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25 Feb 2010 : Column 433

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): As you know, Mr. Speaker, the shadow Minister with responsibility for climate change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), cannot be here today as he is in Beijing meeting Chinese Ministers responsible for those issues.

We admired the Secretary of State's work in advance of Copenhagen-I think he knows that-but in the aftermath of Copenhagen, perhaps for reasons of understandable frustration, he accused China of trying to hijack the summit and of holding other countries to ransom. On reflection, does he regret that approach, and does he believe that as no global deal is possible without China, he should take steps to understand why China felt a global deal was not in its interests, with a view to persuasion rather than condemnation? Also, does he have a positive-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have said on innumerable occasions that questions from the Front Bench are all too often simply too long. The hon. Gentleman has put a question, and I know he will look forward to hearing the reply.

Edward Miliband: I do not regret being open and honest with people about why the Copenhagen negotiations did not achieve all that we had hoped, because I think that is a very important duty in politics. We went to the Copenhagen negotiations to try to secure a legal treaty and global targets, and it is right to explain to people why those ambitions were not achieved. It is also right to say, as I made clear in my discussions with the Chinese ambassador, that the task now is to move on and work with China, India and others to try to resolve the remaining differences.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in our discussions with the Chinese, we would be in a better position when talking about emissions from coal-fired power stations if the previous Tory Government had not been so short-sighted and closed down the clean coal technology research project and research into improving the thermal efficiency of coal-fired power stations? [Interruption.]

Edward Miliband: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is very clear from Conservative Members' responses to that question that they do not like to be reminded of their past, and it is no wonder-although I know that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) was in a different party in the period referred to.

My right hon. Friend is right. I think there is an important future for clean coal in this country. That is why it is important that the Energy Bill makes the carbon capture and storage levy available to support that.

Project Discovery

7. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps he plans to take in response to Ofgem's Project Discovery report. [318546]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): Ofgem's consultation is one of a number of resources that my Department is taking into account in its ongoing work on maintaining secure and affordable energy supplies during the transition to a low-carbon economy.

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Andrew Selous: Why have the Government done so little to prepare for the hon. Gentleman's Department's forecasts that up to 16 million households could be sitting in the dark by 2017, and is the fact that only three Labour MPs have questions on the Order Paper today indicative of his party's lack of concern about this issue?

Mr. Kidney: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes such a low view of policies that are delivering on investment, price and supply in this country. If he wants solid evidence of that, he need only look back one month to one of the severest winters in decades, when the system in this country coped extremely well.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My hon. Friend will recognise that Ofgem faces difficult problems. We, as the former owners of the generating facilities and energy companies, have suffered badly in that we were ripped off. We did not realise that the payment was only a down payment, and we have been ripped off every year by these companies ever since. When will my hon. Friend ask our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to provide a set of NHS gnashers to give to the toothless watchdog we have got-the regulator?

Mr. Kidney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his robust expression of a dissatisfaction that is felt throughout the House with the performance of the regulator since privatisation of the energy sector. However, I can assure him that in the Energy Bill that this House voted in favour of last night there are measures to strengthen the powers of Ofgem.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): As the Minister will be aware, it is estimated that about £200 billion will need to be invested in energy production in the next decade if the lights are not going to go off. In the light of that figure, does he think that the £800 million-plus profit that British Gas announced today should be used for further investment or cutting bills?

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Lady invites me to answer one of the key questions. We want energy companies to invest £200 billion in infrastructure projects in this country over the next decade, so we should celebrate the fact that they are successful global companies that do make profits. However, when those profits are excessive and members of the public are struggling to pay high energy bills after four successive years of very big increases, we are entitled to say that as world prices fall the customers should share in that benefit.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Given that the big energy companies have made the highest ever profits over the past five years and that only today British Gas announced a profit of nearly £600 million, which is an increase of more than 50 per cent., why should anybody support a party that, as the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins) indicated a moment ago, has so abysmally failed to take on the big energy companies, stand up for consumers and give us a regulator that does anything useful to justify its existence?

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman clearly did not listen to the previous question and answer, nor the one before that. It is important that we have successful
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energy companies but, equally, because of the monopolistic elements of their industry, it is important to have a strong regulator. As I have just said, we are legislating in the Energy Bill to make that regulator stronger.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Last July, the Secretary of State told the House that

Yet both Ofgem and the National Grid Company say that gas imports will rise substantially during the next eight years and that 70 per cent. of our gas will be imported. Who is right?

Mr. Kidney: The Government stand by the UK low carbon transition plan, which we published last year and which contains our favoured scenario for what will happen by 2020. The hon. Gentleman asks who is right and who is wrong. There are a range of views on this and we are taking them all into account as we develop our energy market assessment, the first findings of which will be announced alongside this year's Budget.

Greg Clark: The Minister has just confirmed that the Government take a different view from the regulator. When it was disclosed that his Department expected power cuts in 2017, the Secretary of State dumped the data and changed the figures. Yet this month Ofgem, the regulator, has said:

It talked of the "profound" and "worrying" state of

Ofgem has rubbished the Secretary of State's complacent assumptions on gas and electricity and has called for a different policy on security. Why has the energy regulator lost confidence in this Secretary of State?

Mr. Kidney: I just mentioned the low carbon transition plan, which suggests a major investment in the trinity of clean coal, nuclear and renewables. It is unfortunate that in every one of those areas the hon. Gentleman's party is obstructive-I am thinking of the approach it has taken on the planning system for nuclear power with the Infrastructure Planning Commission, on the proposed levy, and on the introduction yesterday of the proposal by some Opposition Members of an emissions performance standard. On renewables, he does not have to look far behind him to see the Members who do not agree with developing wind power in this country.

Coal-fired Power Stations

8. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What plans he has to limit the level of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations after 2020. [318547]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): The Government's "A framework for the development of clean coal", which was published in November, delivers a comprehensive package of policy measures that will drive the transition to clean coal to 2020 and beyond. Our ambition is that any new coal plant constructed from 2020 will be fully
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carbon capture and storage from day one and that coal-fired power stations with demonstration projects will retrofit CCS to their full capacity by 2025.

Tom Brake: The energy industry needs a stronger signal now that the Government are serious about getting carbon out of energy; otherwise it will not make the necessary investments. The emissions trading scheme is not working, and last night the Government blocked the introduction of an emissions performance standard. Why will they not take on the power giants, introduce legal limits on power stations and force them to cut their carbon emissions drastically?

Joan Ruddock: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have the most radical and most environmentally demanding coal policy in the world, and we have the greatest incentive to industry to invest with the CCS levy. Frankly, not a single company and not a single independent adviser such as the Committee on Climate Change would support him in saying that introducing an emissions performance standard at this point would be appropriate.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Why have the Government rejected the findings in the report they commissioned from Oxera, which recommended raising the cap on the amount of biomass that coal-fired power stations such as Drax can blend with coal from 12.5 to 17.5 per cent.?

Joan Ruddock: I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. We are looking at the whole field and at the use of biomass. This is not a technology in which we can have total confidence at the moment. There are issues of sustainability in the production of the biomass, if it involves new crops, and the burning of biomass brings up air pollution issues, too. We have to take some time over this. We are in discussions with people at Drax and we will be considering the issues that they raise about investment, incentives and the cap.

National Grid (East Anglia)

9. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet representatives of local authorities in East Anglia to discuss the operation of the national grid. [318548]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): The Secretary of State has no plans to meet the representatives of local authorities in East Anglia to discuss the operation of the national grid.

Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that Centrica is going to double the size of the King's Lynn gas-fired power station, which will mean that it will need the national grid to connect the new power to its main power lines with new pylons, which will be extremely unsightly. What is his policy for burying such new pylons underground?

Mr. Kidney: I think I am right to point out to the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) that this is one of the hon. Members who is against developing wind power in this country. We need £200 billion of
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investment in our energy infrastructure over the next decade, some of which will be for the cables that deliver the power from the place of generation to the place of consumption. On the whole, overhead power cables have been the most robust and cost-effective way of delivering that energy in the past.


10. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the likely proportion of the UK's electricity supply to be generated by microgeneration technologies in 2020. [318549]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): We estimate that approximately 2 per cent. of the UK's electricity supply will be generated by small-scale technologies in 2020.

John Howell: Among EU countries, the UK lies behind everyone except Luxembourg and Malta in renewable energy use. What lessons does the Minister think he can learn from more successful EU member states?

Mr. Kidney: Clearly not to follow the example of Conservative Members in opposing renewable energy developments, but rather to follow successful Labour policies, such as the one that makes us the lead in the world in offshore wind. The hon. Gentleman's question was about microgeneration, so perhaps we can return to the subject of feed-in tariffs, which a Labour Government are introducing from this April and which will encourage these developments.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend know that Carbon Connect's progress report on low-carbon technologies, on the commercial barriers and on how we overcome them will be launched somewhere around Westminster this lunch time?

Mr. Kidney: I certainly hope that I am aware of that important event as I am due to speak at it.

Carbon Emission Reduction (Local Government)

11. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of local government to meeting the UK's carbon emission reduction targets. [318550]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): Local authorities have a key leadership role in reducing their emissions and those occurring within their areas. The Government have announced a pilot of local carbon frameworks, which aim to increase the contribution of local authorities to meeting the UK's carbon emissions reduction targets.

Estimates of per capita CO2 emissions for 2007, and revised estimates for 2005 and 2006, for all UK local authorities and Government office regions were published on the DECC website on 17 September and were updated on 9 November.

DECC also collects statistics on the CO2 emissions of local authorities' own estate and operations. The Department is analysing returns for the year ending 31 March 2009 and will publish the figures soon.

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Tony Baldry: I thank the Minister of State for that answer. May I press her on what powers and resources the Government intend to give to local authorities to enable them to promote green technology and sustainable development and to meet their carbon reduction commitments?

Joan Ruddock: I shall begin with the carbon reduction commitment, which is, of course, a national scheme being introduced this April. Within that, local authorities will have a duty to look to their energy efficiency, and their resulting emissions will have to be measured. They will have the opportunity, in the first year, simply to record that information. We will, of course, assist in that. In order to reduce their emissions and increase their energy efficiency, they get assistance from the Carbon Trust and Salix finance loans are available. We have a very good record of working with local government. The indicators are there through the local government performance framework, and local authorities have sufficient powers to make the necessary changes. Of course, they will make a vital contribution.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): An appropriate planning regulatory regime is essential for local authorities to develop local emissions reduction projects in their areas. What assessment has been made of potential changes to planning regulations that impede such developments?

Joan Ruddock: Some concerns have been expressed by local authorities, and, indeed, by individual households and businesses, about the ability to introduce new technologies in a way that is consistent with local needs and local views. We have given local authorities the right to determine their own planning policies to an extent, as well as, more recently, to agree permitted development so that we can make some progress with small-scale microgeneration.

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