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House of Lords

Thursday, 8th February 2001.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Bradford): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Renewable Energy

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of the United Kingdom energy requirement is met from renewable sources at the present time and what they expect will be met from renewables other than wind power five years hence.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, in terms of UK electricity requirements, 2.8 per cent of present requirements are from renewable sources. The Government have proposed targets of obtaining 5 per cent of UK electricity requirements from renewable sources by the end of 2003 and 10 per cent by 2010, subject to the cost being acceptable to consumers.

In the Government's 1999 consultation paper on renewable energy there were some illustrative scenarios of the different ways in which the various forms of renewable energy might contribute to a 10 per cent target by 2010. The "trends continued" scenario, for example, showed biofuels contributing just over half the target and wind energy contributing about 35 per cent, with about one-third of that offshore. The balance between the various forms of renewable energy will be determined by the market, and individual projects will be subject to the normal planning process.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will there be continued monitoring of the various sources of renewables to determine whether they are meeting the contributions to which he referred? Will there be further consideration of the need for the development of wave power and of the adequacy of processing capacity for biomass? Although I greatly welcome the decision to promote the use of methane from landfill sites, can a similar facility be provided to promote the use of this highly noxious gas from closed collieries?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there will be continued monitoring of the different sources of renewable energy. It is the Government's policy to encourage diversity in the renewable energy sector. The renewables obligation provides a long-term stimulus to the renewable energy sector as a whole. We provide support to such areas as wave energy and photovoltaics, which we do not see in the short term as likely sources of renewable energy on a commercial

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scale. We are supporting biomass with 89 million of capital grants, which also support offshore wind technology, because these processes are currently very expensive. So far as concerns methane from coal-mines (mine gas), we are examining possible methods for the capture and use of the gas, although mine gas is classified as a fossil fuel rather than a renewable source of energy.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, in order to meet these objectives, which I strongly recommend to the entire country, would it not be logical for Her Majesty's Government to give biodiesel the same duty rate as fossil gas fuel?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, last November the Chancellor announced a green fuel challenge to industry; it was asked to submit practical proposals for new alternative road fuels. The idea was to introduce fiscal incentives for fuels offering the most promising environmental benefits. I believe that a whole series of proposals have been put forward for a wide range of novel fuels, including biodiesel. The DETR is now examining the environmental benefits of the different fuels. Any changes will be announced in the Budget.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is reusable energy included in the list of renewables? I refer in particular to the great waste of energy from ordinary domestic chimneys. By the use of a new heat exchange mechanism, this could be recycled for domestic use. I refer also to combined heat and power schemes. Does either of these come under the heading of "renewable resources", or are they outwith it?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not think that they are included in the actual target for renewables. However, there are schemes to encourage combined heat and power in their own right.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some 30 per cent of Denmark's energy requirements are met by wind power, and that it has now developed 5 megawatt offshore wind turbines, which have the advantage of being able to be located a long way offshore and are thus less visible? Are such schemes part of my noble friend's programme? What support will the Government provide to get such projects off the ground? I refer to planning permission and to the financial support that is required in the early years.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the figures I gave to illustrate how the pattern might change are of interest in this context. Fifty-two per cent of our current use of renewables comes from hydro power, 39 per cent comes from biofuels of one kind or another, and 9 per cent comes from wind. Based on the projection I gave, those figures would become 11 per cent from hydro, about 53 per from biofuels, and 36 per cent from wind. So the figures include a substantial increase in wind energy, a great deal of

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which will come from offshore wind. As I said, we are supporting this technology with capital grants. Part of the strategy is to use higher megawatt turbines; the 5 megawatt turbine would be part of that strategy.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, what are the Government doing to encourage the domestic use of solar panels? Is there any reason why the price of solar panels remains so high, creating such a disincentive to their wider use?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the price of solar panels is high because they remain extremely expensive to make. The cost of energy produced by them is some five to seven times higher than conventional electricity, but there are plans to examine whether we can do more to increase their installation.

Lord Rea: My Lords, will my noble friend expand a little further on research into wave energy? I have an interest in this, as my son was part of the team helping Professor Stephen Salter in Edinburgh with the "nodding ducks". That research ended, but there is still great interest in this.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we do not see wave energy making a substantial contribution to our renewable needs in the short term. However, the Government are supporting the demonstration of wave energy projects, including the Limpet plant on the Hebridean island of Islay; but that will not contribute between the years 2003 and 2010.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, has there been much progress recently in the use of fuel cell technology, and is that included in the list of renewables?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is certainly included, and there has been progress. However, this technology is still some way off in terms of producing a substantial amount of renewable energy.

Prime Minister's Press Secretary

3.9 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the powers and responsibilities of the Prime Minister's press secretary.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, Alastair Campbell is appointed as a special adviser under terms and conditions set out in a model contract for special advisers. His contract has been modified to take account of his role as the Prime Minister's official spokesman and his executive responsibilities.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, it conceals more

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than it tells us. Does the Minister recall that the head of the Civil Service, addressing a House of Commons Select Committee in November, four months ago, said:

    "The taxpayer is paying Alastair Campbell to work for the Government as the Government, not for the Labour Party"?

Is that really happening at the moment? Does it happen when the press secretary airbrushes another reluctant Minister out of history by a disparaging remark at one of his press conferences, or, indeed, when, as the Financial Times tells us this morning, he intends to use a press conference,

    "to flag up ambitions for a second Labour term"?

Is there not an impossible conflict of interest here that needs resolving?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there is not an impossible conflict of interest. The noble Lord will recall that at the very same Select Committee hearing the head of the Home Civil Service and the Cabinet Secretary said that special advisers in the position of Mr Alastair Campbell are able to put forward a more robust defence for the Government than other civil servants. That is precisely what Mr Alastair Campbell does.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, following on from that, on how many occasions has the Cabinet Secretary had cause to upbraid the Prime Minister's Press Secretary since 1997 for behaviour incompatible with the traditional roles of a civil servant? Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House if the Hammond inquiry will cover the activities of the Prime Minister's Press Secretary as regards the events surrounding Peter Mandelson's resignation, and when it will report?

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