It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate Alexander Stafford on securing this debate and his comprehensive introduction.
There was some criticism, slightly reflected in the hon. Gentleman’s positive introduction, about the comparison with other countries in terms of investment. My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, speaking from the Front Bench earlier in the week, mentioned that. Today, however, I want to be positive about the Government’s strategy as it stands. [Interruption.] I am being positive to the Minister and supporting him. I will support the issue of financing, particularly because of a point raised by Peter Aldous, which was eloquently put, about this not being a competition but a jigsaw. I will refer back to that excellent point.
I am here to represent the case for my own region in the north-west and, in particular, Cheshire, which has a historical position in the chemicals industry through the salt mining that took place in mid-Cheshire for many years. In the energy sector, we also had strong nuclear expertise, through Warrington and Capenhurst in my constituency. Energy is part of our region’s DNA. There are offshore wind farms, which we share—as well as the ambition to drive forward our own hydrogen project—with north Wales, in the cross-border area represented by the Mersey Dee Alliance. The scheme that we are keen to promote has widespread support across Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire and north Wales. Our local enterprise partnerships and the North West Business Leadership Team are behind it, as are the local councils.
The exciting opportunities that we have in Cheshire and Warrington will give us the chance to drive forward a new hydrogen economy at pace. Industry is at the forefront of proposals that are deliverable quickly, and which will protect and support high-value employment and can create thousands of green jobs in the local economy. One of the main projects is HyNet, which could start capturing industrial carbon dioxide emissions as early as 2025, if the Government make speedy decisions on the industrial decarbonisation challenge programme.
Hon. Members may be aware that the north-west region has the highest concentration of advanced manufacturing and chemical production in the UK and industry accounts for nearly a quarter of the region’s 40 million tonnes of annual CO2, so if the Minister can drive this forward, he will make a real difference.
As part of the projects that we are proposing, Liverpool Bay gasfield owner ENI has now been licensed to store CO2 permanently. Detailed design work is already under way on the pipelines needed to connect the Ellesmere Port industrial cluster to the CCUS—carbon capture, usage and storage—facility.
We also have the potential to start producing low-carbon hydrogen at scale by the middle of the decade, subject to the positive decision on HyNet. The Essar refinery complex at Stanlow could ultimately produce 18 TWh per year of low-carbon hydrogen for use to fuel industry and transport and, potentially, to feed into the gas networks in nearby homes. I say again to the Minister and the House: we already have the human infrastructure —the expertise—as well as the physical, in place and ready to go.