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We have to recognise that all is not well. At the maximum level of gas storage in this country, we had 16 days. Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells pointed out that we had eight days maximum storage left, and today it is down to six. Part of the problem has arisen because the Langeled pipeline has not been working at capacity, just as part of the problem four years ago was the fire at the Rough
storage facility. There are no grounds for complacency because of the external pressures that are creating a real problem of demand. This is the third time in four years that we have been down to a few days of gas storage. Indeed, if it had not been for the recession-with demand overall down by 5 per cent. and industrial demand down by 15 per cent.-there is no doubt that we would be in very difficult circumstances now, and possibly having outages.
We are in the strange position that the electricity interconnector with France is still exporting 2 GW of power at a time when our own industrial users are being asked to switch off their gas. That is something that the market decides that it wants to do, but we would be much more comfortable about that if we had more gas storage and knew that our industrial users would be able to work when they wanted to do so.
Much of the rest of the debate dealt with the issues of electricity generation. In the Secretary of State's opening remarks-I am sorry that he is not in his place-he talked about the need to focus on the facts. He talked about wind, but he did not mention the need for massive back-up to make wind power reliable. In this cold spell, one fifth of 1 per cent. of our electricity has come from wind, which shows the extent to which back-up is necessary. He spoke about offshore wind, but he did not mention the fact that we are potentially losing some of the best companies in the country, such as Aquamarine and Pelamus, which are now looking to invest in the US and Portugal, because greater support is coming from their Governments. Nor did he mention the problems with the supply of ships, cranes, skills and funding-and apart from those problems, everything is going really well! The Secretary of State talks about the positive aspects, but he does not mention the challenges.
The Secretary of State talked about nuclear, but he did not really comment on the fact that Vincent de Rivaz, the chief executive of EDF, said this week that the key driver of investment will be a floor price in carbon. What is the Secretary of State's position on that? On carbon capture and storage, he did not talk about the need for a real Government vision on the investment in pipeline infrastructure and a body to ensure that we co-ordinate the work in that area.
The Government's approach has been characterised by a mass of ambitious targets that sound good, but we have no road map for getting there. There is a road map for nuclear, but on everything else nobody knows who is responsible for doing what and when in order to meet the targets. That has led to Ernst and Young saying that we need £200 billion of new investment in our energy infrastructure over the next 15 years-£50 billion in the next five years-because of the failure to secure that investment in the past.
We face a real challenge and a significant wake-up call. Several things have happened today that reinforce that point. Alistair Buchanan, the chief executive of Ofgem, has warned that Britain's gas market faces a "cliff edge" in 2015-16 that could cause supplies to run short by the end of the decade. Some of Britain's largest businesses have written to the Financial Times to say:
"The bottom line is that the UK was unable to meet the needs of all consumers...As a nation, we need to take security of our energy supply more seriously."
It has also been announced that half the members of the Chemical Industries Association say that increased gas storage is essential to future investment by their companies in the UK. Reuters is even quoting an unlikely source who should know the facts, who said today:
"There is clearly an urgent need for additional gas storage in the UK".
The truth is that the Labour party has always been the party of energy insecurity. In the 1980s, it opposed the building of Sizewell B. In 1997, it was elected on a commitment to move away from gas to coal just as our coal production was beginning to decline and imports were increasing. In 2003, the Government ruled out nuclear as having any role to play in future energy policy, only to reverse that decision four years later. They have known for years about the amount of our capacity that will be decommissioned, but they have failed to secure the new investment. This debate is not just about the challenges of this week, but the longer-term issues facing our nation on which the Government have been found wanting.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): I, too, agree that this impressive debate has shown the House at its best; the contributions, coming from people with great knowledge, forcefulness and passion, have been superb. I know that some people who wanted to speak have not been able to. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) failed to have an intervention accepted by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). My hon. Friend is a superb and unique representative of his constituents and a person with great knowledge of the nuclear industry, and we would have benefited from his contributing to this debate. The same could be said of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), who got in with a couple of telling interventions about the coal industry. He is a doughty champion for the coal sector in this country.
I pay tribute to and thank our energy sector and its workers for ensuring that energy supplies have been maintained. Over the past 10 days, we have experienced severe weather and the most prolonged spell of freezing conditions across the United Kingdom for 29 years and there have been record levels of gas demand. The UK's energy system has coped well. There have been no unplanned interruptions to gas supply, despite the record demands. As has been widely reported, some industrial customers on commercially interruptible contracts had their supplies reduced temporarily. That was in line with commercial arrangements and is part of the normal working of the market.
That market has also worked well, with imports responding to the need for extra gas in the UK-I include liquefied natural gas and flows through the interconnector in that. In particular, I wish to thank the National Grid Company for its role in balancing the gas system during these challenging times. Let us not forget that the electricity infrastructure has also performed well, with the faults caused by the most severe weather on 6 January being quickly addressed and the supply restored-the last few customers had it restored over the weekend. The UK electricity industry has an excellent standard of service-the reliability for 2008-09 was
99.989 per cent. That typifies the robustness of the UK's energy system and we fully intend it to be maintained this year, next year and every year.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): My point is not weather-related. Unfortunately, my constituents have been suffering from a periodic set of power cuts. It is particularly frustrating when Christmas day is spoilt for Croydon residents because of power cuts, and on 4 January, more than 4,500 residents lost out. Does the Minister think that perhaps more should be invested in maintaining the system and that perhaps the return on equity for EDF in London is too high?
Our plans commit us to tackling climate change, ensuring security of energy supplies and keeping energy costs affordable. We want to ensure that all consumers have a fair deal. As everyone in the debate has said, the key to security of energy supply is diversity of energy supplies and sources. Last July's transition plan outlines how nuclear power, alongside a sevenfold increase in renewables and investment in clean fossil fuels, will help us to achieve a low-carbon future and secure the UK's energy supply.
I shall say a little more about those customers. We have heard about some worrying incidents relating to elderly people who were concerned about the cost of keeping their homes warm. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) talked of people who were frightened last week by scaremongering stories in the media from the Conservatives and of elderly people feeling that they could not keep their heating on. That is an appalling state of affairs and we need to send the message from this Chamber that people must keep their heating on during this dangerously cold weather. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) reminded us of the personal cost behind the statistics on excess winter deaths. I assure the House that the Government are determined to do all that we can to eradicate fuel poverty in this country.
Many people pointed out the obvious fact that the more energy use we can avert, the greater our success will be in cutting carbon emissions, assuring ourselves of energy security and, of course, cutting our energy costs. The Government take seriously the need for energy efficiency in many fields. One is transport, an area of policy that has not been covered, perhaps for understandable reasons, but in which there are great gains to be made through energy efficiency. Another is domestic properties, and millions of people in this country have been helped to insulate their homes by schemes such as the Government's Warm Front and the suppliers' obligation, currently called CERT-the carbon emissions reduction target.
Let us not forget the contribution that commercial businesses need to make to avert costs in energy and reduce their carbon emissions. We help with expert advice, interest-free loans and mechanisms such as climate change agreements and the emissions trading scheme. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is no longer in the Chamber-
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the carbon reduction commitment energy efficiency scheme that begins in April. I take to heart his comments about the design of the scheme and about who will be admitted to it, but the truth is that some of the largest emitters of carbon will be entered into the scheme and they will cut their carbon emissions as well as making savings on their energy bills.
Many hon. Members referred to the contribution of renewables, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. Most of those who spoke in the debate gave a warm welcome to last week's announcement of the round 3 offshore wind licences. This country was already the world leader in connected energy from offshore wind, and our performance in that area is now putting a considerable distance between ourselves and the rest of the world. But we do not rely solely on wind as a source of renewable energy, important though it is. There is also biomass, hydro, solar, heat pumps and many other sources that we promote. I noted the considerable enthusiasm around the Chamber for microgeneration, and a general welcome for feed-in tariffs, which at long last will begin in this country this April.
Many hon. Members also referred to the contribution of nuclear, including the right hon. Members for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and for Suffolk, Coastal, the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks). I have already said that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland would have liked to contribute to the debate on nuclear. I remind hon. Members that we have put in place the legal framework for new nuclear, including provisions on payment for the storage of waste and on decommissioning, and the planning changes to ensure that the process will be quick. The economic environment that we have put in place has already enabled three consortiums to commit to building new nuclear power in this country that will produce 16 GW of energy.
Many hon. Members mentioned the importance of carbon capture and storage. What is so crucial about CCS is that, as we invest more and more in renewables, which produce electricity for the national grid intermittently, we will need the back-up that reliable sources such as coal and gas can offer. The consequences of their carbon emissions are too great to contemplate, however, without a means of abating those emissions. That is where CCS will be so important, which is why it is good that our Government are now committed to four CCS demonstration projects on a commercial scale.
I would have liked to spend longer talking about all the points that hon. Members raised. I agree with my opposite number, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), that it has been such a good debate that it deserved more time. I started by thanking all those who have worked to ensure that our energy supplies were maintained during the period of severe weather. It has brought home to us how valuable the jobs of today's energy workers are, but I should like to address my final remarks to the energy workers of tomorrow. Let me point out to today's schoolchildren, students and young men and women that these are vital jobs to be filled.
They will help us to save the planet and to keep this country's energy secure and affordable. They will be skilled, well-paid and highly respected by others. What more incentive do those young people need in order to sign up?
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