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Alternative Energy Sources

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he intends to increase Government funds available for research into alternative forms of energy, including wind, tidal and solar energy.

There are no plans at present for any substantial change, having regard to the fact that expenditure on research and development into renewable energy sources will be about £15·4 million in the current year, as compared to £3·7 million in 1978–79.

Will the Minister also give the House the cost of building a single PWR power station, and reflect on the comparison between the two figures and say why he believes that the Government have got the balance of expenditure correct?

The hon. Gentleman, in his usual enthusiasm to denigrate the nuclear industry, is making false comparisons. The cost of a nuclear power station is the cost of implementing previous research. His original question deals only with research. If some of those projects were put into production the cost would, in many cases, exceed the cost of a nuclear power station.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in considering alternative energy sources, the biggest immediately identifiable need is not good will towards alternative strategies, but the need for a common fund of knowledge? Much development work is taking place, but could the Department act as a central point to bring together all the experts and the many people who are doing a lot of work in this area?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that much of that goes on already. Our energy technology support unit at Harwell does a great deal, both in collecting together expertise and results and in disseminating that. I shall bear in mind any suggestions that my hon. Friend may make about how the situation can be improved.

Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on his answer? Any Government who did not consider benign sources of energy would be foolish, but will the hon. Gentleman explain how expenditure is co-ordinated in his Department, and will he tell us whether there are any plans for the Department to examine co-ordination of expenditure?

A statement on the Department's co-ordination of expenditure on energy matters must await another occasion. We work on the basis that any reasonable project that should go ahead in the national interest is being funded. The hon. Gentleman will have noted the considerable increase in real terms in money devoted to research and development this year, compared with the equivalent sum when he had responsibility for these matters.

Is my hon. Friend aware that £15·4 million for research and development in the current year is probably about right? Can he assure us that if such sources, especially wind, reach the stage of commercial development the necessary money will be forthcoming?

My Department, with the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board, is paying £5·6 million towards the development of a 3MW aero-generator in the Orkneys. Once that is ready to come on stream in 1985, we shall consider any further proposals that may be made.

As the original question refers to tidal energy, will the hon. Gentleman say when the Government will be commenting on the report of the Severn barrage committee?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in the matter and his contribution to the committee. My Department is awaiting public response to both part 1 and, now, part 2 of the report. I hope to be able to make a statement in the new year on the Department's view on further progress.