I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the future of coal-fired power station sites.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I thank hon. Members and my hon. Friends for attending this afternoon’s debate. My hon. Friend the Minister might be wondering why he is to respond to a debate that, on face value, may seem to be within the remit of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It is because my contribution will focus on the future of coal-fired power station sites once the plants have ceased to operate. The issue will affect all coal-fired power stations over time, as the Government have announced that they plan to phase out coal-fired energy generation by 2025, given our commitment to reducing our carbon emissions.
For many coal-fired power stations, 2025 is a long way off. Five stations across the country have announced either their closure or part-closure over the past few months. There is now a real need to consider the future of those sites. The remaining coal-fired power stations face an uncertain future, too, and I am sure that there will be hon. Members who would like to address the issue of using the existing energy generation infrastructure for biomass conversion.
Rugeley B in my Cannock Chase constituency is one of the five power stations to announce its potential closure. In February 2016 the station’s owner, Engie, announced the likely closure of the plant this summer. The potential closure has come much sooner than expected and was accelerated by deteriorating market conditions. There are various issues: the future development of the site, given its size, location, connectivity and strategic importance to the west midlands; the need for the site to be developed speedily to create new jobs, as well as to mitigate the financial impact on the local council due to the loss of business rates; and the need to consider the planning process for building combined-cycle gas turbines where power stations already exist.
I will start by setting out the story of Rugeley B to date and how we find ourselves in a situation in which the power station could potentially shut in a matter of weeks. Cannock Chase was once dominated by mines and power stations. Now, Rugeley B is the last remaining reminder of our mining heritage. At one time, Rugeley A and B were the centre of innovation in coal-fired power generation. Rugeley A was home to a dry cooling tower and was a test-bed for locating power stations in areas with no water supply. Rugeley B saw the testing of different coloured cooling towers. Ms Ryan, if you happen to pass the Rugeley B cooling towers, I encourage you to take a good look at them, as you might notice that they are made from two different colours of brick. The intention was to assess which colour blended more effectively into the countryside and landscape. To be honest, I am not sure that either achieves that aim.
A few years ago, the owner of Rugeley B considered conversion from coal to biomass. In 2013, however, it decided that conversion was not commercially viable. Like many other hon. Members, I have spoken about the benefits of biomass as a fuel for energy production.