Future of Energy in Wales

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Several hon. Members rose
The Chairman: Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Ynys Môn, I wish to say that after that I will call the Front-Bench spokesman. It is right that Back Benchers get in, particularly as the Front-Bench spokesmen have, with the exception of the Secretary of State, spoken for nearly half an hour.
3.28 pm
Albert Owen: Thank you, Mr. Atkinson. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute. Like other Members, I welcome that the presence of the Minister for Energy. That practice should be extended to other Departments, so that we can have other excellent debates on many subjects. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that initiative.
The Minister for Energy and I went through many of these issues on the Energy Bill. There has been a lot of criticism of that Bill, but it was essential in getting the infrastructure right for the future. Much of that criticism was about what did not go in the Bill. I respectfully say that we need another energy Bill that deals more with domestic energy use——a domestic energy Bill that could take on board some of the reviews on feed-in tariffs, smart metering, and fuel poverty and social tariffs.
I asked the Minister for Energy why we are getting ripped off in Wales by our energy prices. There needs to be an inquiry into that, looking at whether some of the larger companies that own the infrastructure, particularly the gas infrastructure, have too much of a monopoly and it is too difficult for other companies to take it that extra mile. I am trying to campaign for extending the gas mains in Wales and the whole United Kingdom, because many main lines go within yards of small villages and larger hamlets but it is not possible under the current regime to get gas to those places. The gas may be too high pressured or it may be too expensive. We need to look at that.
The Energy Bill dealt with the important issue of installation decommissioning, and gas importation and storage was a big part of that. Also, we have to deal properly with the drillings in the North sea that have been exhausted. That was the reason for the Energy Bill, and I was proud to be a part of it. I missed a couple of contributions and I apologise for that, but I have not heard anybody really dealing with the N-word, with nuclear, apart from the Secretary of State in his opening remarks. It is important because 30 per cent. of the electricity generated in Wales comes from nuclear power. It is a tried, tested and safe technology and we need to move forward with it. I appreciate that it is not in the Assembly’s energy route map because it does not deal with over 50 MW, but many people in the Assembly and in Wales are skirting round the issue and not dealing with it properly.
We need nuclear and we are building a consensus on this because many of the technologies hon. Members have talked about today are not in an advanced state, so we cannot rely on them and we do not know where they will take us. Carbon capture and storage is underdeveloped as are many other technologies. The marine current turbines proposed for Anglesey are a good project, but again, we have not seen them produce much electricity apart from in prototypes. I understand there is one in Northern Ireland that they are looking to bring to Anglesey. The nuclear issue must be tackled. We must not hide away from it, because it is a good, safe, low-emission source.
All sources are controversial. If we look around the country, we are having debates over barrages and wind farms. I say in every debate that we talk about energy in that we have to put wind farms in places where the wind blows, and some of those are unpopular sites, but they have to be there to get the value out of them. Marine current turbines, even on the tidal area of northwest Wales, would produce only 18 hours of electricity out of 24, so it is not a continuous supply. Nuclear does provide a continuous supply of electricity. I am not sure whether I should declare an interest here as a chairman of the all-party parliamentary aluminium group, but aluminium needs a 24/7 supply of electricity and the industry is in my constituency. We had a disaster there on Friday when there was a fire. We had four hours without electricity and the pots had to close down. It is one of the biggest smelters in Europe and a major manufacturer in this country and I fear that, if we do not move ahead with nuclear, with the gas importations and other resources available to us today, we could be in a very dangerous position.
Mrs. Gillan: Will the hon. Gentleman take the thoughts of the entire Committee to Anglesey Aluminium, commiserate with it on the fire and hope it is back on its feet quickly? It is an important part of the economy.
Albert Owen: I thank the hon. Lady. I will meet the managing director and I think the company is going to operate. My point is that without a continuous supply of electricity, the whole process comes to a halt, which is very worrying.
I wanted to mention the jobs aspect and I am glad the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire raised this, because energy is an important employer that can produce a lot of jobs in construction, research and development and energy generation. Wales has some of those natural resources, it is a good employer and we should move forward with it. Manufacturing and the business sector in Wales want nuclear because they understand that if we are going to manufacture, we need that reliable source of energy. It is not just about job security in my area, but about the energy needs of the whole country.
The recent problems with two power stations closing down is alarming; 500,000 homes were without electricity and two reasons were given, one of which was an EU directive which says that a coal power station should not produce energy at a time when there is peaks and flows. That is very dangerous, because the lights could literally go out unless we get the energy generation in place. I understand that other Members need to contribute and Front Benchers need to make their points, but I just need to make the case for nuclear. I do not think we should duck it, I am not trying to be party-political, because in my area, all political parties have now moved in favour of extending Wylfa A, which is possible, particularly with the high cost of electricity now. We can produce that electricity, over 1,000 MW for the grid, at a competitive price and safeguard jobs at the commissioning and new-build stages. It would help Wales with its energy needs. I support nuclear and I appreciate the opening remarks of the Minister for Energy and of the Secretary of State in supporting it. I think we all need to back it and move forward.
Several hon. Members rose
The Chairman: Order. The Minister said that he would require about 10 minutes to answer the points in the debate so, when I call the three Front-Bench spokesmen, that would equate to about five minutes each. I should be grateful if they could abide by that.
3.35 pm
Mark Williams: I hope that my remarks will be a convenient footnote to the earlier speech of the hon. Member for Aberavon and the importance that he attached to the research base. It is abundantly clear from the debate that we certainly have all the natural resources to deliver many of our renewable targets, and that we also have the skills base. I want to highlight, as I did earlier in our questions session, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, as it was known. It has now merged with the university of Aberystwyth and has over the years played a fundamental role in the development of environmental policy. The key challenge facing what is now called the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences is, of course, climate change, but it is also heavily involved in the development of biofuels from an energy perspective.
The Energy Minister referred earlier to the sensitivity of food supplies, but I hope that the work of IBERS is funded and promoted adequately, along with similar institutions that the hon. Member for Aberavon mentioned. I am not just making a parochial Aberystwyth point; excellent research is being carried out throughout Wales. We have heard about Swansea and elsewhere. Biofuels still provide us with many benefits of energy production without some of the negative connotations, and we await with interest the Government’s review of biofuels.
Grassland systems account for about two thirds of agricultural land in the United Kingdom and, unlike other energy dedicated crops such as willow and miscanthus, ryegrass, a particular area of research that has been undertaken near Aberystwyth, is not restricted by cold, water availability, soil type or social factors. I am sorry if my speech sounds a bit like a science lesson at the end of the day when everyone wants to go home, but fundamental work has been undertaken at IBERS and I want it to be noted by the Minister. The beauty of its work is that, in developing biofuel, it is linking it closely to improved land use. Its objective is that we use Welsh grasslands rather than arable land. I hope that that will dispel many people’s concerns about the development of biofuels.
There is a hearty relationship between Aberystwyth and Swansea and a developing relationship between the university of Aberystwyth and the university of Bangor. IBERS has been working hard in developing biomass strategies as well. Lord Rooker from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has visited IBERS and acknowledges the Department’s fundamental role in awarding some contracts to Welsh research institutions.
As a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I am haunted by the assertion of some witnesses that the funding of some renewables, biomass, the development of biofuels and other technologies have been neglected by the Government. I was heartened by the knowledge that the expertise is there, but still puzzled by the challenge to us all to get that elusive mix of variables that means something and that can bridge some of our energy demands. However, I am in no doubt that biomass and biofuels are an important part of that, so I encourage the Wales Office team to come to IBERS, see its work and flag up its case to their colleagues around the Cabinet table.
The debate has been very encouraging. I share the optimism that has been expressed. As the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr said, there is a huge challenge to us out there, but there are huge opportunities too. We have heard about green collar workers. They are in Ceredigion, at CAT, and we need to capitalise on such expertise.
3.39 pm
Mr. Llwyd: During the Committee on the Planning Bill, there was a discussion about moving the 50 MW limit and transferring it to the National Assembly for Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr made a powerful speech about the green energy potential of Wales and being able to export the same. I agree fully with him and cannot add usefully to what he said. If we are to control the energy needs of Wales and foresee the use of clean energy way to meet those needs, we must revisit the 50 MW limit before long. It might be there because of nuclear power. I do not know, but whatever the reason, it will have to be revisited at some point.
In conclusion, there have been some good speeches and it has been an excellent debate. I was particularly struck by the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr and the interesting speech by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire. I will complete my few remarks by referring to Gordon James, the director of Friends of the Earth in Wales, who strongly believes that the 50 MW limit should be lifted to allow Wales to go its own way on energy policy. I remind the Committee that the National Assembly for Wales is the only Assembly that has in its founding articles the duty to act sustainably. My plea is to allow it to do so.
3.40 pm
Mr. Jones: It has been a wonderful debate and I would like to add my voice to those who have already complimented the Secretary of State on the innovation of having the debate in this format. It has been a timely and appropriate debate, on an issue that is, quite rightly in my view, largely not devolved. Energy is an important national strategic issue, and it is right that the House of Commons should hold these debates and that they should be debated in a Welsh context.
To underline the debate’s timeliness, I shall read from an e-mail that I received at 12.34 pm today from a constituent in Clawddnewydd, who said:
“I work at Trawsfynydd Power Station as part of the project to decommission the site. It is 37 miles from my house—I might add a very scenic drive with very little in the way of traffic at 6.00am, actually no traffic at all... The roads are fairly good but as you will probably understand 37miles for me to get to work by push bike for 7.30 am would be a might impracticable... Whenever any debate is covered in any of the media forums all they seem to focus on is the City and Suburbia. Can you please ensure that you will raise it in the house that we, the people of your constituency, are suffering more so because there is no public transport and the majority of us have to travel great distances.”
At approximately 3.40 pm, I have raised the issue in the House and am sure that Members of the Committee will sympathise with that typical resident of rural Wales. As we have heard, the people of rural Wales have suffered disproportionately because of the enormous increase in fuel prices in the past few months.
Mr. Roger Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Jones: No, I really cannot as the time constraints are too tight, so I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
We had a number of excellent speeches, and I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr, who delivered an interesting contribution. Whether it is entirely the case that speculators are responsible for the price increases—[Interruption.] Forgive me, I meant to refer to the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire. He made an interesting contribution, but we must not forget the contribution that the rapidly developing economies of India and China have made to rising prices. Nevertheless, it was an interesting speech which we all enjoyed.
Other forms of marine energy generation can be pursued with less environmental impact. The hon. Member for Llanelli referred to tidal lagoons. Those are interesting technologies, potentially having less environmental impact and being less costly. Nevertheless, they could perform a very important function as part of the energy mix.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr delivered a very interesting speech which I am sure was entirely logical from a nationalist perspective. I think, however, that most members of the Committee do not share his view of an isolationist Wales. Wales is an integral part of the United Kingdom, and has both a right and a duty to play its own part in generation.
I agree with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn. There should be development of nuclear power, and the Government should facilitate that. It should be developed by private enterprise, but I am entirely convinced that nuclear power is far and away the most reliable—and a very clean—method of base load electricity generation. I am entirely with the hon. Gentleman on that point and against the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr.
We had a very interesting debate. I wish I could speak for longer, but I am sure several hon. Members are glad that I cannot. Nevertheless, I reiterate my thanks to the Secretary of State. The format of today’s debate is a very important innovation. I hope it is the first in a long line of debates on matters of national interest from a Welsh perspective. I am grateful to him.
Government can play a very large role in the development of clean energy. Hon. Members talked about developing carbon capture and storage, and it is important that we recognise the role of Government in that development. In California, it has been made absolutely clear that no new coal power stations can be developed unless they produce emissions no greater than 500 kg of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. That is the equivalent of a modern gas-fired power plant, the cleanest and most efficient of all hydrocarbon technologies. There is no reason at all why a similar policy could not be adopted in this country. I would commend it to the Government, and say to the Secretary of State that it is already Conservative policy.
3.48 pm
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