur and NOx, for which developments are also taking place. The measurement of how far the clean coal technology was contributing to carbon saving also needs to take account of what we are doing in relation to other gases. Also, it is not easily offset against the renewables obligation and other more straightforward measures that are required of industry in that regard.

We will implement some other measures that will encourage the control of emissions. The Large Combustion Plant Directive, which will primarily focus on sulphur and nitrous oxides when it is implemented in 2008, will also have an effect on coal burning. The emissions trading scheme that is due to start next year will encourage the control of carbon dioxide emissions from coal and other fuels. Both measures will help to drive the markets to more sustainable and more novel uses of coal within the technologies available—and will help us to develop better technologies. To express that in terms of an obligation would be difficult and complicated. It would divert from the renewables obligation and it would not be clear how much of a contribution it could make compared with other measures to support and deliver clean coal technologies that are either in place or will be in place in a few years' time, which will make some contribution to our carbon reduction objectives.

I support clean coal technology and want to see measures to speed up its adoption, but I do not think that an obligation is the way to do it.