It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans—with your strong and long Welsh history, I hope you may even know the community that I will talk about today.
Geothermal energy has tremendous potential, and I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Goodman on securing the debate. It was very interesting to hear her informed view on why such projects can be of huge benefit to Durham, and to the whole of the UK. I will focus my remarks mainly on the Caerau project in my constituency.
Bridgend County Borough Council, which serves two thirds of my constituency, has commissioned a survey to ascertain whether water held in the former Caerau colliery, in the Llynfi valley, could provide a sufficient heat source for a project. If the survey results are positive, there are proposals for a geothermal energy project to generate energy for nearly 1,000 homes across the Llynfi valley. That could provide safe, reliable and cost-effective heat and build a green energy industry in the heart of the south Wales coalfields.
If the project is successful, that will catapult Caerau to the forefront of the UK’s energy revolution. The project is a clear example of effective collaborative working, and I pay tribute to the Labour leadership of Bridgend County Borough Council, including Councillor Huw David, the leader, and the Welsh Labour Government. They have worked tirelessly with the private sector to secure the necessary EU funding for the scheme to get the go-ahead.
At its core, this is about moving towards a clean energy mix that the UK can rely on, but it is about much more than that in my opinion. Across the coalfields, many communities are still feeling the effects of the end of the mining industry. At its peak, the Caerau colliery once employed more than 2,400 workers. ln the village, the working-age population today is just over 4,000. The end of the industry was disastrous for that community. Even today, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly above the national average. Those communities need funding, employment and industry. Geothermal energy projects can provide that much needed injection. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for coalfield communities and the representative of one of Wales’s most prominent coalfield areas, and this is an issue that I care deeply about. Geothermal energy is an opportunity to help regenerate our coalfields, and we must grasp that opportunity to build on the history and tradition of our collieries with a new industry that is clean, safe, and can provide energy and jobs where they are needed.
Of course, such projects have their benefits, but we must take care to listen to those who live close to the collieries and ensure that they have as much support from local residents as possible. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland has already said, we must ensure that local residents get the potentially lucrative benefits of the projects, and reap part of the economic and social rewards the developments bring, whether that be through employment opportunities, community funding or receiving a benefit through their energy bills.
I know from speaking to residents in Caerau that there is a lot of optimism and promise for the project, but there is some concern too. It is vital that residents are informed as much as possible about the positives that such projects can bring. Through the design, construction and maintenance process, they must be fully engaged and represented. Their opinions should take priority and it is they who should be the focus of such projects.
Needless to say, geothermal energy is not the silver bullet for solving our energy insecurity as a whole and can only form a part of our future energy mix. It will come as no surprise to the Minister if I take the opportunity to mention the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon as part of that energy mix within Wales and across the United Kingdom. While I am delighted to see the Welsh Government, local government and other authorities supporting projects such as the tidal lagoon, it is for the UK Government to come forward with a long-term proposal that gives us energy security. In my opinion, which again will come as no surprise to the Minister, that should include the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.
Juggling the trilemma of meeting our climate change targets, improving our energy security and keeping tariffs down for consumers is a difficult task. I accept that, but I would like to stress that we need effective and radical action from the UK Government to address baseline power alongside our work to advance local renewable sources of energy. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland that the Minister is not a paper-pusher; she is a proactive Minister. I would like to believe sincerely that she will do all she can to deliver energy security for the UK using mixed sources, including geothermal energy and the tidal lagoon. I still have faith that the Government will deliver that.
Geothermal energy is a unique opportunity to build industry in communities where it is often missed most, by many people who still remember with great pride serving in collieries and who still face the cycle of unemployment two or three generations after the closure of those heavy industries. Of course, we should take caution and understand that that alone it is not the solution to all of our energy woes—but it is a hugely positive opportunity for our coalfield communities, and for building a future energy mix based on renewable energy. It is one we must give serious consideration to.
I end with an invitation to the Minister. I appreciate that some energy policy is devolved to the Welsh Government, but if she would like to see the Caerau project, I would very much welcome her to my constituency to see in action the innovative work that Bridgend County Borough Council is doing, along with Cardiff University and the Welsh Government.