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Renewable Energy - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:13 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Chair, Lord Speaker's Advisory Panel on Works of Art 6:13 pm, 5th June 2019

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, on securing this debate. I feel somewhat intimidated by the two previous speakers, who have a lot of expertise in the area we are discussing, but this is a very important and timely debate about technology that we hope will reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and therefore contribute towards the sustainability of our globe.

As has already been said, around half of Europe’s potential wave and tidal resource is thought to be in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that this resource could generate up to 20% of the UK’s current electricity demands. Yet no large-scale tidal lagoons or wave technology projects have been developed here in the UK, and over the years, UK Governments have been very timid in their support of this source of sustainable energy. They have also missed a great opportunity to support cutting-edge tidal energy projects. This is despite the fact that the UK is in a very advantageous position to establish a natural lead market for marine energy technologies, both wave and tidal. There are favourable natural conditions here in the UK. Globally, the UK is leading on planned power projects and there are a number of major industrial players in this sector. In addition, the United Kingdom has several world-class testing facilities and a variety of public funding mechanisms —the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was talking about how we could use those to promote lagoons.

Despite this, the Government have continued to reject various projects. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has already talked about the scheme in Swansea: as early as 2013, a government department rejected that scheme as “not cost effective”. Again, as the noble Lord pointed out, the Government did not listen to the Charles Hendry report of 2017 either, despite the fact that the report said that this was,

“an … opportunity where the UK can … aspire to be the global leader”.

The Government concluded that the scheme was not value for money. As the noble Lord also pointed out, there are some queries about the costs. We also heard clearly from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, that the costs are actually fairly comparable and that nuclear is not cheaper than what was proposed. However, if we consider that easy-to-reach oil and gas will start to run out, that global energy demand is rising and that the commitment to tackle climate change gets stronger and stronger, surely the case for wave and tidal power also becomes stronger and stronger.

I found the Library briefing for this debate extremely helpful. One thing stood out for me from it, which was the title of one of the links:

“UK missing opportunity as it swims against tidal energy”.

It invited me into reading the article from Professional Engineering of February this year, which turned out to be very interesting. It highlighted the recent success of a single floating turbine off the coast of Orkney and said that in 12 months, it,

“generated over 3GWh—more than the whole Scottish wave and tidal sector managed in the 12 years up to 2016. It supplied energy for the equivalent of 830 households, weathering the worst winter storms … in the process”.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned that there was also positive news about tidal turbines in the Pentland Firth between Orkney and the mainland, indicating a generation of 8 gigawatts. Yet the Government seem determined to miss the chance to help the UK take the lead in the tidal and wave energy sector. This parallels the stance taken on onshore wind in the 1970s, where it is now quite clear that we missed the chance to take the lead. Denmark and Germany stole a march on us—we also heard about China from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—and in 1981, the first large-scale wind turbine in Orkney came from Denmark. We ended up being a net importer of onshore wind technology.

Given this situation, it is not surprising that my Liberal Democrat colleague in another place, Alistair Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland, questioned the Energy Minister, Claire Perry, in March this year about the importance of financial support for the sector. He asked for assurance that financial support for marine renewable energy would be fully recognised in the forthcoming White Paper. Her response was not totally negative but there was no commitment. I was also interested in another exchange in the Commons in April this year when Dr Alan Whitehead, the Labour MP for Southampton, Test, whom I have worked with over a number of years on these issues, questioned Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Universities, Research and Innovation. He asked the Minister to acknowledge that marine and tidal power had been almost strangled at birth by government indifference and even active hostility. Having prepared for this debate and followed energy matters over the course of my parliamentary career—more than 25 years in both Houses now—I believe there is a lot of truth in Dr Whitehead’s observation.

With climate change at the top of the agenda for not only politicians but the general public, as we have seen over recent weeks, along with our commitment in the Paris Agreement to decarbonise and the need to support cutting-edge British technology—whether we are in or out of Europe—the Government need to seriously re-examine their record on a lack of support for marine and renewable energy. It is 10 years since the Climate Change Act became law and on 2 May this year, the Committee on Climate Change stated that now is the time to set a more ambitious goal for reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions. It recommended ending our contribution to global warming within 30 years and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, in line with the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement. Surely the time has come for the UK Government to embrace the role of wave and tidal renewable energy, to enable us to contribute to this zero target by 2050.