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Renewable Energy - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:40 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 6:40 pm, 5th June 2019

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, on his forensic and deep analysis in opening the debate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who gave us that very exact background on the subject.

I have an interest in that I live in Cornwall—in fact, the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Berkeley, do as well. If the Minister is down our way some time and goes to the north coast, where the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, lives—I live nearer the south coast—and visits Newquay or any of the other beaches along there he will see surfers at all times of year. I think the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is actually an accomplished surfer. I see him shaking his head—the rest of my speech will be true, rather than fake news. The Minister will see through the surfers the power of wave. I know this debate is more about tidal energy than wave, but we see it in practical action.

The background that many noble Lords have mentioned is the need to decarbonise our economy, as is laid out in the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, with which I am sure the Minister is totally au fait. I was particularly struck when the Committee on Climate Change presented its report at the beginning of last month on meeting the zero-carbon target in the UK by 2050. What struck me in the presentation by Chris Stark, its chief executive, was his point that, for the UK to meet that target—we hope the Government will accept that recommendation, although I know that the Minister will not be able to do so today—we have to do everything concurrently. In the past, even I have thought of going down the power sector route first, transport second, heating third and land use and agriculture fourth. We have to do that all together, as I have said in the House before.

Even I think on occasion that we have solved the power sector, so we need to get on with the rest of it—particularly heating, which is difficult. But the fact is that we have not yet solved the power sector. Last year, I think that only 49.6% of our electricity was generated by low-carbon, non-fossil fuel sources, which includes nuclear. We still have the real challenge of getting past that first base in decarbonising our economy. Even in that area, we have a big issue with nuclear at the moment, which is one of the low-carbon technologies. Nuclear power is fundamental to the Government’s clean growth strategy; we have Hinkley C, which I visited about a year ago to see how it was developing. However, we now know that further projects there, whether they are supposed to be delivered by Hitachi or Toshiba, are not going to happen. I cannot see a way that they will happen. Indeed, even if those companies were able to deliver, through finance or public support, we know that the National Infrastructure Commission has now said that there should be no more than one nuclear power station in connection with that programme. We therefore have a challenge: how do we reach decarbonisation just of the power and energy sector in time for us to meet those decarbonisation targets?

I welcome the Government’s continued emphasis on offshore wind—I wish they would get on with onshore wind as well, which is even cheaper, but they are not doing that. We have to look at other sources as well. As many speakers have said, our marine energy resource is larger off our shores than almost anywhere else in the world. The question therefore comes back to exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is asking: how do we get that to happen?

There are other benefits to some of these schemes. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about some of the issues with barrages. I certainly have never advocated, and never will, the full Severn barrage, which would be ecologically and commercially the wrong thing to do. However, we have much more subtle and sensitive ways to achieve this now, such as through other forms of tidal lagoon and tidal stream. Even on tidal lagoons, we have potential benefits such as flood control and leisure, and maybe other smaller benefits. We know from other renewable technologies that we have to get them going, and test and adjust them to make sure that ecologically they are right—we need to be sensitive about that to make sure that they are right as regards water movement, silting, and so on. However, we know that, on the whole, those factors can be overcome, and that as time goes on those cost curves come down. We have proved that in other renewable technologies—not so much in low-carbon nuclear, where the cost curve has tended to go the other way—but there must be that potential with regard to the shores of the United Kingdom and tidal and wave energy.

I say that costs can come down, which is why it is so important for the Government to enable this country to get to first base to start to see how these technologies work. We on these Benches are as concerned about value to the taxpayer as anybody else, but we know that we can achieve lower prices if we roll these out.

My question for the Minister is exactly the same as that asked by almost every other Member of the House so far. We have a fantastic resource, which we know in our hearts can be successful in the future and provide us with the leadership that my noble friend pointed out we did not get on wind turbines. How do we make it happen?