My Lords, power stations with a total capacity of 6.9 gigawatts have received central government consent under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, but have yet to begin construction. Of those, seven are gas-fired plants and one, with a capacity of 0.4 gigawatts, is a coal-fired gasification plant.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, is it not a fact that according to the latest report of the Joint Energy Security of Supply Working Group, no construction has yet begun on any of those power stations, apart from those powered by wind? That is despite the fact that many consents were given, as long ago as November 2002 and will expire in November 2005. Is that not a disturbing factor, bearing in mind that the ageing coal-fired and nuclear plants will be progressively withdrawn and we could be left with a gap which wind alone cannot fill?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is right that no major power stations are currently under construction despite the fact that the consents I have described have been given. When the consents are taken up and construction work starts are commercial matters for the developer. The Government expect construction work of nearly two gigawatts of the consented capacity to start in the new year. We believe that Langage in Plymouth and Marchwood in Hampshire will come on track in the coming 12 months.
My Lords, the noble Lord is aware of how exceedingly grateful I am to him for his courtesy in passing on my warning to the two right honourable ladies who preside over those departments which have a passing interest in the security of electricity supply in this country? I wonder if he would be kind enough to say how they received my very well meant warning that if things go on like this they will write their names in history as being those who were primarily responsible for a decline in the available and sure supply of electricity, and all the consequences which would follow?
My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that they received it very well. I am not dissembling in any respect here. They were very pleased to hear from him. Indeed, so was I. It was not just Christmas spirit because, as the noble Lord knows, it occurred a little while before that. Certainly the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Patricia Hewitt, is absolutely clear that it would be folly to close any of the options for power generation.
I have made the point several times from the Dispatch Box in your Lordships' House. I know that it is not always believed or perhaps noble Lords feel that I lack conviction about it, but I say it absolutely seriously: these options are not closed. I do not believe that any government—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, also thinks this—could afford to see the lights go out.
My Lords, the Minister may say that the nuclear option has not been ruled out, but has he read the excellent report of the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships' House published last week on radioactive waste management which points out that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management looking into this, which was set up in 2002, is not due to report until July 2006, and that CORWM has the wrong terms of reference and the wrong composition? Will the Minister at least ask that committee, instead of reporting in July 2006, to accelerate its proceedings and report by the end of 2005? I hope that he considers that to be a reasonable request.
My Lords, I certainly undertake to think about that very seriously and to consider whether it might be done. As regards nuclear decommissioning, there is understandably a good deal of public concern about the handling of materials which could be very dangerous for very long periods of time. Therefore, whatever we do, we have to get right. That I know is a view shared on all sides of this House. As some newspapers have reported, we are at the moment trying to substitute radiologically and environmentally neutral materials and to ensure that we are exporting the higher level and more dangerous materials. That might make a contribution to getting the final balances right, but I give the undertaking to think hard about the proposition the noble Lord has put.
My Lords, I am convinced that the whole potential of biomass will not be underplayed. We believe that it can play a fundamental role in helping the United Kingdom to achieve its Kyoto climate change obligations and ensure that we reach renewable energy targets. To that end, there is a joint DTI/National Lottery Bioenergy Capital Grants Scheme which has offered £66 million of support to 21 projects of various scales throughout the United Kingdom. The New and Renewable Energy Programme has supported very important work in this area, expanding knowledge of crops. The department is currently reviewing how it can support this to a still greater extent. Biomass plainly has a future in renewables.