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Renewable Energy

Volume 406: debated on Thursday 5 June 2003

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What representations she has received from the Wood Panel Industries Federation on the Government's renewable energy policies. [116509]

Representations from the Wood Panel Industries Federation have been received on the impact of the renewables obligation on the industry and, in particular, on the encouragement given under the obligation for the use of UK forestry material by co-firing power stations.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but he has not addressed the seriousness of the situation. Some 15,000 jobs in this important industry are threatened because these so-called green power stations will be able to outbid woodchip mills for the basic raw material that they need—woodchip, much of which comes from freshly felled trees. Surely the purpose of these power stations was to burn biomass produced by farmers on surplus acres, rather than to consume sustainable material that has a future in the furniture and kitchen manufacturing industries, and in the building trade.

A review of the renewables obligation is under way, and account will be taken of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, there is a further question, about an existing—perhaps I should say almost existing—biomass plant in Yorkshire, which I shall deal with a little later. By and large, the current problem is not an excessive number of biomass plants consuming all the United Kingdom's timber—on the contrary. However, it is clearly important that we get the balance right, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is offering grants for the growing of trees for specific use in biomass plants. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that full account will be taken of the points that he makes on the industry's behalf.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the rather relaxed tone that he adopts towards the DEFRA review is not in keeping with the time scale with which the timber processing industry is confronted? For example, 50 per cent. of the available timber in Scotland has been bought by a single power station on the back of substantial subsidies for renewable generation. There is every possibility that in the ensuing 12 months there will be insufficient timber to enable Scottish processing plants to continue. Will my hon. Friend therefore accede to the request, made to him by a number of colleagues on both sides of the House, to meet him to discuss this urgent matter as soon as possible? I wrote to him two weeks ago and I await a reply; I am anxious that I get one as soon as possible.

The request for a meeting has yet to reach me, but I shall of course agree to one. I have never refused my hon. Friend—or, I think, any other Member of this House—a meeting, and I should be delighted to discuss this issue.

We support the aspiration in the energy White Paper to increase the percentage of electricity generated from renewable power sources, as, of course, does the Renewable Power Association. Sadly, the RPA estimates that the Government will fail to meet their 2010 target of 10 per cent. generation from renewable sources—only some 7 per cent. will be so generated—and their 2020 target of 20 per cent. generation from renewable sources, with only some 12 per cent. being so generated. How do the Government answer this absolutely fundamental criticism of a central plank of their energy policy from those whom they expect to implement it?

The Government will fail to meet these targets only if a number of conditions have not been met. One reason why they would not be met is if we remained almost exclusively dependent for our renewables targets on hydro and onshore wind—the only technologies that are contributing significantly at the moment. That is why we are backing biomass, photovoltaics and wave and tidal. We have to extend the range of technologies that can contribute. If we start from a defeatist point of view and say that we will not meet the targets, they will indeed not be met. They can and will be met only if we do a great deal to give substance to the words that we have committed ourselves to, and it is my job to make sure that that happens.