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Renewable Energy - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:06 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 6:06 pm, 5th June 2019

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Giddins, listed on the speakers’ list was unable to get here this evening, so I, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, am here in his stead. I say that only for the integrity of Hansard. I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on securing this debate and introducing it so accurately and passionately. I certainly endorse that passion and his combative position.

A huge struggle is going on around climate change, and ecological issues more generally, across the world today. The battle lines look utterly different from the situation in which the Paris Agreement was forged only a short while ago. On the one hand, the leaders of some of the world’s largest states, such as the US and Brazil, treat the goal of reducing carbon emissions with some scorn and are busy translating their rhetoric into action.

Far out on the other side, we find the climate emergency movement, which, as every noble Lord knows, has rapidly achieved global scope. The IPCC’s recent special report has lent impetus to its cause. It suggests that global warming beyond 1.5 degrees centigrade would pose serious threats to the continuity of human life on this earth. I am on the climate emergency side of this debate. We are nowhere near achieving the goals that would maintain the level proposed by the IPCC. Anyone who wants to see what lies on the other side should look at David Wallace-Wells’s book The Uninhabitable Earth. There are dystopias waiting.

All this might seem miles away from our local disputes over the Hendry report on the Swansea tidal lagoon project, but it is not. This country rightly aspires to be a leader in curbing carbon emissions and has a good claim to being such. Successive Administrations, to their credit, have kept and further developed the framework set out by the Blair and Brown Governments. However, acceptance of the implications of the IPCC’s findings changes the relationship between investment, both public and private, and risk. There is a new urgency to the transfer to renewable energy. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on this huge change in the renewable energy landscape. I hope he will agree that current initiatives must be combined with longer-term thinking about what a fully sustainable economy would look like.

The grounds given for rejecting the Hendry report proved contentious. Some have questioned the figures given by the Minister in the other place at the time, especially the comparisons with nuclear energy. Perhaps the Minister might want to comment on that. However, it is good to see that the demise of the Hendry proposals has prompted further initiatives. The plans for Dragon Energy Island in Swansea Bay have a different guise and essentially take the form of a public/private partnership. Thousands of homes would be built on floating platforms, receiving their energy from tidal power. Contracts would be set up by the local council and other public bodies to purchase electricity over specified periods. The project is designed to be long-term, and clients will be encouraged to take out long-term contracts based on buying electricity at a set price.

It is claimed that there is huge support among the wider public for this scheme and it will be good to hear the Minister’s views on how the project might be taken forward. Perhaps, if he is willing, my noble friend Lord Grantchester could comment on reports that Mr Corbyn has given a commitment to push ahead with the tidal lagoon project should Labour come to power. Has any thought been given to the sources of such funding, or is it just a vague promise?

The Government often talk about the UK being a leader in this and that. Is tidal energy not exactly one area where the rhetoric can be translated into reality, with the appropriate mix of government seedbed investment and private sector involvement? We have to look internationally. Does the Minister think there are lessons to be learned from the Sihwa Lake tidal power station in South Korea, perhaps currently the world’s leader? The electricity generated by that plant every year is the equivalent of 862,000 barrels of oil—a saving of over 315,000 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions of 100,000 cars.

China is planning huge investment in tidal energy schemes. How far are the Government actively tracking these? In harnessing tidal power, China is likely to move as fast as it has in other areas of renewable energy. After all, China became by far the world’s largest producer of solar panels and wind turbines in less than two decades from start to finish. China’s tidal energy project on Xiushan Island, installed in 2016 with amazing rapidity, as always happens in China, has claimed a world record, having generated over 800 megawatt hours of power since that time, all supplied continuously to the grid. We are relying, very controversially, on Chinese as well as French expertise in building Hinkley Point. Do we want the same to happen with tidal power? I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that point.