Energy Bill

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Q 160Dr. Whitehead: With respect, the criticism that nuclear may not be there by 2020 applies equally to CCS, as has been pointed out. Most of the big figures have to be achieved before then.
Tom Burke: I agree that there are real issues about CCS.
Q 161Dr. Whitehead: Even if you are really enthusiastic about it?
Tom Burke: I agree with that too. All I am saying is that because of what will go on in the rest of the world, if we do not have a solution for CCS—if we do not have it available and deployable very rapidly—we cannot guarantee the security and prosperity of our 60 million Britons or of everyone else. If we want the rest of the world, particularly China and India, to move in that direction, we had better show that we are serious. Right now we are not showing that. We are showing that we think this is an option among other options to be considered. My underlying argument is that it is imperative. I do not want to make this choice, but I consider what the science says we have to do, and we have to solve that problem. In that sense, nuclear is a distraction. That is what I meant about it being a distraction. It diverts our attention away from a problem that we have no choice about.
People have argued that we could do other things—we could do more renewables and lots of other things—but that is not the argument I was making. In an ideal world, you would end up with a big improvement in energy efficiency, a lot of renewables and a lot of gas and coal for your electricity supply, which would be much bigger than it is now, not least because you would have to go for something that would take you through hybrids towards a hydrogen mobility with some biofuels in there, but I think that there are real constraints with them. You have probably heard some of the discussions about that; they can make a contribution, but they cannot be a substitute for oil.
Q 162Dr. Palmer: I have always been involved in four main issues in politics: world development, child poverty, environmental issues and animal welfare, so I like working with NGOs on all those issues. However, it has always struck me when working with environmental NGOs that there is never anything that we do that they are in favour of. That is not true in the other areas. What worries me about some of the presentations is that they are silver-bullet solutions. Mr. Burke says that it is essential that we solve the CCS problem at all costs because nothing else will work, and Greenpeace emphasised the role of decentralised energy and said that if we do not have that we are not really addressing the problem; it is a distraction. The effect is that every time something like the Severn barrage and the network of offshore wind farms comes up, there is always a major lobby attacking it, as they do with any change, and when we look to see whether the green lobby supports it, somehow it is not there. As politicians, we have to go for more than one option, because we have to consider what happens if we say that CCS is the answer, but find out further down the line that relying on CCS and the coal extraction that we can do in Britain is so expensive that we are imposing enormous fuel cost increases on our constituents. That would be a huge problem for us in every other way.
I am asking the panel in rather general terms whether they do not feel that they are being too absolutist in rejecting things like the Severn barrage and not getting behind a range of alternatives, which could include the ones that they are espousing.
Robin Webster: I would like to respond to this one. Actually, I think the fact that you reeled off a series of solutions that we were all proposing shows that there are not silver-bullet solutions. That is quite difficult for us, because when campaigning it is difficult to say, “This is the one solution. You are going to win this.” Actually, this is about a package solution: it is about energy efficiency, decentralisation and renewables.
I have worked in other areas with environmental NGOs, but I have worked in no other area where there is such an agreement within the major NGOs about what we want to see. If you are still seeing us as the no people, that means that we are not getting that across enough. Really, we are in almost unanimous agreement as to what we do not regard as the solution: we do not see nuclear as the solution and we do not see the Severn barrage as a solution. What we do see as the solution is energy efficiency, decentralisation, heat capture and renewables expansion. We are all saying that. We all believe it. We all know what we say yes to and we all know what we are saying no to.
Benet Northcote: I was going to say the same as you.
Tom Burke: My point about carbon sequestration and storage is about what you have to do if you want to achieve the goal of a stable climate while delivering energy security for growth, which another Committee member referred to. I think you have got to do that to meet the development needs. Then, because of the political dynamics—not because we could not work out theoretical solutions—you are going to have to solve the coal problem. I think it is going to be expensive. I think we have to face up to that being expensive. I suspect we will find that, as things go on—partly in respect of what Benet mentioned about trajectories—the renewables piece is going to become somewhat easier. I have only said about 40-odd per cent.
Last year, the addition to the world’s nuclear capacity was about 2 GW. However, the addition to the world’s photovoltaic capacity, which is regarded as one of the less attractive options, was 2.6 GW. The addition of wind to the global mix was about 15 GW. What I do not like about nuclear is that I do not think that, in practice, for lots of practical judgements, it will actually deliver. The nuclear industry has, for 50 years of my lifetime, always been promising jam tomorrow and, by and large, it has not delivered on that. It would be foolish to make the same mistake when what is at stake now is not just our comfort but the prosperity and security of everybody, including not just the 60 million Britons, but the other 6 billion people that we share the planet with.
The Chairman: I call Dr. Brian Iddon.
Q 163Dr. Iddon: Thank you, Chairman. I thought I had missed my chance.
It is very basic. We are considering the Energy Bill. Can you each, finally, tell me one thing that you support in the Bill? If you do not support anything, just say no.
Tom Burke: I support what is in the Bill about CCS, but it just does not go far enough.
Benet Northcote: I am jovially tempted to say the measures on gas storage. This Energy Bill should be delayed, because it is being introduced with undue haste.
Robin Webster: Benet just took it from me. I was also going to say branding, which I agree with. The Bill should be delayed. It is not delivering what it needs to deliver.
Q 164Dr. Iddon: And finally.
Russell Marsh: The change to the renewables obligation and the pieces on CCS. But they are not enough to get us to where we need to get to.
Dr. Iddon: Some positivity. Thank you very much.
The Chairman: Did John Robertson want to ask a final question?
Q 165John Robertson: I will just ask the one. Who is going to pay for all this? I have to tell you that my electorate cannot afford to pay for what you want to do. That would apply to a lot of constituencies. Somebody has to foot the bill. Should the Government put a windfall tax on the energy companies and get money from them to pay for this?
Tom Burke: What the Government should not do is give a windfall profit by giving away—
Q 166John Robertson: Hang on a second. Answer my question, not your question. We have not got a lot of time, so please make it pretty short.
Russell Marsh: You can use the money from the EU ETS auction to fund it.
Tom Burke: Exactly.
Q 167John Robertson: Okay, one last question, just because I cannot resist it. If I could give you a way of reducing the high-level waste in this country by 90 per cent., would you take it?
Tom Burke: Do you mean the volume or the radioactivity?
Q 168John Robertson: The volume by 90 per cent.
Tom Burke: I do not think that the volume matters; it is the radioactivity that matters. If you can reduce the radioactivity—
Q 169John Robertson: So, it does not matter.
Tom Burke: The volume is irrelevant.
Q 170John Robertson: Just keep the high-level waste that we have without doing anything with it?
Tom Burke: The point was made earlier. The volume is a completely irrelevant issue; what matters is the radioactivity. If you can reduce the radioactivity by 90 per cent., you will be able to get extremely rich.
Q 171John Robertson: Part of your problem is that you do not want any radioactivity. Therefore, my solution is to use what we already have, reprocess it and you will get 90 per cent. worth of fuel from the 100 per cent. that we have, and we can have multiple solutions.
Benet Northcote: But radioactivity is the issue.
Q 172John Robertson: But we have it anyway. The point is that we have it already.
The Chairman: Mr. Burke, a number of Committee members have asked for some further details about your background, so I wonder whether you would kindly send to the Clerk of the Committee some more details about your qualifications, status and background.
Tom Burke: Yes. I just wanted the Committee to be clear that, although I have a range of affiliations, I was not speaking on any of their behalves. I shall certainly supply you with that, but it is a rather long list, so I shall not do it now.
The Chairman: In America, today is known as Super Tuesday; in this country, it is known as Shrove Tuesday. It has certainly been a sizzling session, and I should like to thank our witnesses for well and truly invigorating the Committee.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Alison Seabeck.]
Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Seven o’clock till Tuesday 19 February at half-past Ten o’clock.
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