asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement on future electricity demand.
My Department is currently updating its detailed projections of the demand for electricity and the forms of energy. These will be published later in the year in good time for the public inquiry at Sizewell.
Will my hon. Friend assure me that if his figures and those produced by the CEGB show a smaller rate of increase in demand than previously—say over the past decade—he will, nevertheless, concentrate extensively on the nuclear power programme, notwithstanding the higher production costs, in the longer-term interests of the country as a whole?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance.
Will the Minister ensure that, rather than build oil-burning power stations, we shall increasingly go over to coal-burning units? Can the Minister make a statement on the future of the Aberthaw coal-burning plant in South Wales, where there have been certain difficulties in recent months?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that over 80 per cent. of our electricity is now generated from coal, and it is inevitable and right that by far the largest proportion of our electricity will come from coal. Most oil-fired stations are now used only to cover peak periods. Plainly, the economics of running oil stations now make it impossible to use them for base load functions.
Will not the future demand for electricity be strongly influenced by its competitiveness against other fuels? Is it not therefore most important to continue with the nuclear programme, which will relatively reduce the cost of electricity compared with what it would otherwise be?
I have to agree with my hon. Friend. I remind the House that the CEGB states that of all the power stations on the national grid, that at Hinckley B—one of our AGRs—produces the cheapest electricity. We should bear that in mind. We should also bear in mind that all our operative nuclear power stations are on base load function—in other words, they are producing electricity all the time.