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UK Energy Mix

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 6 July 2006

7. If he will make a statement on the UK energy mix. I am rarely left out, Mr. Speaker. In 2004—[Interruption.] (82771)

If I recall correctly, the tradition is that the question is answered first. In fact, my answer to questions 7 and 9 is broadly similar.

We have a well-balanced and diverse electricity-generating capacity at the moment. We need to keep that in the future.

That is pretty much what I expected. In 2004, 3.5 per cent. of our electricity came from renewables compared with a European Union average of 39 per cent. for the same year. In what year does the Secretary of State expect the UK to hit the EU average?

Again, we will make our proposals when we publish the energy review. Although the amount of energy from renewable sources is not as high as we would like it to be, it has steadily increased because of the renewables obligation that we introduced in 2002. If there is to be a step change, there must be a change in the planning laws because far too many applications are currently bottled up in the planning system. Until that is sorted out, there will continue to be less use of renewables than we would like.

The Secretary of State gave an entirely adequate answer on the subject of legacy waste, which CoRWM is examining. However, if nuclear energy is to play a part in the future energy mix of our country, the new waste that is generated will also need to be treated, stored and disposed of appropriately. What work has been done by anybody—CoRWM has not done much—to establish how the new type of waste, which is smaller in volume but higher in radioactivity, will be disposed of?

The hon. Gentleman is right that CoRWM’s work has been directed at current waste, although much of that can apply to the waste that we may have to tackle in future. It is likely that a new generation of nuclear plant would be more efficient and therefore produce less waste, but the hon. Gentleman is right—essentially, we are dealing with the same problem. That is why much of the work that has been done in the past will be useful in future.

Does the Secretary of State agree that no energy review would be realistic without taking note of the massive amount of coal—not as great as it used to be—that is still used in Britain? Not many pits are left. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is necessary to keep them open? Is not it important to make sure that we use the coal from this country instead of relying on coal from other countries, which may not be stable in future? Will he therefore give a guarantee to the more than 50,000 people who will meet at the Durham miners’ rally on Saturday that coal will play a major part and that we will dig more British coal as a result of the energy review?

Yes, coal is an important contributor, which helped us substantially last winter when there was pressure on gas supplies. The Government have given a substantial amount of money to the coal industry in this country over the past few years and I hope that British coal will continue to play a major role in electricity generation. Of course, as the Government have always made clear, it is up to the generators and producers of coal to reach the appropriate agreement on how much coal is provided. However, the Government have made money available in the past and they will continue to do so.

Does the Secretary of State agree that combined heat and power units could play a far greater role in the energy mix? They are more efficient and produce less waste. However, I know of several plants that have been built but not used. Is there a reason for that? Can the Government do anything about it?

Yes, we could do better on combined heat and power, but there are several problems, and I will set them out as well as ways in which we might tackle them. Some relate to getting on to the grid and there have also been other difficulties. Other countries have made a success of combined heat and power and, although it has its limitations, we can do a bit more than we have done in the past.

In answer to an earlier question, the Secretary of State made the good point that we have enormous potential to exploit wave and tidal power. He knows that the highlands and islands have enormous potential in that context. One of the problems that companies that develop those technologies face is getting them into a commercially viable state. Can the Government do more to provide support for companies that are developing wave and tidal power technologies so that they can get those products to market faster and ensure that the highlands and islands can take a lead in that sector, and that a large share of our electricity is generated from those sources sooner rather than later?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would like to see more energy generated from marine and tidal power. As he knows, these methods have had a somewhat chequered past, and there have been many false starts. However, the Government have supported them with financial help. I mentioned the planning problems earlier. I would like to see more wind and marine generation of energy, but if we are going to achieve that, we must also provide the transmission lines to get the energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed, whether that is in the central belt of Scotland or in England. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is sometimes very difficult to convince people that if we are going to generate electricity in the north of Scotland, we will also need the power lines. If people continue to object to all these things, none of it will happen.