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Fuel Technologies

Volume 459: debated on Thursday 3 May 2007

The Department supports a range of measures to encourage biofuels and clean coal technologies. These are important mechanisms, given our ambition substantially to reduce carbon emissions. More generally, the Government have provided some £500 million since 2002 toward research in, and development and demonstration of, low-carbon technologies.

Obviously I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful and courteous reply, but does he not agree that it is better to develop forms of energy generation and other technologies that cause less or no carbon dioxide emissions, rather than caning with extra taxation those who are merely doing what has been legal and acceptable for many years? I am referring in particular to those who drive 4x4s, which are very advanced and safe vehicles. Given that we can develop new technologies, why should extra taxation always be the answer? We should also be investing more in the safe disposal of nuclear waste.

And indeed we are spending a great deal on the safe disposal of nuclear waste through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. We need a range of measures to tackle climate change, such as low or almost nil carbon emission technologies. We will consult on nuclear energy and its future when we publish our White Paper later this month, and we are developing renewable energies. Significantly, probably 40 per cent. of global power generation in the foreseeable future will come from coal. Given that we will be burning fossil fuels, we need to develop clean coal technologies and carbon capture and storage, as we seek to demonstrate. So there will be a range of ways in which we tackle our climate change and global warming objectives.

The Minister will be aware that the Stern report suggested that some $16 trillion of investment is needed in energy infrastructure over the next 25 years. Ironically, the innovation needed might yet be the major contribution from the United States. Does this country have enough capacity to produce sufficient home-grown biofuels, or will we have to rely on imports?

I am advised that in theory, given our current objectives—under the terms of the road transport fuel obligation, for example, 5 per cent. of such fuel should come from biofuels by 2010—we have enough capacity. I am also advised, however, that in practice—this is the serious point—there will be a mixture of home-grown biofuels and those that we need to import. That raises a critical question about making sure that the environmental impact of such imported fuels is on the right, not the wrong, side of the argument.

The Minister will be aware that developing marine renewables is crucial. The UK should be the leading player in this field, based on its sub-sea industry. He will also be aware, however, that many such projects are stuck in prototype stage because of lack of financing. What work is he doing with private investors and banks to free up investment for this critical industry?

It is indeed a very critical industry, and as we were reminded earlier, Nick Stern’s important report referred to the economic opportunity for Britain to be in the right place, in the context of much of the renewables industry. The hon. Lady is right: there are great industrial opportunities if we are a leading country in this field, as we mean to be. As I said, £500 million has been invested in low-carbon technologies since 2002, and we are investing heavily in marine technologies, so that we can examine the potential of wave and tidal power. The renewables obligation, which we will reform to make it more sensitive to the new technologies, is another powerful vehicle. We have a range of measures in place to ensure that we can be a world leader in these renewable technologies.

Given the Minister’s reply to an earlier question and his announcement of huge investment in biofuels technology, can he tell the House what discussions he or his Department have had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to encourage farmers to grow biofuels, and with the Chancellor to ensure that the taxation regime encourages the use of biofuels?

We received a report some time ago from Ben Gill, who obviously has a farming background, about the importance of biomass, and we will say more about it as part of the White Paper announcements. Of course we are discussing the issue all the time with DEFRA, and we are at one on this. It is an important mechanism to help us achieve our carbon emissions reductions. It is not the whole answer, but it is a new opportunity for the farming sector in the UK and elsewhere, and I recognise that.

Has the Minister seen today’s comments by the Renewable Energy Association that Britain is “a million miles away” from hitting the Government’s target on renewable energy by 2020? The REA says that the Government have “no credible plan” on how to achieve that target, and that for it to be met we would need a biofuel pump on every forecourt, a programme of major renewable energy projects and a massive energy efficiency programme in the housing stock. The Government have quietly dropped their earlier target of 10 per cent. from renewables by 2010. Is not the truth about the Government’s targets that although they are designed to sound ambitious, they will the end and not the means and are set so far in the future that the Minister and the Government will be out of office long before the target date—and someone else will have to pick up the pieces?

I certainly do not accept that last psephological point. We have long-term ambitions both to reduce carbon emissions and for the Labour party—[Hon. Members: “Where are they?”] It is not for me to answer that question. It is because we take our democratic politics and listening to people seriously that Labour Members are not here; they are where they should be.

I have seen some indications of the association’s report. It is a well-organised lobby group, but I am more interested in the facts, which are that this Government are taking renewable energy very seriously. It always helps if Conservative and Liberal MPs support wind farm projects, rather than opposing them. Big planning issues are also involved, and I hope that the Opposition will support us when we bring forward radical proposals for reform.