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Sub-sea Electricity

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 7 June 2007

The Government are working with Ofgem and industry to establish an offshore transmission regime. We have already taken a number of decisions necessary to help us to do that.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. I welcome the announcement made by Ofgem this week about island connections, but does he accept that, whatever the outcome of the Beauly to Denny proposal, a new approach will be needed to meet future transmission needs beyond that proposal? Will he give political leadership and instruct Ofgem to provide the regulatory space to enable a much more ambitious approach to developing a sub-sea transmission network to be taken in future around Britain’s coasts to allow the potential of marine renewables to be fully exploited?

The hon. Gentleman raises two separate issues. We have already taken a number of decisions along with Ofgem to encourage the offshore regime. I want to see more offshore wind farms, and of course they have to be connected to the grid. He also raises the Beauly to Denny transmission lines, which are onshore and the subject of a public inquiry at the moment. Of course we and Ofgem will continue to ask how we can help to improve matters, but there is no getting away from the fact that at some stage the transmission lines have to be built. People who say that they are in favour of renewable energy will have to face up to the fact that the energy has to be transported and that their objection to the power lines is contradictory.

Looking at the plans for the super grid, it appears that the establishment of more wind turbines is planned in the North sea, the Irish sea and the channel. As the Secretary of State has said, all that electricity has to be transported. It must be welcome that we are to have more turbines out at sea, because there is less controversy about that. Will he look into the opportunities for under-sea turbines, which could be linked into the same grid?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We can and ought to do more to find more marine-generated sources of energy. Unfortunately, at present the technology is pretty much in its infancy. Through grants, the Government support experimental wave generation and I am extremely interested in encouraging tidal generation. One of the reasons we have proposed changing the way in which the renewables obligation works is to give greater incentives for developing more difficult and newer forms of power generation, but I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman.

I too welcome the Ofgem consultation launched yesterday, entitled “Unlocking the Renewables Potential of Scottish Islands”. May I encourage the Secretary of State to impress on Ofgem the urgency of resolving this question? Will he remind Ofgem in the nicest possible way that when it makes its calculations of transmission charges from island groups, it should factor into the equation the capping power in the Energy Act 2004?

I am sure that Ofgem will bear that in mind. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for the consultation. Obviously, we need to let that run and then take the next set of decisions, as I said to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander). We all want to make it easier to generate more offshore power and to help with connections from the islands to the UK mainland.