Brexit: Energy Security (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:32 pm on 6th June 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 8:32 pm, 6th June 2018

My Lords, we have had an excellent debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Teverson and the EU sub-committee on this excellent report on the energy security ramifications of leaving the EU. Our status as a full member of the EU has, up to now, ensured our energy security, efficient trading and a focus on energy efficiency while, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, also ensuring a continued advance on decarbonisation. A number of your Lordships across the House—I think it was the noble Lords, Lord Selkirk of Douglas and Lord Krebs, and my noble friend Lady Sheehan—referred to the Commons Minister himself admitting to the committee that we will have to remain as near as possible to current arrangements. He is probably sorry that he said this. That particular sentence, I guess, highlights the complete folly of this. We seem to be cutting off our nose to spite our face in this fool’s rush to be free of the EU.

This excellent report demonstrates in every sphere the necessity of replicating or continuing each and every area of our energy relationship with the EU. Almost all of your Lordships who have spoken raised the necessity of remaining in or having an exact replica of our membership of the internal energy market, whose creation we led on. If we are to keep energy costs down, we will need to remain in it if and when we are outside. The Government are incredibly fond of referring to energy prices, so perhaps they should take notice of themselves. Perhaps the Minister can tell us in his response how we are to avoid the imposition of broader EU energy policy if we no longer have any voice in its creations but are mere supplicants to the table. Switzerland was highlighted as an example of how bad it gets.

A number of your Lordships raised the challenges and dangers of leaving Euratom, which was debated at length during the passage of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, and where across the House we fought tooth and nail for the amendment that eventually came forward from the Government during ping-pong. It gives us an insurance policy so that if everything that should be in place by March 2019 is not, there is that fallback position.

A number of your Lordships also raised the issue around interconnectors. What do the Government believe will happen when these circumstances arise? At the moment my understanding is that, as a country, you get priority according to your need in the direction of energy flow. We have benefited from that to date but it will no longer be the case if we are not in the club. Club members will be served first.

We cannot presently meet our own heat and power requirements. I would obviously argue with the Government that we could if they really supported renewables, actually did something about energy efficiency, invested in renewable heat and supported innovation to scale. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, certainly made clear his view of the Government’s response and, having read it, I was pretty much in agreement with his view. It is apparent from that response that the Government are relying to an extent on shale gas to answer their prayers. I can see the attraction of having the problem of the energy gap filled by private money coming in. It leaves the Government only to break all their promises and remove planning protections for local people, as if shale is some sort of economic miracle that will rescue us from the gas gap.

The Government look to the American experience to be replicated. Outside the recent report showing the new scientific evidence on the danger of fracking in ex-mining areas, I point out to the Government that our geology and geography is very different from America’s. Even if it were feasible to produce shale gas at scale, the economic miracle is fading. Asset life is critical, and the outlook is poor. In the USA, shareholders are now experiencing the reality rather than the promise of shale. A company such as Cuadrilla, which is looking for shale in Lancashire right now, has seen its shares fall to a quarter of what they were worth in 2009. That bubble is bursting. Shale is proving difficult in this country. The Government’s answer to the challenge of giving local people their right to protest is to change these applications to permitted development, and that from a Government who promised local people the final say. The shale bandwagon has passed. This is not the time to climb on it. This is the time to say yes to tidal lagoons, to invest in renewables and to take innovation to scale.

As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, neatly highlighted, the Government’s answer to many things is the clean growth strategy and the industrial strategy. They form the stock answer to all questions on the future of energy security, but I find no security in them. They are full of ambition, but they are also full of words rather than actions. Actions speak louder than words, and we have seen many a time that the Government’s actions are going in the wrong direction. The Minister will be relieved that I shall not rehearse all the measures this Government have removed or have taken that have damaged our green credentials, which include removing the zero-carbon homes standard and the precipitate removal of subsidy that devastated many in the solar industry. The even more serious part of that is that the consequent undermining of investor confidence—if we Brexit, we will need investor confidence —is real and tangible in the investment community. Thank goodness we have pioneers pushing the boundaries.

This brings me to the last issue I want to address, which is the loss of EU investment in so many projects and areas in this field: the European energy programme for recovery, the connecting Europe facility, Horizon 2020 and the European Investment Bank, which many noble Lords raised. Perhaps when he replies the Minister will say how EU funding worth billions, which we will lose on our exit from the EU, will be replaced.

I will finish on the island of Ireland. I heard no solutions for it, and I look forward to the Minister giving us such a solution.