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Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

3. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the environmental impact of the proposed new coal power station at Kingsnorth. (210302)

I regularly discuss energy policy with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, but the decision on Kingsnorth will be for him to make, and I cannot comment on what he might decide, for reasons that I know the hon. Gentleman will understand. The environmental impact assessment is an important part of the process.

But does not the Secretary of State think that that undermines any policy commitments to low-carbon technology?

I simply say that no decision has yet been made on the Kingsnorth application, as the hon. Gentleman will be well aware. We need to develop carbon capture and storage technology across the world, which is why I am sure that he will welcome the fact that the United Kingdom is currently the only European Union country that has a competition on the go to demonstrate that technology on a commercial scale. With China building one new coal-fired power station a week, and with about 8 GW currently in construction in Germany, we need that technology to work, and I am sure that he will welcome the project.

My right hon. Friend will know that carbon capture technology is vital for our long-term future, but will he make sure that all of us in this country recognise that coal is our main indigenous energy source, and that without it, the lights will go out? We cannot ever have that happen.

Coal is currently responsible for a significant proportion of our electricity supply, and certainly a very large proportion of lights around the world are kept burning because of coal. That makes the point that if we are to make progress in reducing global emissions, we have to make progress on significantly decarbonising electricity production from coal. That is why the technology that we are talking about is needed.

Surely this goes to the heart of joined-up Government thinking on climate change. Given that the right hon. Gentleman’s fellow Secretary of State resisted amendments to the recent Energy Bill to mandate carbon capture and storage for new coal-fired power stations, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether DEFRA was consulted before that line was taken on the Energy Bill by his fellow Secretary of State? If the right hon. Gentleman was consulted, what did he tell the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform?

Nobody has yet been able to make carbon capture and storage technology work on a commercial scale. What is the sensible way to proceed? It is to demonstrate that it is possible to do that on a commercial scale. As the Prime Minister said in his speech in November, once that is shown to work, countries will have a decision to make about whether they wish to mandate carbon capture and storage technology, but we have to show it working on a commercial scale. I hope the hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will welcome the fact that the UK is leading on trying to get one of those projects up and running.

My right hon. Friend knows, further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), that we have a sea of coal underneath England. We need to exploit it and we need to get back to a better place than where the Tories left us when they closed down all the coalfields. Clean technology is available that can get the coal out of the ground and raise up communities again.

I recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes about the depth of feeling in those communities about what happened. The fundamental truth is that the remaining fossil fuels that we have on this earth, whatever form they take, will need to be carefully used in a way that does not add to the problem of global warming. We all understand that that is the case, and finding ways of doing that is the solution to making progress.

Does the Secretary of State accept that his answer will cause great concern to many residents in north Kent and in adjoining parts of south-east London, including mine, where there has been a consensus about the need for low-carbon technology and carbon capture in any new power station developments? It seems troubling to them that the Secretary of State has adopted a course that could open the door to development at Kingsnorth without a commitment to that carbon capture, in their backyard.

No decision has been taken on Kingsnorth yet, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware. That decision is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The point that I have been making to the hon. Gentleman and to the House is that we need to develop carbon capture and storage technology and to show it operating on a commercial scale. That is why we are going ahead with the project.

The Secretary of State mentioned the global context and China, but what message does it send to the world if we on the one hand go around lecturing it about the need to reduce carbon emissions, and on the other teeter on the brink of ushering in the first new unabated coal-fired power station for a generation? Does that not sound like hypocrisy? Is it not fossil politics?

I simply say—and I hope the House will bear with me when I say it again—that no decision has been taken yet in relation to Kingsnorth.

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, who intervenes from a sedentary position, first, E.ON itself has asked that no decision be taken while consultation takes place on carbon capture readiness. That will happen in the summer. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, E.ON has put the Kingsnorth application into the competition as well. Those, I should have thought, were two things that he would welcome.