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Alternative Energy

Volume 24: debated on Monday 17 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he proposes to maintain current levels of support for research and development in the field of alternative energy provision.

As my hon. Friend told the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) on 31 March, I hope that in the current financial year my Department will be able to devote between £11 million and £12 million to research and development into renewable energy sources.

Is not that serious and disturbing reduction in investment in research and development likely to cause grave anxiety and disappointment? Is the decision to reduce that investment based on the summary of advice from the advisory council dealing with such matters? If so, is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is suggested that there are serious irregularities surrounding that summary of advice, which should command urgent and serious Departmental attention?

The hon. Gentleman seems to be implying that I have said something new today. On the contrary, I am saying what was said in a parliamentary answer nearly two months ago. While I accept that it is likely that the 1981–82 figures will show that we spent somewhat more that year than this year, I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1977–78, during the period of the Government of whom he was a supporter, only £1 million was spent on renewables. During the last year in which the Government that he supported were in office, only £2·5 million was spent. He must consider the matter in that context.

Is my hon. Friend aware that what the Government propose to do in support of research and development of renewables must be about right at this stage? Can he assure the House that the Government will do everything possible to back wind energy, which is one of the more promising renewables, both onshore and offshore?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question. I know of his interest in such matters. We had the benefit of advice from our advisory council on research and development. That advice was in clear terms, copies of which I have placed in the Library, and it is acceptable to the Department. The advisory council placed much emphasis on wind and we are financing, at a cost of about £7 million, a development windmill in the Orkneys to produce electricity.

Why is the alternative energy research unit at Harwell being run clown?

I have no reason to believe that it is. We spent about £4 million last year on our energy development support unit and its work is highly valued. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to that unit. I know of no such plans.