Coal-fired Power Stations — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:19 pm on 27th April 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Phil Boswell Phil Boswell Scottish National Party, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 3:19 pm, 27th April 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I thank Amanda Milling for obtaining a debate on this issue. Clearly, the imminent Rugeley power station closure prompted it, and I applaud her for her efforts in seeking retraining packages and jobs for staff, as well as financial aid to decontaminate the site for redevelopment. I wish her the very best in her endeavours. None the less, the Conservative Government’s commitment to a decade of austerity continues to strangle development, competition and investment in the UK’s energy sector.

There have been some excellent contributions to the debate. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase spoke extensively, passionately and eloquently about reuse of the site after demolition and decontamination. Her points were reiterated and supported by the hon. Members for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) and for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst); but I offer words of caution, if the hon. Lady will have them. In the constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw, which neighbours mine, we have made great use of the land that was vacated following the destruction of the Ravenscraig steelworks by a similarly right-wing Conservative Government; but our experience is that enterprise zones, houses and sports and leisure facilities are no substitute for jobs. I will focus on that and related issues.

My hon. Friend Martyn Day recounted his experience of the failure of a specific energy provider, Carlton Power, to build a power station. That was due to legislative changes, among other things, and it was frustrating to investors. My hon. Friend quoted Scotland’s Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, and spoke about the Longannet closure, which resulted in the loss of key jobs and problems for the community.

Given that so many Staffordshire Members have spoken, I am surprised that there has been no mention of Shakespeare yet, but I am sure—[Hon. Members: “Warwickshire!”] Is it Warwickshire? That is why, then. I stand corrected. It all sounds the same to me.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned, in March, Scottish Power closed the Longannet coal-fired power station. More than 200 direct jobs and more than 1,000 in the supply chain were lost. The problems and devastation that such closures can cause to the families and communities that are all too often heavily reliant on such large power plants are evident to many in Scotland. Having seen the detrimental impact in Scotland, I sympathise with those affected by the Cannock Chase closure. Geographically based transmission charges were much to blame for the closure of Longannet, but the commitment of the Secretary of State for Climate Change and Energy to overseeing a consultation on ending unabated coal-fired power stations by 2025 doubtless played its part in both closures. As the Financial Times reported last November, the Secretary of State wants more gas plants to replace the coal plants.

What of the future of coal-fired power stations? That, after all, is what the debate is about. The shorter answer is that without carbon capture and storage alongside, they appear not to have a future in the UK. Carbon capture and storage, for anyone not familiar with it, is a technology that can currently capture about 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes, preventing the carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. It is seen as essential alongside coal-fired power stations, to enable UK and world climate change targets to be met. There are working CCS plants such as Boundary dam in Canada and numerous others in the US and Norway, but the world seeks its first large-scale operational plant to further prove the viability of that rapidly advancing technology and the opportunity to improve emissions capture to above 90%, which is the current target.

The previous UK Government created a £1 billion fund to seize the opportunity to have fully functioning CCS projects in the UK. Until last year, we were set to proceed with CCS projects at the White Rose coal-fired power station in Yorkshire—in the constituency of Selby and Ainsty, I believe—and at the gas-fired power station in Peterhead in Scotland, which I was fortunate enough to work on for Shell. The Chancellor’s cancellation of the CCS funding late last year was the latest in a long line of greener and renewable energy cuts that set us yet further back on our journey to cleaner energy.

In November 2014, the BBC reported on how changes in Government energy policy were likely to increase CO2 emissions rather than reduce them, citing—my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned a few of these—the block on solar in the countryside, the cut to the industrial solar subsidy, cuts to solar subsidy for homes, cuts to biomass subsidy, scrapping the green deal, cutting zero-carbon homes, imposing carbon tax on renewables, blocking onshore wind, increased tax on small cars, tax breaks for the oil and gas industries, cutting zero-carbon offices and support for community energy, and selling the Green Investment Bank, to name just a few changes. Ironically, those short-term savings will cost us in the long term.

The UK Committee on Climate Change told the Secretary of State that the cost of meeting the 2050 decarbonisation target will be twice as high without a carbon capture and storage programme. The CCC points out that the proposed budget to 2032 is a minimum, and suggests that the Government be prepared to do more, not less, to reduce total UK domestic carbon emissions in line with the Paris agreement objectives. The committee also noted that greater decarbonisation ambition will be needed by the European Union. In short, we need to make more reductions. For that, CCS is essential, and an urgent plan is needed for a minimum of 7 GW of clean power by 2030, together with support for industry-wide decarbonisation.

Professor Stuart Haszeldine, director of Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage, commented:

“To stay on track in the ‘high ambition coalition’
of leading nations agreed in Paris climate talks, the UK needs to do a lot more on UK electricity, and a lot more on UK low-carbon industry and low-carbon heat. But now this government is doing a lot less.”

He went on:

“There is no sign yet that facts, unbiased scientific evidence and rationality are regarded as more important than lobbying by corporations and colleagues wishing to take the UK back to the 1960s energy mix”.

That would be a retrograde step. Professor Haszeldine said there was a choice—and it is a stark one—

“between spending £40 per household in 2016 or spending £200 per household each year from 2050. We can afford it.”

The Times reported in December 2015, during the Paris climate change conference, that worldwide more than 2,400 coal-fired power stations were under construction or planned, mostly in India or China. Without CCS, that makes a mockery of the world’s climate change commitment. The UK was in prime position to have a positive effect in the ongoing reduction of the world’s coal-fired power station emissions. Given the progress made in CCS, we had the opportunity to become the world leader in large-scale CCS project design and construction, something that would have been great not only for UK businesses, but also for the world at large, as the UK would have been able to provide a substantial decrease in global CO2 emissions by providing more efficient and affordable CCS schemes, with ever-rising emissions capture figures.

We cannot discuss the future of coal-fired power stations without thinking about ethical coal mining. The UK Government’s decision to import coal, rather than investing in an export-led energy market in the UK, has had detrimental consequences on human lives and the environment. According to Government figures, nearly 4 million tonnes of Colombian coal was imported to Hunterston in North Ayrshire alone in 2013. Rogelio Ustate from the Federation of Communities Displaced by Mining in La Guajira stated:

“The coal which is used to warm your houses on cold nights is the same coal which has taken our homes from us.”

Workers face poor and dangerous working conditions in mining much of our imported coal. It is not lost on the few British miners who remain that we no longer have deep mines in the UK, as hon. Members remarked earlier. That is despite the fact that the UK has massive coal reserves to draw on, especially in Scotland. At least if we mined the coal locally it would be ethically sourced, and it would also create jobs.

I must point out the differences in policy between the UK and Scottish Governments. The UK Government have failed to provide the fiscal incentives necessary to stimulate investment in conversions of former coal-fired power stations. Despite a commitment to ending coal power by 2025, the UK Government have failed to produce the financial backing and/or incentives to enable the UK energy market to transition from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels to being the more renewables-based energy market we seek, as per our climate change targets. The Scottish Government are concerned that the UK will continue to import energy despite the vast untapped potential of the UK’s energy market, especially in Scotland. That is especially pertinent given the potential disaster of the Government’s “all your eggs in one flawed basket” energy policy, and the French and Chinese nationalised companies at Hinkley C nuclear power station.

The Scottish Government believe that we must carry out comprehensive research into the viability of the conversion of plants to carbon capture and storage. Experts deem that prospective site planners may favour sites that are already equipped with a grid connection and immediate infrastructure. As a member of the CCS advisory committee, I concur with those findings. Industrial hubs where there is power generation, and which are linked to existing CO2 transportation and storage systems and the power grid, are deemed the most likely locations to succeed.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, the head of energy and environment at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the lead author of the report, “Engineering the UK Electricity Gap”, said:

“The UK is facing an electricity supply crisis. As the UK population rises and with the greater use of electricity use in transport and heating, it looks almost certain that electricity demand is going to rise…However, with little or no focus on reducing electricity demand, the retirement of the majority of the UK’s aging nuclear fleet, recent proposals to phase out coal fired power stations by 2025 and the cut in renewable energy subsidies, the UK is on course to provide even less energy than it does at the moment.”

That does not bode well for energy users.

Unless we reverse the abandonment of the cleaner renewable energy incentives for the failing Hinkley C nuclear power programme, and the Government’s rash dash for gas—fracking—this country will face an energy supply crisis. We will become ever more reliant on imported energy, despite the massive resources and skills at our disposal.

The UK Government’s decision to slash the fiscal infrastructure for carbon capture and storage has failed to facilitate matters for the coal industry in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. The Scottish Government believe that financial backing and subsidies must be put in place to give the energy market the fiscal incentives necessary to stimulate investment in coal-fired plant conversion to CCS-converted plants.