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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:37 pm on 20th March 2013.

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Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy) 3:37 pm, 20th March 2013

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate Nigel Adams not just on securing the debate, but on the comprehensive way in which he dealt with the issues in relation to biomass. To start with, he is right to make the distinction between biomass and biofuels. The Minister, I am sure, will recall that on 6 March we engaged in the discussion on the Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order 2013. Certainly Roger Williams was present as well. I do not know whether anyone else here was. Possibly Ian Swales was; I am not sure. The debate touched on a range of issues, but it focused particularly on biomass and biofuels, and I did reflect that there was sometimes in that discussion a degree of confusion and overlap between what people were talking about, so the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty was right to make the distinction between the two at the outset of today’s debate.

This debate is important. I am conscious of the time and I do want to give the Minister time to respond to the wide range of points that have been made during the debate—some specifically on biomass and some slightly more wide-ranging—but I just want to reflect on the point that the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty made in relation to the perhaps liberated comments made by the soon-to-be former chief executive of Ofgem when he talked about the capacity crunch recently. While not wishing to disrespect that opinion, I am sure that he will be aware that there are a number of different views about what the level of capacity will and will not be. That is one scenario, but it is important to highlight that similarly expert commentators have painted other scenarios. We need to reflect on them all, to see where we are going with our wider energy policy.

The hon. Member for Redcar referred to the decisions announced today on carbon capture and storage. I was interested to hear the Minister’s response, particularly on the two projects that were not included in the announcement in the Budget today. If we are serious about CCS, we need to ensure that we get the long-term support regimes—such as those we are discussing in the Energy Bill, which is awaiting its Report stage—right. That will ensure that those two projects—and the Hatfield project, which was not successful in the New Entrants Reserve 300 funding scheme, because it did not get the go-ahead for match funding from the Treasury—are not completely lost and that we do not lose opportunities in those areas and in the export potential of our technological and academic lead in the industry.

Jackie Doyle-Price talked about the power station at Tilbury, the impact it has had and its contribution to the national grid since its very recent conversion. She also made an important point about the cost of grid connections. It is about not only the financial cost, but the time it takes energy sources to be connected to the grid, particularly in the less populous parts of the British isles. There are complications, and concerns about the time some sources take. Her important points add to the case for making biomass part of the balanced mix, particularly because, as is sometimes described, it can be used during a transitional phase, while other sources are developed further. I do not think that biomass is completely ideal, but we do not live in a completely ideal world and we have a significant energy challenge to meet over the next few years.

The hon. Members for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), who do not necessarily have negative perspectives, drew attention to some areas of concern with biomass. They both pointed out that they are not opponents of biomass, but they wanted to draw the House’s attention to some of its consequences. I shall pick up from where the hon. Member for Hexham left off. I do not do so as some sort of “bourgeois liberal”, “chi-chi” commentator or whatever other phraseology the Minister uses to keep those behind him happy in debates, but from the serious perspective of the potential consequences for other industries. I am sure that the Minister will recall that I touched on the specifics when we discussed the topic in Committee.

I discussed some of the consequences with my right hon. Friend Mrs McGuire, who is a colleague of the hon. Member for Hexham on the all-party group on the wood panel industry. The issue is what is, and is not, waste. We hear a different interpretation of waste when we talk to the wood panel industry, as opposed to when we talk to other industries, such as the furniture industry. There needs to be a decent level of engagement between the Government and the industry, because they have different data that show very different things—the impact on price is just one factor that needs to be explored properly. The Minister said earlier this afternoon that he intended to ensure that there was that level of engagement. It is important because anyone’s starting point with biomass is that it needs to be sustainable and focused on genuine waste products—products that cannot be used in any other meaningful way, such as in furniture or in the wood panel industry, which can use lower-grade wood than the furniture industry. I am sure that he is well aware of those points.