Scottish Energy in the 21st Century

[back to previous text]

Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber): I shall concentrate on a couple of points. I wish to congratulate the Liberal Democrats on their initiative in securing the debate. I want to highlight oil and gas fabrication, which, in some ways, is the Cinderella of the industry. As I said earlier to my hon.

Column Number: 34

Friend the Energy Minister, there has been some reduction in jobs in my constituency, but the United Kingdom as a whole has lost more than 20,000.

We have touched on the importance of renewable energy today. It has a great future. As we all know, one of the first acts of Tom Johnston, the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1945 under the Labour Government, was to nationalise hydropower. In fact, he became the chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. We have a strong track record in renewable energy. However, I would like to see the creation of a contingency fund that the local authority standing committee on fabrication has promoted for the construction and fabrication industries. That would diversify that important industry. That is not only wishful thinking; in north-east England, for example, BP, Shell and Exxon put together resources and created alternatives so that new jobs could be created. That is important for the future.

I see a great future for renewable energy in the construction industry. We still have about 4 billion barrels of oil to be taken from the United Kingdom continental shelf. The oil is in difficult areas and geologically challenging, but it can come to this area. The BP Clare platforms will be a great boost to the constituency of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Thurso). Scotland has a great track record for engineering, welding and construction. The future is bright for energy, including renewable energy, but let us not forget the important industry of construction and fabrication that is vital not only for the highlands, but throughout Scotland.

12.39 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I should like to thank all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. In setting the agenda for today's debate we wanted to look at the wider picture and to draw attention to the potential that exists for Scotland. There has been a wide measure of cross-party accord. So often in politics we are obliged to view matters in the short term, such as problems that our constituents need dealt with immediately, and we do not often get a chance to look beyond the horizon of the next election to two or three elections down the track. We intended to have a debate that took a wide-ranging approach, and we have not been disappointed by the many contributions that have been made.

There are two key principles of energy policy, whether for the United Kingdom or Scotland. First, and I deliberately put this at the head of the queue, whatever we do must be environmentally sustainable. As my teenage children grow up, find partners and have children, those grandchildren that I may one day have will live in the world that we leave them. Whether we leave them a world that is sustainable will depend on many of the actions that we take today. It is incumbent on all of us as members of the human race to ensure that we get that right.

The second key principle is the one to which the Secretary of State referred: we need to keep the lights on. We must provide for our energy needs. We are an

Column Number: 35

energy-rich, energy-consuming nation like the rest of the western industrialised world. The question is not simply how we generate electricity and create all our energy, but how we use it. We need to become wiser about that. We should consider not just how we conserve energy by such measures as combined heat and power, but how we run our factories and build our homes. All those areas must be taken into account. I congratulate colleagues in the Scottish Executive who are taking measures to ensure that those initiatives take place.

I should like to cherry pick, if I may, one or two of the points that have been raised in the debate. Before I do that, I should like to mention an issue that was raised about BETTA, NETA and the costs of energy. I visited the citizens advice bureau in Wick a couple of weeks ago and heard of some of the problems that the staff have been dealing with. Many pensioners are receiving different offers from the various energy companies, and are finding it extremely difficult. Sometimes they are transferred to another company and do not realise it. The CAB has a substantial work load on that problem, as I am sure have those in other constituencies. Could I, in passing, ask the Minister and the Secretary of State to talk to their colleagues about that?

We must not forget the amount of fuel poverty that there is in Scotland. Delivering sustainable and affordable energy is an important part of what we seek to achieve. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon said in his introductory remarks, we see a tremendous potential in renewable energy, particularly for Scotland. A number of members made the point that Scotland is well placed, not only to generate for its own use, but to export. The wonderful thing for those of us in the far north and the outflung islands is that the further away one gets, the more efficient it is. That bodes well for the future.

I should like to pick up on one point that a number of hon. Members made about low-flying training areas. If memory serves me, LFTA4 covers 80 per cent. of the landmass north of the Great Glen. One of my constituents is extremely keen to put in a wind farm, but it is inside that area. The Ministry of Defence has turned down his application categorically. When questioned about this, the MOD says that it will look at every application on merit, with the result that the answer is no every time. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale pointed out, our pilots may one day have to fly over other countries that have health farms. [Laughter.] What did I say?

Malcolm Bruce: Health farms.

John Thurso: Oh well. It is a lovely thought—our pilots in health farms. I meant to say wind farms. Our pilots may have to fly over countries where there are wind farms. It should not be beyond our wit to allow some wind farms to be placed in the training area. We must seek a balance. It would be wrong to place wind farms in certain areas of the country, such as those of

Column Number: 36

outstanding natural beauty. However, it would be acceptable to set aside some land for renewable energy in much of the far north and the islands.

A point was raised about the foresight of having hydropower in Scotland. One of the benefits that Scotland does not enjoy arises from the Treasury's choice of the climate levy tax over a carbon-based tax. Scotland would benefit from a carbon-based tax, as hydro-electricity would not be subject to it. Perhaps the Secretary of State will bear that in mind when she speaks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of transmission. A key point about renewable energy is that it is difficult to store. We will have to think outside the box, as we do not have the technology that can help, although there are developments in fuel cells. One of my constituents—Mr. Mackay—has written to me for some months about the possibility of using renewables to generate compressed air, which can be stored and used to drive the generators when required. I am no engineer, as I have already displayed, and I have no idea whether that would work. However, the DTI and ETSU programme should consider such initiatives. If we are to succeed and realise our potential, we will need to consider methods that do not seem too promising at the moment, but that could be the technology of the future.

A member of the Committee—it may have been the Minister—rightly said that we need to get away from simply research and development and get into production. As in the PC industry, if we wait for the best thing to come along, we will wait for ever, as developments are taking place all the time. We must make a purchase at some point. In the renewable energy industry, we must start to transmit commercially. We will learn a great deal about production, and we will have research and development through that commercial use.

Scotland has immense potential in several areas. Dounreay is a world-leading centre of excellence in decommissioning skills, and the task is to capture its value in the local economy and to export those skills while still being based in the area. As hon. Members pointed out, there is tremendous potential for the offshore oil and gas industry and for renewable energy. Scotland has huge potential not only to export energy, but to lead technology, and to create jobs and a lasting benefit from being a world player on this stage. I hope that the Government will listen to the points made by hon. Members from all parties, and that they will help to facilitate Scotland's role in leading the world in the development and use of this technology.

12.49 pm

Mr. Foulkes: I should also like to join the chorus in congratulating the Liberal Democrats on initiating the debate. Well done, Liberal Democrats, on this occasion. It has been a constructive debate, probably because of the non-participation of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, who has been in and out of the Committee Room like a—I shall not continue the analogy.

Column Number: 37

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foulkes: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us that he has been on the telephone to his activists hoping to get them to change their minds about their objections.

Mr. Salmond: I have been in and out of the Committee as I have a busy diary, unlike some hon. Members. The Minister flatters himself if he thinks that no Labour activist councillors object to measures around Scotland; that is a remarkable idea.

I want to ask a serious question. Ofgas imposes higher landing charges at St. Fergus than it does at Teesside, where the charges are higher than at Bacton because of the formula. It has nothing to do with transmission but with higher charges. I understand that Ofgem is considering the same model, which will be biased against electricity generation in the north of England and certainly in Scotland. What are the Minister and his hyperactive Department doing to reduce the bias against Scottish landfall points for gas and against the future Scottish generation of electricity?

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 13 February 2002