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Renewable Energy - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:48 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:48 pm, 5th June 2019

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for bringing forward this debate on tidal power as we approach the anniversary of the Government’s disappointing response to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon proposals that would have developed this new renewable technology. The Government are due to produce their energy White Paper this summer, and this debate has been a good opportunity to remind them of the potential of tidal ranges and to seek their constructive response.

The Statement a year ago repeated the message of the Government’s dismal record on renewable energy. As on previous occasions, the Government left tidal technologies on standstill for two years without dialogue or communication, while other technologies were developing, only to issue the announcement to reject the scheme. At the time, there was widespread criticism of the Government’s interpretation of the scheme. This was a pathfinder project, where value for money needs appreciation beyond a strict cost-benefit analysis of the specific scheme. As the debate has highlighted, there is now a new potential renewable technology to add to the mix of future energy sources, a first and only in class, where the UK has unique features of leadership. It could have enhanced the development of energy storage from the quasi storage feature of many tidal lagoon schemes, as well as having implications for flood management. Tidal lagoon technologies come somewhere between tidal stream and tidal range alternatives, and this location in the Severn Estuary could have been the catalyst for a developing industry, with many leading skills in the area.

What thoughts are there now concerning overlapping benefits for the steelworks nearby at Port Talbot and the wider Welsh economy? How would the planned joint venture with the German thyssenkrupp have looked if this venture had gone ahead? The Welsh Government had been prepared to put funding into the project, with the prospect of creating 2,000 new jobs, providing power to 155,000 properties, which equates to around 11% of Welsh domestic electricity consumption.

Further long-term damage to the investment community may result from the effect of the Government’s handling. Once again, the Government’s disdain for renewables will lead investors to opportunities overseas, towards projects such as the Sihwa Lake tidal power plant in South Korea. Marine renewables could go abroad, taking jobs and investment elsewhere.

With last year’s announcement, are the Government cutting the tidal range sector out of the UK’s energy future? What are the Government’s views on other projects? I was grateful to receive other engineering plans for the Severn Estuary, such as the Abberton-Minehead barrage, and last month, a glimmer of hope appeared with the alternative plans for Dragon Energy Island, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Giddens, featuring a floating island in impounded water off the coast of Swansea, with plans for modular commercial and residential buildings used primarily to generate tidal energy. It may be too soon for the Minister to be aware of the detail of this important proposal. However, the scheme could capitalise on the work and skills already present at Swansea Bay to retrieve the position following the Government’s disappointing decision last year. If the Minister has any assessment yet, it would be helpful if he could come forward with it today.

There are at least other promising signs, such as the tidal project on Merseyside. It was encouraging to see the launch of the next phase of plans to harness the tidal power of the River Mersey and Liverpool Bay earlier this month. The project could ultimately generate one gigawatt of electricity: up to four times the energy of all the wind turbines in Liverpool Bay. This would generate power for up to 1 million homes, equivalent to 500 football stadiums—a good measure of achievement on Merseyside. From designers, architects and technicians to marine contractors and construction workers, the project will create much-needed skilled jobs for the region. In leading the proposals, the city region’s mayor, Steve Rotheram, has demonstrated the exact transformational potential that devolution can produce, and the Government should provide leadership as the scheme makes further progress.

With another scheme still in its infancy, the Government must also show direction for the tidal power gateway across Morecambe Bay. The plan, similar to those already mentioned, but built as part of a road link, could create thousands of new jobs and generate energy for 2 million homes, meeting up to 7% of the north-west’s power requirement. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned other examples, and I was interested to learn more from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield.

While issuing those challenges to the Minister, I recognise that, as is the case with any new energy source, there are issues to be faced with tidal power. Any construction of tidal projects must minimise the impact on wildlife and the natural environment. Of particular significance will be the effect on distinct local estuary ecology, with impacts on migrating fish and birds that the creation of a new habitat could not mitigate. My noble friend Lord Berkeley mentioned the dangers of silting.

Of course, attention must be given to the effect on the public purse, which must be used wisely to generate maximum and widespread benefit. In the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Government set a moratorium on new low-carbon subsidies regulated by the discredited levy control framework, with the new control for low-carbon levies. This has raised concern that projects such as this and other new low-carbon energy developments could all be set at a standstill until they can proceed without any government support. Can the Minister clarify what the new control for low-carbon levies will mean for such projects, whether tidal or wave, or even other technologies such as geothermal? Will the new control persist at least until after the already committed expenditure on future CfD auctions has been made? Does the new control set the framework for the Government’s answer to the challenge of today’s debate?

This debate has laid out clear strategic benefits for the UK to develop tidal power. Within the renewables stable of technologies, it has clear advantages of regular, reliable consistency, even with the varying intermittencies as tides rise and fall. Only the Government can lead by providing support to nascent technologies and the necessary funds to fill the gaps. The UK has geographical advantages to exploit this resource, so that tidal power can contribute to and play an important role in the UK’s future energy mix—with the potential for global exports, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, noted.

The Government can address that today and, in the forthcoming energy White Paper, set out clearly their intentions by introducing new policy support mechanisms for wave and tidal stream technologies and embrace the new thinking proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, set out the challenge of meeting the new IPCC parameters and the decarbonisation targets. Against the background of the challenges to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, accelerating climate change, the challenge to meet zero net carbon emissions by 2050 and diminishing biodiversity, the Government are clearly missing the target.