Energy Security - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:37 pm on 5 December 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Lennie Lord Lennie Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade) 7:37, 5 December 2022

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement that we are discussing now. The key announcements in the Statement—the green light for Sizewell C and the return of the Energy Bill—are both overdue, but better late than never, and we welcome both. Nuclear must play a role as part of the balanced pathway to net zero, as the Climate Change Committee says, and we on these Benches support new nuclear projects, so it is about time that the Government finally gave Sizewell C the go-ahead. The reports a month ago that it was being put under review were very worrying after a decade of government dithering, so we are pleased that this has been put to bed.

We also welcome the return of the Energy Bill, which of course should never have been paused while Conservative Party infighting took precedence over national need. We look forward to picking up where we left off next week. Given that this is the second Government since it was paused, my first question is: can we expect any government amendments to the Bill when it returns?

As for the third announcement in the Statement, on ECO+, a drive towards energy efficiency is needed but in reality, at the current rate of installation, the 19 million homes below energy performance band C will not reach that level until the next century—yet this announcement gives neither extra resources to fix that nor any indication of how it will change. Perhaps the Minister can elaborate a bit further and offer some reassurance here.

While we are on energy efficiency, it is one of the best ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but the Government have failed on that over and again. Household energy bills are £1,000 more as a result, and earlier this month we had another reheated announcement with no new resources for energy efficiency. When are the Government going to get a grip on this issue?

As ever, the real problem with the Statement is everything that is not in it. New nuclear and Sizewell C in particular are indeed positive steps, but they are just one part of the pathway to net zero. They simply must be accompanied by a sprint for cheap, clean, homegrown renewables, yet all that we have seen recently instead is another round of government infighting, this time on onshore wind.

Just this week, new research from the ECIU has found that if the moratorium on onshore wind had not been put in place in 2015, turbines could have built to power 1.5 million homes through this winter, reducing the reliance on gas enough to heat more than half a million extra homes. The research also estimated that this will be costing £800 million on bills this winter, so why have the Government not yet cleared this up?

Unless the Minister answers that the Government will finally act in the national interest and end the ban, I am sure his argument will be that it is just up to local consent. But RenewableUK warned this weekend that a planning rule means that renewed permission must be sought from local authorities for every onshore wind farm after an initial 25-year lifespan, with at least two coming up for renewal next year. So we could see existing onshore wind farms starting to disappear, at a time when we desperately need more. It says that the UK could lose 2 gigawatts of capacity by 2032 because of this—more than 14% of the total from this energy source. So when will the Government finally bring the consenting regime in line with other infrastructure?

There is one more thing on onshore wind. In the other place on Tuesday, the Business Secretary suggested that one reason for avoiding onshore wind was that wind turbines are too big to be constructed onshore. As Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said, this is complete nonsense. So can the Minister confirm whether the Government are aware that the biggest barrier to the development of onshore wind is not turbine size but their policy?

On solar, the story is the same. Back in August, the Prime Minister said he would

“protect our best agricultural land” from swathes of solar farms—before an apparent change of tack. But just last month the new Environment Secretary repeated this sentiment. This would be a mistake: blocking solar risks preventing the equivalent of 10 nuclear power stations-worth of power being built. It is one of the most cost-effective ways that renewable energy technologies can be deployed today and, importantly, deployed rapidly, with sites able to begin supplying electricity to the grid within six months of beginning construction.

The Committee on Climate Change’s projections state that 40 gigawatts of installed solar capacity will be needed by 2030 to keep on track to achieve net zero by 2050. At the end of 2021, the total installed capacity of solar PV in the UK was under 14 gigawatts. The previous Environment Secretary wanted to block solar power on land entirely; the current one is openly hostile. Neither of these stances will allow us to build the necessary capacity to reach net zero by 2050, let alone any sooner. Will the Secretary of State therefore rule out the plans to block further solar power on land?

I have one final question. Amongst all this, oil and gas giants still enjoy a massive loophole for investing in more fossil fuels. Why do the Government think it right to be leaving billions of unearned, unexpected windfall gains in the pockets of oil and gas giants, forcing the public to pick up so much more of the cost of this support in higher borrowing and taxes in the future?