Biomass Power Generation — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 20th March 2013.

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Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 3:15 pm, 20th March 2013

I want to make a few general points. First, I congratulate Nigel Adams on initiating this important debate. If I was in his situation and had in my constituency two major coal plants that would shut if they were not converted to biomass, I would take exactly his position.

I want to take a step back and give a slightly wider perspective on what is happening, in line with what Jackie Doyle-Price said about energy and climate change. I can think of no country in history that remained competitive while it had higher energy costs than its competitors. At the base of our present energy policy is a huge gamble that gas prices will increase and that therefore the investment that the Government are making will make alternative energy competitive. At the moment, however, it is not competitive, and we need to bear that in mind, particularly given the worldwide increase in shale gas.

The second point I would make about the conversion to biogas is that it has two drivers: one is bonkers and counter-productive, while the other should not be implemented. One is the 2020 directive from Europe, which is an attempt to achieve a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. On one level, that would be fine, but the measure deals with only one side of the equation—emissions. It does not deal with consumption, and the reason why the carbon budget in Europe and this country is going up is that we are importing machines and other products from elsewhere, which is why the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing generally. The policy is not working and it is counter-productive—it is a deindustrialisation policy disguised as an environmental policy.

The other problem, which the hon. Lady mentioned, is the large combustion plant directive. I do not understand why this country must implement the directive by a particular date. In that respect, the Minister, who I think is excellent—I rather prefer his interpretation of the country’s energy policy to the Secretary of State’s—owes me, unusually, a letter. I asked him why we had not applied to extend the deadline for implementing the directive, which is allowable under its provisions. Perhaps he will tell us in his response.

There is a subsidy and a cost to biomass. The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty made a good case, and he gave two reasons for using biomass. One was jobs; as I said, I would make the same argument if I was in his situation. However, when we give an industry a subsidy, as is the case for biomass and the rest of the alternative energy industry, there is a cost elsewhere, as the hon. Member for Thurrock said. That subsidy could be costing jobs elsewhere, even though it may not be necessary.

The second reason that was cited related to security of energy supply, which I would always put at the apex of energy policy. One can argue about price and how energy is made, but if we do not have any, we have nothing to argue about. I remind the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty that, in times of difficulty, whether that is to do with energy or anything else, an energy supply that comes across the north Atlantic is not totally secure.