It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Bailey.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint on securing this debate. I say to her personally, as a friend, that our Front Bench is weaker for her not being on it, and I am glad that both she and my hon. Friend Julie Elliott are serving our party as chairmen of our Back-Bench committees.
The future of clean energy investment in the UK is now more at risk than at any other time in history. The decisions to end subsidies for onshore wind early, to remove the guaranteed subsidies for biomass conversions and to consult on controlling subsidies to solar are putting investment in clean energy at a clear and present risk.
The Renewable Energy Association states that the UK is currently eighth in the world for investment in clean technology. When the companies and investment firms interested in clean technology look at the UK and compare us with France, Germany, China and America, the question must be asked: does chopping and changing strategy really inspire confidence? It is not just investment and companies that have been put at risk. In pursuing short-term decisions rather than long-term interests, Ministers have harmed the wider economy.
It is not as if the Government do not know that. In 2012, the BiGGAR Economics report, “Onshore Wind: Direct and Wider Economic Benefits”, for the Department of Energy and Climate Change found that, if different decisions were taken, onshore wind could be worth £1.18 billion in gross value added by 2020 and an extra 17,900 jobs could be created. That is in addition to the 19,000 jobs and £1.7 billion in GVA that onshore wind already supports in the UK economy, according to figures from RenewableUK. Equally, the removal of subsidies from onshore, biomass and solar suggest that there will be higher bills in the long run, because onshore wind is the cheapest method of achieving our 2020 obligation and solar the second cheapest. Any other method of achieving greenhouse gas reduction in the UK is likely to result in higher bills, not next year but for the next 20 years.
However, while encouraging investment in solar, wind and biomass by creating a stable and consistent environment will go a long way, the clean energy sector in the UK has no future without nuclear power. Although I am pleased to note that Ministers are taking action to replace the UK’s provision of nuclear energy by 2030, and then to dramatically increase it by 2050, I question the investment decisions.
While the UK accepts investment from China and France for new uranium-based reactors, India is preparing to build new thorium-based reactors. Thorium, unlike uranium, cannot be weaponised and reactors using it have a significantly lower risk of meltdown. Fewer raw materials are needed, and the construction and running costs are lower. Perhaps most importantly of all, the waste from thorium is minuscule and has beneficial applications in medicine and exploration. Indeed, this new technology is so impressive that China and the United States agreed a bilateral project in February to build two thorium reactors on the Chinese mainland. I wonder whether the Minister will commit to asking our new Chinese partners if they would be willing to share not only their investment but their expertise in thorium reactors.
The UK was close to leading the world on clean energy investment, and was quickly catching up with California. Decisions by this Government have put that at risk. Of course we can talk about clean technology, but it really is our last best chance for this country and I am seriously concerned that we are falling behind. I hope that today the Minister brings the type of urgency that we need.