Departmental officials have had discussions with the European Commission and other European countries about improved grid connections for offshore wind and to link up to European grids. A European supergrid is a big, long-term, interesting but expensive concept.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. He will be aware of the proposals for North sea grid interconnectors using direct current cables and for wider connections using such cables across the whole of Europe to connect various forms of renewable energy together. Is he willing to meet representatives of the European e-Parliament, who are promoting that latter initiative in order to connect the whole of Europe’s renewable output for resources delivered across Europe as a whole?
In principle, I am happy to meet those representatives. However, in terms of linking up renewables, particularly wind power, to the UK, we have a massive programme to link up to 33 GW of electricity, at a cost of about £15 billion. The cost is already substantial, so I would not want my hon. Friend to think that we are other than cautious about this. As a long-term concept it is interesting, but in the short term we must focus on the things that are more at hand: getting offshore wind farms properly connected to the UK, so that we ensure that we get the electricity generated here.
Is the Minister aware that more than 600 wind turbines have either been completed or are planned for sites in the Wash and along the Norfolk coast, and that those could be linked up to a supergrid? Is he aware that those offshore wind farms command widespread public support, in complete contrast to the small clusters of onshore ones, which do a huge amount of damage to the environment and are very unpopular?
It is the case that we will need both onshore and offshore wind power in order to ensure that we reach the level of capacity that we need for renewables—I see some nodding of heads on the Conservative Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman has to appreciate that although those who oppose onshore wind farms are often speaking for some of their constituents, there is a national objective of ensuring that we develop the wind and renewable generation capacity that this country needs. That means that we need to continue to develop both offshore and onshore wind power.
In his discussions with his European colleagues about pan-European energy levels, will my hon. and learned Friend also raise the issue of the UK ceramics industry, which is, and has been for a while, at a disadvantage compared with other European producers because of the energy costs in this country?
I am very happy to raise that matter. I am aware of the concerns, particularly in Staffordshire and the Stoke area, about the problems that those in the ceramics industry have had, particularly in getting access to some energy sources. I am happy to ensure that we continue to raise those issues, as my hon. Friend and some of his colleagues have been doing for some time.