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Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 13 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether, in view of the importance of cheap power to Ulster's economy, he will consider the setting up of a high-powered inquiry into the means of reducing the high cost of electricity, both in the short and long term.

The days of cheap energy are gone for all of us, but I share the hon. Member's concern that electricity prices in Northern Ireland should not be any higher than necessary and, while I am not sure precisely what kind of inquiry the hon. Member has in mind, I would not rule out any investigation which might contribute to this objective.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether, as an interim measure, he will seek to allocate out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, an annual subsidy to the Northern Ireland electricity service sufficient to keep the cost to domestic consumers down to the Great Britain average.

Domestic electricity consumers in Northern Ireland continue to benefit significantly from the write-off in 1977 of £250 million indebtedness of the electricity service to the Government. The recent rapid increase in the cost of primary fuel for electricity generation in Northern Ireland has implications for the finances of the electricity service and its tariffs, which are being investigated.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what sums are available from the European regional fund to assist the Northern Ireland electricity service in keeping down the cost of electricity to the consumer, both industrial and domestic.

Grants are available from the European regional development fund towards the cost of projects which contribute to the development of Northern Ireland's economic infrastructure. The Northern Ireland electricity service has benefited from such grants, which have reduced the cost of producing and supplying electricity in Northern Ireland. Since its inception in 1975 the fund has approved grants of some £3·7 million to NIES in respect of capital projects. In addition, the fund has provided a grant of £7·9 million towards relief of the interest payable by NIES to the European Investment Bank under the terms of a £33·3 million loan provided by the EIB towards the capital expenditure on Kilroot power station.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will immediately commission an urgent study by Queen's University of the possibility of harnessing the tidal flow at Strangford Lough for the purposes of generating electric power.

Following discussions which I had with the chairman of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, a study of the technical and financial aspects of tidal generation at Strangford Lough is already under way, under the council's auspices. The study will be headed by Professor Eric Wilson of Salford university. The department of civil engineering of Queen's University, Belfast will be involved.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the amount of the Exchequer contribution towards the electricity supply industry in Great Britain in the last 10 years; and what is the equivalent amount in Northern Ireland.

The electricity supply industries in England and Wales and in

Nature of payment periodAmountmillion)
Compensation for price restraint1973–74—1975–7671·3
Grant towards accrued revenue deficit1975–76—1976–7726·3
Grant towards reduction of industrial tariffs1977–78—1979–8060·0
The Northern Ireland electricity service has also benefited from a financial reconstruction under which £250 million of its capital debt to Government was written off in 1977.