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Electricity Generation

2.50 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the DTI and Ofgem are currently consulting on the high-level regulatory options for connecting offshore energy renewable energy projects to the onshore electricity transmission network. The consultation was launched on 27 July and closes on 19 October. It is intended that the Minister should announce a decision on the chosen options before the end of the year.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, does the Minister recollect that, back in June when I asked him about offshore transmission, he confessed that,

Is he also aware that, in the consultation paper to which he has just referred, the DTI had to admit that,

The Government's aim is to have 6,000 megawatts of offshore power installed by the year 2010, but, in the light of the DTI's admission, what are they going to do to give that target some reality?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, what I said on the previous occasion was entirely correct. There is a question of where the costs fall, because it depends on the regulatory system that is put in place regarding those costs. As for the timing, the general view is that if this decision is made by the end of the year, as I pointed out in the Answer, that will in no way hold up the decisions of the developers getting on with the offshore wind farms.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, will a large subsidy go to the nuclear industry if there is a new nuclear build? If
 
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that is the case, could not the Minister bring forward regulations to finance offshore lines that could run down the east and west coasts of the country to link major developments off the coast of Scotland? That would be a renewable form of energy with long-term implications. The problem at the moment is that 6 gigawatts are being planned but there is no switching gear able to deliver that energy from the north to the south.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the situation on the transmission lines in Scotland is that applications have been put in to the Scottish Executive by the relevant transmission owners, which are Scottish and Southern Energy and Scottish Power. The Executive will have to take a decision on those applications and consider the alternative—an offshore cable, which would be of much higher cost.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government's priority now is nuclear and that windmills are an expensive diversion?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as the noble Lord well knows, there is to be an energy review that will no doubt take account of his view, and that of many others, that nuclear is the answer as opposed to wind. I do not think these are alternatives. Almost any sensible strategy would say that a mix of energy sources is the right one, and the question to be considered is whether nuclear should be one of those.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that there are those who question this assumption that underwater cables would be a much more expensive option, and who argue that there are schemes operating elsewhere in the world that have shown that they are an economically sound proposition? Will the Government look again carefully, not just at our own calculations, but at what is actually happening elsewhere in the world?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there was a DTI study of that very question. It suggested that it is more expensive by a factor of 10 to use underwater cables. If it were to be an important issue in a planning inquiry, those figures would be scrutinised carefully and compared with others to see whether they were correct.

Lord Lewis of Newnham: My Lords, do I gather from what the Minister said that he does not anticipate any change in the timescale for the production of the offshore wind farms? Is there to be any change in the costing for onshore and offshore electricity as a result of these problems?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I said, I would not think that there would be any delay as a result of the decisions that have to be made. As far as the economics are concerned, three different systems have been suggested for bearing the costs of the transmission. The decision on which of those is picked
 
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will, to some extent, affect where those costs fall, as between the overall onshore system and the developers of the wind farms.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, will the noble Lord give an assurance that there is no question of constructing such transmission power lines anywhere other than on or below the sea bed, as otherwise they might present a danger to navigation?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has got a Question down on that very point—or, at least, a related point. I do not know whether the cables would be on the sea bed. If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord with an answer on that.

Lord Winston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is considerable public disquiet—albeit that it may be irrational, as many scientists like myself believe—about non-ionising radiation? What are the Government doing about siting future power lines so as to cause the minimum disquiet among the public, where it may arise?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that is an extremely interesting question, but I do not think that it relates to this issue. These lines would be on the sea bed. I do not think that that would present many problems for anyone, other than the fish.

Lord Greenway: My Lords—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we must move on.

House of Lords: Sitting Days

2.57 pm

Lord Berkeley asked the Leader of the House:

Whether it is now the case that the House of Lords sits only on days when the House of Commons is sitting.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the sittings of this House are subject to the progress and requirements of our business. This House and the other place tend to sit on similar days to help the passage of Bills and Messages between the two Houses.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. What is the tradition or precedent for adjourning the House after a tribute to a former Prime Minister who has died? In July, when Sir Edward Heath died, we lost a day's business, including a Bill that I was promoting. I was interested to see that sometimes we adjourn the House and sometimes we do not. It does not seem to matter much whether the Prime Minister dies when we are sitting or when we are in recess. I would be grateful if my noble
 
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friend could consider whether a good set of tributes is sufficient for a former Prime Minister, allowing us then to get on with business.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, there are in fact no formal rules; the issue is decided following consultations between the parties. In the past 30 years, only one former Prime Minister has died on a day on which the House was sitting. The House was not sitting on the five other days in the past 30 years when a former Prime Minister passed away, so the decisions were made on the basis of each one. There was one case in which a former Prime Minister died in the Recess and the House adjourned, but there was only a four-day gap between the death and the return of the House.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her cautious reply. Having been a Member of your Lordships' House for 26 years and of another place for 34 years before that—60 years continuously—I point out to your Lordships that there have been many variations but that, most frequently, the House of Commons, when it rises in July, nearly always leaves a certain amount of legislation for your Lordships to consider.

It is better that your Lordships should deal with that as soon as possible and well before the House of Commons reassembles.


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