asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he intends to respond to the Atkins committee report on combined heat and power.
We expect to receive this report later this month and we shall then consult widely among interested parties.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that combined heat and power district heating can develop only if it offers heat at a competitive and attractive price to the consumer, as happens on the Continent, and that this can happen only if the electricity produced by combined heat and power is sold at a fair price and bought at a fair price by the electricity industry? What criteria are the Atkins committee using in considering the cost-effectiveness of a large city scheme on the basis of the price that the nationalised monopoly will pay for the electricity?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for combined heat and power and his expertise on it, which has been most useful and which will be even more useful when we receive the report. The question at issue is not whether combined heat and power district heating schemes can save energy, but whether they can do so economically. I cannot comment on these matters now, for obvious reasons. As my hon. Friend knows, we do not have the report. However, we shall study it and welcome his suggestions at the right time.
Is the Minister aware that, according to a reply given to me by his Department, power stations disperse the equivalent of 67 million tonnes of coal per year in waste heat? Surely this indicates that there should be a far greater sense of urgency in developing combined heat and power schemes.
We are following the recommendations of the Marshall report in setting up the Atkins committee. When we receive the report we shall examine it and act upon it as quickly as circumstances allow. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about electricity generation. However, he will know that it has been the policy of the electricity supply industry and of successive Governments to locate the large 2,000 mw power stations away from centres of population, for sound environmental reasons. These power stations are not the ideal accompaniment to civilised home life. The fact that the power stations do not have a district nearby to heat poses certain problems in making all our electricity generation available for district heating schemes.
I claim no responsibility for the report. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the lead city concept is still valid?
That concept is at the heart of our considerations. The Marshall report made it clear that 80 per cent. of the potential heat load from a CHP district heating scheme would be in the five major conurbations. We await with interest the report on the nine cities. We shall have to see whether the report recommends further studies.
Is it not already clear that CHP will be more efficient than the present system, will save scarce fuel resources and will provide additional employment opportunities for the 3 million who are unemployed? Would it not be better if the Government were to reexamine their nuclear power programme with a view to building smaller power stations of about 200 mw in various areas, combined with heat systems? Would not that be the best route forward?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not underestimate the good work that the Atkins committee is doing. He knows that the Select Committee on which he serves was able to visit the Atkins committee while it was at work—I do not think that he was able to go—and was left in no doubt about the good and solid work that it is doing. Without that sort of advice it would not be possible for the Government to go ahead sensibly. Everything that I have said, and everything that has been said to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), indicates that within the Department there is a great deal of interest in the possibilities of CHP. The central issue is whether we can make use of existing power stations in urban areas or whether it will be of the essence of the scheme to build new small power stations economically in such areas. We cannot pass judgment on that issue until we have the report to hand.
When does the Minister think that we might see the first district combined heat and power scheme in operation? Will it be this side of 1990?
The time scale will not be a short one. No one should underestimate the problems that are involved. First, there will be a need to re-equip power stations and, secondly, it will be necessary to establish tine infrastructure. We shall have to grapple with major issues, including the choice that will be presented to the public in certain areas, of accepting the district heating scheme or opting not to do so. These are difficulties that will have to be faced. The Marshall inquiry was dealing with the year 2000 and it calculated that we could save 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. of primary fuel consumption if the economics were right. In looking towards that time scale it is difficult to see a scheme coming into play much before the 1990s.