Future of Energy in Wales

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Huw Irranca-Davies: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has raised those issues directly, or through his Assembly counterparts, with the Welsh Assembly Government. If he wants to drop me a line or discuss further with me particular instances, I will be more than happy. I can bring some good, positive news to the Committee in that there is good official engagement with the cross-border protocols, with which we have been actively wrestling for some time. We anticipate that the protocols between trusts on either side of the border on the way in which we deal with Welsh patients are working towards a good and satisfactory resolution in the interests of patients. I understand the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises—he is doing a good job representing his constituents—and if he wants to show me individual examples, I am more than happy to consider them.

Local Elections

8. David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): What discussions he has had with the First Minister on changing the voting system for local government elections in Wales. [210778]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular discussions with Ministers on a range of issues, including matters that affect local government in Wales.
David T.C. Davies: I congratulate the Secretary of State on his recent efforts to ensure that a flawed electoral system is not imposed on councillors in Wales, who are unwilling to have it anyway. I urge him to continue to stand up for an electoral system that involves candidates going out and getting the majority of votes, which delivers the strongest electoral mandate. Will he continue to make the case against proportional representation in Wales?
Mr. Murphy: I cannot take credit for the decision of the Welsh Assembly on 11 June, when, in my view, it rightly rejected the system of a single transferable vote. I will continue to hold that view, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the Committee how flawed a system that is.
Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Proportional representation produces coalitions born out of backroom deals that introduce policies that no one has ever voted for, as we well know in Wales. Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind if he is faced with any request from the Liberal Democrats and their allies to pass powers from Westminster to Cardiff to introduce proportional representation in local government, which, frankly, we do not want after the Scottish experience?
Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend may rest assured that he and I agree entirely on that matter.

Wind Farms

9. Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the development of wind farms in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [210779]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): My right hon. Friend has regular discussions with the First Minister about a range of issues affecting Wales, including wind farms.
Dr. Francis: I thank the Minister for his reply. He will be aware of the great growth of wind farms, onshore in particular, across Wales. It is estimated that about a third of the new wind farms in Wales will be located in my county borough. That has caused great consternation in many valley areas that have worked hard to improve the environment. Will he visit my constituency to discuss with local residents their concerns and to witness the great improvements in leisure and tourism facilities?
Huw Irranca-Davies: I am more than happy to arrange to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. His constituency neighbours mine, and I suspect that some of the proposals might even overshadow my constituency. I am more than happy to hear the views and concerns of local residents. Wales is in a prime position in the context of energy—not simply wind energy, but green and renewable energies—to lead the nations through our contribution to that agenda.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman works hard on behalf of his constituents in pushing that case, but I am advised that not only was due process properly and adequately followed in the application for Rhyl flats, but that consent was given only after careful consideration of all the representations made to Ministers regarding the application. He will understand that, in my position as a Minister in the Wales Office and with the consent having been given, it is not for me to comment, particularly when I am advised that full consideration was given and due process was followed.
Huw Irranca-Davies: My right hon. Friend has made an important point. It is certainly the case that opposition is always encountered whenever an application is made, whether for wind energy or biomass, for a form of renewable energy or for opencast mining, but the argument must be put out there in the broader context. If we need to keep the lights on and if we are to achieve our rightly ambitious targets on cutting carbon emissions, we must make the right choices, which are sometimes the tough choices. However, it is also right, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, that there must be local input to the process. Local views must be heard, but we cannot ignore the big decisions.

UK Energy Strategy and its Implications for Wales

9.33 am
The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): It is a great honour for me to attend this Committee—a more august Committee than the Croydon grand committee. It is a great pleasure for me to be here. I apologise, but with your permission, Mr. Atkinson, I shall leave at 10.20 am. I am being scrutinised by a Joint Committee on marine spatial planning, so I am suffering from an embarrassment of scrutiny this morning—not too much embarrassment, I hope.
The inquiry will consider UK energy strategy and, in particular, its implications for Wales. It might be useful to put it in context by saying that globally, certainly in Europe and in the UK, we face three major challenges, the first of which concerns energy supply, and therefore energy security. We are seeing huge growth in global demand for energy, fuelled in large part by the great emerging economies of China and India, but also by other nations. Demand is also rising in much of the western world.
At a time when our indigenous energy—oil and gas from the UK continental shelf in the North sea—is in decline, although it is still a rich energy resource, we must think through the implications of being a nation that will import more fossil fuels in the future. In the 21st century, energy security will increasingly become an important part of a nation’s security in a world suffering from energy insecurity at a geopolitical level.
This Sunday, as the Committee knows, our Prime Minister will attend the conference in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, organised on an initiative from King Abdullah, where we will seek to get a better dialogue between the great oil and gas producing nations and the great consuming ones.
The second challenge is climate change. Science dictates that climate change, or global warming, is undoubtedly the pre-eminent challenge that faces our planet this century. That is not mere rhetoric; the science base shows it to be the case. To quote something said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath, we need to get real about tackling climate change. In the UK, our target is to achieve a 60 per cent. reduction on carbon emissions by 2050, against what they were in 1990. The Prime Minister has indicated that, if scientific advice determines it, the figure could be far higher than 60 per cent. That is probably the most ambitious target ever set by a UK Government, and it has enormous implications. The Climate Change Bill, which is going through Parliament, will enable a committee to advise us all on the five-yearly targets that we need.
The first two challenges are about energy security and climate change, and the third is about fairness and justice. That has implications both domestically in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and internationally. We must recognise that many of the peoples of the world are energy poor. They are a million miles away from any of the comforts of electricity and energy that many of us in this room, simply and rightly, take for granted. In our drive towards sustainable fuels in the west, we must ensure that we do not make the lives of poor people in other countries even poorer by giving incentives to the production of biofuels, for example, over and above food crops. We must look at sustainability in a sophisticated and comprehensive way.
We must also recognise that, here at home, many people on low incomes, families with children and, in particular, the elderly may think that global warming would be a fine thing in their living rooms and bedrooms during winter. I worry greatly about how rising energy costs impact on our fuel poverty targets. We must all redouble our efforts to tackle what we now term as fuel poverty. The Government are tackling the issue in a variety of ways, with energy efficiency programmes and social security measures such as winter fuel payments. However, I am not complacent about that at a time of rapidly rising costs.
In the light of those three challenges, we need a comprehensive strategy, and I shall set out the main bullet points. First, any sensible strategy should start with energy efficiency and trying to reduce energy demand. The world, including this part, wastes a huge amount of energy in our industrial processes, transport systems and buildings, including our homes. That has implications for engine efficiency, the development of new vehicles and how we can move towards the construction of zero-carbon housing, which is a Government objective. It also has implications for our lighting systems and electrical appliances. Energy efficiency should be top of any sensible agenda.
Secondly, we must bring on cleaner technologies, so that the world can burn fossil fuels efficiently without harming our precious planet. That is why the development of carbon capture and storage technologies is so important and why the Government have made this a lead nation in the demonstration project on carbon capture and storage. That obviously has implications for Wales, where indigenous coal is still an important part of the energy mix. Indeed, the coal industry still employs between 700 and 800 people in Wales.
Thirdly, we need to develop renewables. The UK Government are signed up to the European target that 20 per cent. of Europe’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2020. That does not mean 20 per cent. of electricity generation, but 20 per cent. of all energy generation, so we must be very serious about renewables, as we try to hit a UK target that is likely to be about 15 per cent. That is a major challenge and has implications for a range of renewable technologies, particularly offshore wind and the development of new technologies for wave and tidal power. I recognise that there is a special agenda item before the Committee about the Severn barrier, about which I will be pleased to say more if questioned.
Fourthly, and more controversially, we require a new generation of civil nuclear reactors. The Government believe that that is important, so we have given a green light to the private market to come forward with proposals for civil nuclear power, and I am obviously interested in and aware of the issues in Anglesey on that matter.
Finally, although certainly not with regard to our priorities, there are the social policy aspects that I have alluded to. At a time when constituents face rapidly rising prices, how can we develop and improve the measures for protecting the most vulnerable people from the ravages of the winter, when they face high electricity and gas bills?
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I thank the Minister for attending the Committee, making that statement and sending me an advance copy of it, although the actual statement that he gave to the Committee bore little or no relation to the document that I was sent.
Nick Ainger (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab): Check against delivery.
Mrs. Gillan: Indeed.
For generations, Wales has been at the forefront of energy supply in the UK, given its natural resources and the hard work and efforts of its people. We have been able to reap benefits from coal and water and nuclear power stations, through the ports through which we trade and now through wind, wave and tidal energy. Those are the renewable sources for future energy security, and they come at a lower environmental price than that which we are currently paying through global warming.
The Chairman: Order. We are asking questions.
Mrs. Gillan: The Minister has quite rightly made a general and wide-ranging introduction, and I should like to ask a set of questions that relate more specifically to Wales. First, the Minister mentioned fairness and the affordability of energy, but having cut the Warm Front budget just as Energywatch has said that 4.5 million people in the UK, including many in Wales, are living in fuel poverty, does he not agree that the Government are failing to tackle that challenge?
Energy is partly devolved in Wales, and a few days ago the Assembly Minister, Jane Hutt, demanded a meeting to discuss energy generation of over 50 MW, so will the Minister state clearly whether the Government intend to pass those powers to the Assembly?
The Minister mentioned the Severn barrage project, in relation to which he is having an evaluation carried out and a public consultation will start in 2010. Alongside that evaluation, are the Government evaluating alternatives, such as tidal lagoons, and what evaluation has he made of the La Rance project and the potential environmental impact of the Severn barrage with reference to the experience at the La Rance project?
Will the Minister update us on the progress at the biomass plant at Port Talbot, which I understand could account for 70 per cent. of Wales’s renewable target? Is that project on target and what plans does he have to extend that technology to other parts of Wales? What is the status of the Anglesey marine farm project for 10 marine turbines, and what is the latest update on the liquefied natural gas terminal in Pembrokeshire?
The Minister has mentioned that, after a period of dithering, the Government have given the go ahead on nuclear power. Will he give us some details—[Interruption.]
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