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The survey conducted by MORI for EDF to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred earlier also demonstrated that, when people were asked about
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electricity generation, about 79 per cent. of the sample regarded the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as the most important thing. Although the Government's failures on crime and health rank higher in the public's mind, energy matters and the reduction of carbon dioxide are also important.
I am disappointed that we should be forced to discuss these issues in private Members' time. If the Government were really serious about tackling climate change, they would have already adopted the proposals in the Bill and presented their own legislation to the House in Government time. It is disappointing not only that we are retreating on our carbon emissions targets, but that the Government have yet to demonstrate that they are taking the issue seriously. The Bill's proposal that the Government come to the House once a year to present a report on how they are tackling carbon emissions would be a welcome addition to the transparency of the process.
I am particularly excited by the idea of extending renewable obligation certificates to individual householders to export their electricity to the local distribution network. That could become the new green pound. It would not force people to take up micro-generation but would act as a powerful financial incentive for those who wanted to implement such schemes. Once the idea caught on, it could become extremely popular. The Bill has tremendous potential to help our local farming communities, many of whom in the Kettering constituency have written to me on the subject. Farmers could grow crops to turn into electricity that would supply local communities.
Although I am disappointed that we are not discussing the subject in Government time, as we should, I welcome the proposals introduced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz).
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I want to make a few points, but first I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on such a good Bill. In his remarks, he concentrated on micro-generation, but I want to say something about the renewable heat obligation, as it is a vital part of the Bill.
I am aware that Sir Ben Gill's taskforce recently came out against renewable heat obligation, but I also note that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended such an obligation. Furthermore, as I mentioned in an intervention, a report from the Scottish Executive showed that biomass could not only contribute to reducing climate change, but create about 2,000 jobs in rural areas of Scotland. Our farming and forestry industries face tough times so that would give them an important boost.
Yesterday, when the Government introduced the renewable transport fuel obligation, the National Farmers Union in Scotland issued a press release that
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can only be described as glowingthe first time it has ever done so for a Government policy. That just goes to show what those obligations can do for industry in rural areas, in England as well as in Scotland. The renewable heat obligation would not only tackle climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but would stimulate the biomass industry and help with energy security. We worry about having to get supplies of gas from places such as Kazakhstan and Russia, and we worry that coming winters may be extremely cold; the measure would do more to assure energy security with supplies from small-scale developments in our own nation.
The Bill mentions fuel poverty, although not in great detail. A worrying thing in Scotland is that a rising number of people are suffering fuel poverty as the cost of energy increases. All the energy companies recently announced high hikes in both gas and electricity prices, which puts thousands more Scots, and other people in the UK, in fuel poverty. Renewable fuel obligations would help to diversify energy supply and thus tackle fuel poverty. However, when considering all such schemes, we must bear in mind the fact that costs are important. To reduce fuel poverty, we must reduce the cost of electricity to consumers.
We should not get carried away by micro-generation. Renewable energy also means that we have to feed into the national grid. The Minister will not be surprised to hear me mention transmission charges; my colleagues and I have tackled him on that subject on many occasions, going back to the Standing Committee on the Energy Act 2004. It is something that we are very concerned about, because the transmission charge regime proposed by Ofgem will be a huge detriment to the development of renewable energy in the north of Scotlandan area that is particularly suited to the development of renewable energy. The 10-year cap is too short to allow a payback on many of these developments, and of course they only get the full 10 years if they are up and running when the cap comes into being.
This is a serious issue. I know that the matter is out to consultation. I do not expect that the Minister will have anything to say about that today, but it is an important arm in dealing with renewable energy. The Bill will go a long way to help the provision of renewable energy, but there must be action on transmission charges to ensure that we get the benefit from the massive potential from wind, wave and tidal power that there is in Scotland, and which may well be crippled by the transmission charge regime that is currently proposed.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I, too, commend the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for his foresight in introducing the Bill. I very much welcome the contribution that he has made by encouraging a progressive and sensible response to climate change. The time is long overdue for us to confront this ever-present and growing concern, so I should like to talk about the broader principles that the Bill addresses.
We must all recognise that we face an overriding problem when dealing with climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire
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(Andrew Selous) identified the difficulty during the Opposition day debate on tackling climate change. He said then that
That very much backs up the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made. This is not a high priority on many people's lists. When lists are published they include crime, health care and law and order, all of which are far more pressing issues on people's minds. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and thee right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) said, this is indeed a pressing matter, particularly for young people. They are the people who send me letters and make representations to me on the subject.
Mr. Forth: I am sure that my hon. Friend, taking the interest that he does in the subject, is absolutely familiar with the excellent report recently produced by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, which, if I get a chance to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I may want to expand on. Is my hon. Friend aware of their lordships' excellent conclusions, and if so what weight does he give to them?
Mr. Newmark: I very much appreciate my right hon. Friend's guidance on this matter. I confess that I have not had the time that he has had to study it in the depth that he probably has, but that does not necessarily negate the argument that I am making.
If we continue to talk of climate change in terms of international accords and global trends, we shall continue to fail in winning over the public. Kyoto is important and effective carbon trading is important, but if ever an issue needed to be tackled at a grass-roots level it is climate change. That is why I believe that the Bill raises a very important principle.
It seems that we have two options for encouraging a change in public opinion. The first is to continue with sporadic warnings about the dire consequences of doing nothing. They will unfortunately occasionally be backed up by tragedies, like Boscastle, or farces like the annual water shortages caused by the wrong kind of rain. The alternative is to provide meaningful and accessible incentivesI use that word as opposed to regulations or directivesfor ordinary people to contribute to the country's energy efficiency.
In 2002, domestic users accounted for about 24 per cent. of the UK's greenhouse gases and 27 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions. Three quarters of that figure results from heating and hot water alone. Indeed, domestic users are the largest single group of energy users in the UK, which is another reason why I find the Bill extremely attractive.
About 140,000 new houses are built each year, and that could increase to 260,000 a year in the light of the proposals arising from the Barker review. Building regulations were upgraded in 2002 to increase the performance of new dwellings by 25 per cent., and I welcome the increase of another 25 per cent. this year. However, regulations are not quite the same as incentives and they are not nearly as effective.
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Regulations do not generally encourage anyone to exceed the acceptable minimum standards. I therefore believe that the right thing to do is to offer fiscal incentives for energy efficiency.
I shall address the proposals in clauses 3 and 5 with reference to the example set by my own constituency of Braintree. Braintree council recently introduced a pioneering scheme to offer council tax rebates to home owners who install cavity wall insulation. Residents who join the scheme get a £100 council tax rebate for spending £170 on having their walls insulated. It is possible to save £100 on heating bills in the first year alone. That in itself must be attractive, and probably far less costly than perhaps even the micro-generation proposals that were mentioned earlier.
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