Energy Security - Statement

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

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Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat 7:37, 5 December 2022

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing the Statement to the House. I of course also welcome the return of the Energy Bill.

I will start with nuclear, and the Government’s generosity with British taxpayers’ money in rebooting Sizewell C. I understand that common sense has prevailed: reports are circulating that China General Nuclear has been bought out. Can the Minister confirm that that has in fact already happened, and is not just an aspiration? Can he also comment on a recent article in the New Civil Engineer about fears of an 11-year delay to Hinkley Point C, on the back of news of a new contract between the Government and EDF, stipulating that Hinkley C will still be funded even if it does not start operating until 2036? If this were to be the case it would not be surprising, since no nuclear reactor has ever been built on time or on budget.

Finally on nuclear, the Secretary of State in his Statement cites it as a key plank in our bid for energy sovereignty. Can the Minister say where the raw uranium fuel for nuclear power generation originates from? The last time I looked, we do not mine any of it in the UK. I hope the Minister will agree that nuclear cannot be said to be the indigenous energy we need in the same way that energy farmed from our sun, wind and waves undoubtedly is.

Intermittency concerns about energy from renewables are often cited as a reason why nuclear is necessary. However, those concerns have been comprehensively debunked. There are many, much cheaper answers to intermittency if the Government were but minded to invest in them seriously. Energy storage is an example, including in the form of green hydrogen generated from the excess wind power that the grid is unable to harness in real time. There is also pumped hydro, more solar and onshore wind geographically spread out, marine energy, smart energy and demand management et cetera.

I have not even mentioned interconnectors. Can the Minister outline the Government’s view on the Morocco-UK interconnector power project? A project that is expected to provide low-cost, clean energy to more than 7 million UK homes by the end of 2030 with no taxpayer inputs and create 1,350 permanent jobs in the UK is surely worth a mention in any government energy Statement in 2022.

Moving on to fossil fuels, why do the Government persist in preferential treatment for the fossil fuel sector, for example, through subsidies? The OECD reports UK subsidies in 2021 of £200 million on decommissioning, £250 million on oil and gas investment, £1 billion on fuel oil, £1.5 billion on ring-fenced oil and gas trade corporate income tax relief and £2.1 billion on red diesel fuel. That is £5 billion of subsidies, which is unjustifiable.

On investment allowances, I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, said. In the windfall tax paid by oil and gas extractors, they benefit from an investment allowance. However, no equivalent relief is available for renewable energy generators. This is nothing short of outrageous and will disincentivise investment in that sector.

Finally, on decommissioning, the subsidy regime may be even more costly than the £200 million reported by the OECD, because decommissioning relief deeds risk leaving taxpayers paying out to companies which never made a contribution to the Exchequer. That is madness. Can the Minister say to what extent the Exchequer is exposed to these types of deed? Currently we have no visibility of the assumptions behind those deeds or the liability that might result from them.

In conclusion, a Government who produce a Statement on energy needs which does not give immediate full-throttle support and investment impetus to energy efficiency of the built sector, on-ground solar, onshore wind and community energy projects are a Government who do not get the urgency of the situation the planet faces. The lack of ambition on energy saving is breathtaking. These are the low-hanging fruit which can do so much to wean us off expensive and immoral payments to the Russian pariah state as well as other unstable regions of the world. The Government could and should have done much more on these easy wins if they are serious about energy sovereignty. I am sure that many of these things will come up in the Energy Bill that we will debate next week.