Skip to main content

Renewable Energy

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Minister for Energy on the development of renewable energy. (150587)

Support for renewable energy is an essential part of the Government’s climate change programme and energy policy. I will continue to work closely with my ministerial colleagues to increase the share of UK electricity generated from renewables.

In Germany, 12 per cent. of energy is produced from renewable sources. Will my hon. Friend look closely at the success of the renewable energy Act in Germany and its proposals for revenue support, and will he discuss with the Energy Minister whether a similar system could be adopted in the UK, so that we can use the big house-building programme to advance renewable energy in this country?

The answers to the questions are yes and yes. My hon. Friend has a strong record of campaigning on this matter, and his constituency shows the economic as well as environmental benefits that renewables can bring. On 9 March, the Council of Europe agreed a binding target of having 20 per cent. of the EU’s overall energy consumption coming from renewables by 2020. We are working towards that, but a step change is coming, not least because of the new homes being built and the campaigning work being done by my hon. Friend and others.

Does the Minister agree that wind turbines are such a good idea that we should have hundreds, not to say thousands, of them offshore? That would allow us to take advantage of the higher wind velocity of some of the world’s stormiest seas, achieve greater economies of scale and implement our leading-edge offshore technology. On top of that, we would not have to look at them, which would be preferable to spending large amounts of taxpayers’ money on subsidising the despoiling of south Norfolk’s gentle landscape with industrial wind turbines, each of which is taller than Norwich cathedral.

I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but it would be wrong of me to give blanket approval for all such schemes, given the arguments from the shipping industry and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. On the whole, however, he makes a convincing case: our nation is blessed with offshore wind resources, and it would be wrong not to take advantage of them. Indeed, the Government’s energy and environment policy is pushing in the direction that he outlines.

May I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to what may be one of the most important positions in the Government? Has he had a chance to read the “Draft Options Paper on Renewable Targets” that has been circulated to Ministers? It deals with the 20 per cent. renewables target for the EU agreed at the spring Council, and speaks rather approvingly of what it describes as “scenario 1”. However, by 2020 that would result in the UK delivering only 9 per cent. of renewable energy across all sectors, at a cost of £4 billion. That is less than half of the 20 per cent. by 2020 that the 2006 White Paper suggested was the Government’s aspiration, and less than half of the EU target for that date. Will my hon. Friend speak to the Energy Minister at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and put some backbone into what used to be known as the Department of Trade and Industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He said that mine was one of the most important jobs, but another word for it would be “challenging”. I represent Oldham, where rainfall is significant, so I am clearly in a lose-lose situation in that regard, but I will look at the points that my hon. Friend makes. The “Draft Options Paper On Renewable Targets” is an important document: the two Departments responsible for energy and the environment work very closely together on Government policy, and it is important that we speak with one voice.

Given the impact on food prices of the diversion of production to ethanol, and the damage to the environment that the expansion of crops for ethanol can have in the developing world, will the Government consider drawing up a balance sheet of the pluses and minuses of biofuels? That will enable us to know clearly whether they will save the planet or damage it and cause undue suffering to its poorest inhabitants.

As ever, the right hon. Gentleman speaks with common sense. What he suggests seems very sensible, so I think we should do it. All such decisions are a question of balancing the pros and cons, so the idea of balance sheet will be given consideration. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) made a similar point about food: such matters are not always as straightforward as they appear. We will do as the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. On the question of encouraging microgeneration in renewables, does he agree that it does not make sense that those who can export electricity to the grid are paid less per unit than they spend when they buy electricity? That needs to be looked at. Also, the importance of energy and the environment has been mentioned already, so does he agree that there is a real logic in having those two crucial sectors covered by one Ministry?

The machinery of government is a matter for the Prime Minister, and I am not going there. Having said that, I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend says. The whole House acknowledges the depth of his experience, so his suggestions—particularly when they are made with the force of logic that he has just displayed—will be looked at. Clearly, microgeneration has a huge part to play and, in the next five to 10 years, we as a country will see a revolution in how we approach it. Getting the market right is an essential prerequisite for that revolution.

Following on from the previous question, my constituency is well placed for microgeneration in both hydroelectric and wind power. One of the problems that potential microgenerators face is that the local electricity transmission company, Scottish Power, is less than enthusiastic about assisting them. There is one particular scheme on which I would like the Minister’s advice at some point, if I cannot get the company to see reason. All the money has been spent, the scheme has been put together, but the company has turned round and said, “The grid here won’t take that amount of power.” That is absolutely nonsensical. It cuts across everything the Government are trying to do and goes against common sense. If I cannot get the company to see reason, will the Minister look at the problem if I send him the papers?

Yes, of course I will be happy to help if I can. We have a huge, £750 million programme involving the energy supply companies to encourage the diversification that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, so I will certainly look at the matter.

The Government have proposed building a barrage across the River Severn to harness the second largest tidal range in the world. In welcoming my hon. Friend to his post and recognising the importance of tackling climate change and finding alternative sources of energy, may I also ask him to bear in mind the fact that the Severn is one of the most important sites in the UK for its mudflats, sandbanks and reefs and that environmental protection is also a major issue for the Government?

My hon. Friend puts her finger on exactly the sorts of dilemmas and paradoxes that have been raised in previous questions. For the record, the Government are not proposing the barrier at the moment; we are looking at the matter and expect a report shortly. It is a question of balance. The protection of the environment at the expense of damaging the environment is one of the most difficult choices that we face in politics, which is why we must give the decision proper consideration.

May I warmly welcome the new team to their positions? We can all agree that the UK has huge untapped potential for renewable energy, but, sadly, as some Members have already commented, the renewables obligation, for all the billions that it has taken from consumers in recent years, has failed to deliver large-scale investment in a host of new technologies, such as wave and tidal power. At the other end of the spectrum, the low-carbon buildings programme to support micro-renewables is a complete shambles. However, the new energy efficiency commitment—EEC—that will replace the low-carbon buildings programme is set to be even more problematic. Can the Minister name a single innovative renewable technology that will be better supported under EEC3?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind words in welcoming the new team. We reciprocate and welcome his new team. It is uncharitable of him to describe the scheme in the way that he has. There are many examples of improvements in the area of the low-carbon buildings programme—I have a document giving examples that runs to three pages. I do not propose to read them out, Mr. Speaker, because you would not let me, but I am more than happy to put the document on the website for hon. Members who are interested in reading in it.