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House of Commons

Thursday 22 March 2001

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


City of London (Ward Elections) Bill (By Order)

Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Thursday 29 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Renewable Energy

1. Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): What action he is taking to promote renewable energy. [153626]

12. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): What steps he is taking to increase energy production from renewable resources. [153642]

The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mr. Peter Hain): The Government have set an ambitious target of securing 10 per cent. of our electricity from renewables by 2010, driven mainly by the proposed renewables obligation on all electricity suppliers. In addition, we have allocated more than £250 million over the next three years to promote new renewable energy technologies, including offshore wind, energy crops and solar voltaics. I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government have also decided to introduce an order in the House that will allow non-fossil fuel obligation 3, 4 and 5 contracts to change location, so freeing up projects that have been unable to win planning consent to transfer elsewhere and help meet our renewables target.

Mrs. Lawrence: The Minister will be aware that the tariff payments to generators of wind power change on 1 April and that sites with wind velocity as low 7.5 m a second will be viable, instead of the previous 9 m a second. Will he do everything possible to encourage wind generators to switch their attention to new sites and remove pressure from environmentally and aesthetically sensitive sites, such as those in my constituency near the Pembrokeshire coast national park?

Mr. Hain: I am well aware of the beautiful countryside in my hon. Friend's constituency--indeed, I may even

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visit it with her in the next few weeks. We are anxious to ensure that renewables projects, in particular offshore and onshore wind projects, are sensitively located. I assure her that NFFO portability will encourage transfer of projects to less sensitive sites. In addition, the increased buy-out price for renewables will encourage wind farm projects to be located at lower levels. That should reassure my hon. Friend and her constituents.

Ms Drown: Is my hon. Friend aware of a recent survey published by the Scottish Executive that shows overwhelming support for renewable energy, especially wind energy? Interestingly, there was more support in areas adjacent to existing projects. That reinforces evidence from many surveys that show that a lot of the fears that are raised before a project is installed are unfounded. Will my hon. Friend agree to have a public information campaign to emphasise the benefits of renewable energy, which is better for the environment, uses safer production methods and improves the environment for the staff who work in the area? Will he also emphasise the fact that that massively expanding sector also benefits British business.

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why we have made £250 million available to support wind projects, solar photovoltaics, biomass projects in better generation and other renewable energy projects that we are keen to promote. Our approach will encourage cleaner energy and environmentally more sustainable energy. I agree that public opinion is often more content with such projects when they are established. When people consider a renewables project on their doorstep, they should bear in mind the fact that it is the cleanest form of energy. Whatever planning issues may be at stake, people should not adopt a Nimby attitude to those projects.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Does the Minister agree with the unanimous view of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs that energy from waste should not be classified as renewable energy?

Mr. Hain: I read the report yesterday and was impressed with the level of analysis. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in such matters. However, it is important that we give maximum encouragement both to the recycling of waste and to clean methods of waste disposal. New technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis allow the transformation of waste into energy in a manner that is clean and produces few, if any, emissions. I do not rule out bringing the biodegradable form of waste generation into the renewables obligation. We are studying how that might be achieved to give maximum environmental protection while ensuring that the alternative of burying waste in landfill sites is not encouraged. Indeed, we want radically to change that practice.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): Given that this is likely to be the last trade and industry questions before Labour has to defend its record to the country, will the hon. Gentleman say how he will explain to the electorate the fact that the Government's target of reducing CO 2 emissions to 20 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010 will be missed by a mile, with Britain achieving just 8 per cent. by 2010 and CO 2 emissions rising,

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according to the Government's own figures? How will he explain his Department's failure to get anywhere near the target of generating 5 per cent. of electricity from renewable sources by 2003, given that just 2.8 per cent. has been achieved so far, and most of that is hydro-electric? Is not the truth that this is a Government full of grandiose targets that no one believes will be met and with absolutely no idea of how to achieve them?

Mr. Hain: It is rich for the hon. Gentleman to complain about renewables targets when the Conservatives did virtually nothing to support renewable energy when they were in power. There is the potential for at least two more terms of Labour Government before 2010, and during that time we will drive forward the renewables programme and meet the targets. We have already achieved 2.8 per cent. of generation from renewables towards our target of 5 per cent. by 2003. Today's announcement will help us, and the recent announcement of £250 million will be a huge boost to spending on research and development and capital projects in renewable energy.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Given that the Labour party had a strong commitment to renewables in its last manifesto, will my hon. Friend assure the House that the next Labour Government will strongly support renewables industries--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hardly a day goes by when the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) does not shout. I do not know whether he is rattling anyone else, but he is beginning to rattle me.

Mr. White: Will my hon. Friend assure the House that there will be strong support for indigenous renewables industries, especially combined heat and power programmes?

Mr. Hain: Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. We want a vibrant, expanding renewable energy industry. There is enormous potential for British businesses, with which I have had many discussions in the past few weeks, to take advantage of the fantastic opportunities that exist as part of our strategy for creating the best knowledge-based economy in Britain.

Nuclear Power

2. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): If he will make a statement on the role of the nuclear industry in helping to meet Britain's future electricity generation requirements. [153629]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers): The nuclear industry's role will depend on its cost compared with that of other generation options and on securing public confidence in respect of issues such as safety and the environment. The generators have said that they have no current plans for new nuclear power stations.

Mr. Jack: The Secretary of State will be aware of the commitment to the industry of nuclear workers in my constituency and their awareness of the industry's contribution to meeting our Kyoto target and giving us security of energy supply. In light of recent press reports

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of the wish of British Energy and BNFL to investigate further investment in nuclear energy, will he say what is the Government's strategic vision for the industry? Will he support both companies' endeavours to renew our rapidly ageing stock of nuclear power stations?

Mr. Byers: The right hon. Gentleman refers to the press reports about comments allegedly made by British Energy and BNFL. Both companies have denied that they have any proposals at present to begin a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Springfields, the facility in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, is a major employer, and he is rightly concerned about the implications of the decline of Magnox in the next few years and its impact on his constituents. It will be another five years or so before the Magnox fuel demands at Springfields will be in decline, so we have time to work out together the new role that Springfields can play. I believe that it can remain a vibrant manufacturing facility, employing many people. I want to work with the right hon. Gentleman and BNFL to make sure that the expertise and talent at Springfields can be used in future, perhaps in a slightly different way. There is huge potential at that facility, and we have time to map out a way to ensure that it can be used to the full.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the nuclear industry's importance lies in the people in that industry, and that without clear and coherent policies we shall not attract into the industry the younger people we need not only to develop new generation potential, but to manage safety issues, which must always be uppermost in our mind?

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right. We have to ensure that public confidence in nuclear is retained, so we need to explain the benefits that can be derived from nuclear, as well as the safety measures that are in place. Nuclear accounts for 23 per cent. of electricity production; even given the projected decline, in 10 years it will still account for 18 per cent. of electricity generation in the UK. Therefore, nuclear will have a strong role to play well into the foreseeable future. We need to communicate to the young and talented people who want to know whether there is a future for the industry the clear statement that yes, there is. We want diversity of generation and nuclear electricity will continue to play a significant role in achieving that.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): We heard in answer to the previous question that the Government are way behind on their target for renewable energy. Will the Secretary of State now confirm that even if the Government were to meet their renewable energy target of 5 per cent. and then 10 per cent., CO 2 emissions would start to increase in the medium term because of the decommissioning of nuclear power stations? How can the Government claim to have a rational climate change policy when, according to their own figures, emissions will start to rise again? Is not the truth that the Government have no coherent policy, save for a hope that that future will never arise? Does that have something to do with the fact that the junior Minister responsible for nuclear power is a member of CND, which opposes the civil use of nuclear power? Will the Secretary of State override his junior Minister and CND and conduct a

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review of nuclear power and the environment policy; or is the Government's entire climate change programme yet another sham, condemned by their own figures in their own document?

Mr. Byers: The right hon. Gentleman knows that our energy policy has not changed as a result of the appointment of my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe. Our policy remains as it has been for the past few years: an energy policy based on diversity and on sustained and secure energy production. The right hon. Gentleman appears to argue that the Government should embark on a new generation of nuclear build, but he must be aware that the two UK companies working in that sector--BNFL and British Energy--have both clearly stated that they have no plans to begin a new generation of nuclear build. Therefore, it would fall on the Government to support such a programme. The last nuclear plant built--Sizewell B, which was commissioned and completed in 1994--cost £2 billion at 1994 prices. Is the right hon. Gentleman making a commitment on behalf of the Conservatives to fund a new generation of nuclear build? The figures are clear: we project a 5 per cent. reduction in nuclear by 2010 and a 10 per cent. renewables contribution. We shall benefit from the climate change programme to which we are committed. In government, the right hon. Gentleman did absolutely nothing about it.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): Would my right hon. Friend care to tell us when he thinks the MOX--mixed oxide--facility at BNFL's Sellafield plant will be given permission? I realise that the responsibility is held jointly with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but the matter appears to have been lying on Ministers' desks for some time. Given that some of the problems that BNFL has encountered in recent years have been addressed and that the nuclear installations inspectorate is giving positive signals about the improvement in performance, when is the MOX facility likely to be licensed?

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The nuclear installations inspectorate has said some positive things about the steps that have been taken at Sellafield in the light of the difficulties that were experienced a few months ago. My hon. Friend is right that my Department and DETR are jointly responsible. Within government, we are discussing closely the progress that we can make. I hope that shortly there will be a proposal from my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment that will allow us to make some speedy progress.

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