Skip to main content

Clean Coal Technology

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

2. What assessment he has made of the future use of clean coal technology in England; and if he will make a statement. (270299)

Coal has a vital role in our energy mix, particularly in ensuring that we maintain our energy security. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday outlined plans for a financial incentive to support up to four commercial-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. A new framework for the development of clean coal will be announced very shortly.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does that mean that the coal industry in this country has a clear long-term role in energy generation in the UK, and is that not marvellous news for coal mining and for UK industry on this, the 25th anniversary of the miners’ strike?

I hope that our announcement will indeed secure a long-term future for coal in this country. Today coal generates around a third of the electricity that we use annually, and in peak times particularly, such as when it was snowing in February, that can go up to 50 or 60 per cent. However, coal emits carbon and that is why carbon capture and storage is important. The CCS announcement is good news. A commercially viable CCS power station could secure the future of miners such as those at Daw Mill in my constituency for decades to come. There are still about 5,000 miners and 800 companies supplying the industry, many of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, so our announcement is, I hope, good news indeed.

The Minister will be aware that under BETTA—the British electricity trading and transmission arrangements—clean coal generation in England may well have to be balanced by generation in Scotland. However, the new system being promoted by Ofgem and the National Grid Company for balancing charges may lead to huge new costs for Scottish generators and could undermine investment in clean coal. Will he look into that and ensure that no such charges are introduced?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that no such charges will be introduced. However, I am very happy to meet him and discuss some of those issues, which are enormously important. We meet regularly with Ofgem and we want to ensure that discussions about such issues are conducted appropriately.

Will one of the four clean coal pilot schemes to which my hon. and learned Friend referred be at Tilbury in Essex? If so, what sort of generation of jobs and skills, as well as energy savings, can my constituents expect?

I am afraid that I cannot indicate at this stage where each of the projects will be, but bids can be put in. My hon. Friend is a great advocate for his area and has been throughout his service in the House. I cannot indicate where the sites will be, but we will consider the projects in due course. We hope that we will be able to get a project in place and producing with carbon capture and storage between 2014 and 2016.

Many of us who have long supported carbon capture and storage as the best option for an interim technology to get us through to a more renewable energy supply system will welcome the announcement. However, we have also long been worried about the Government’s dithering on the issue, which we suspect might have something to do with the fact that the closest rival of carbon capture and storage is nuclear. Will the Government now apologise to all those environmental campaigners who have been treated almost as if they were a terrorist threat over the past couple of years for putting forward a proposition that the Government now appear to be on the brink of accepting?

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means by various environmental campaigners, because people in the green movement have all sorts of views on the issue. There are some in the green movement who have been strong advocates of carbon capture and storage and there are others who have said that under no circumstances can we have coal power generation in this country. As with other groups of people, there are differences. However, we need electricity generation for the future in which we ensure a base load of nuclear and a clear component of renewables. The problem of intermittency needs to be addressed and that can be done by having the flexibility that gas and coal-powered generation with carbon capture and storage can provide.

Given the prerequisite of carbon capture technology, I would welcome an expanded role for coal in power generation. The last Leicestershire miners work in the Daw Mill colliery in the Minister’s constituency and the coal is burnt at Ratcliffe power station just yards from the constituency boundary. Does he agree that there is a risk that an expanded role for coal will encourage UK Coal in its expansion of open-cast coal extraction, which is absolutely unacceptable almost wherever we find it? UK Coal’s vultures will be flying over the residual shallow seams left by the closure of deep mines and we cannot countenance that as the price of an expanded role for coal.

As my hon. Friend knows, the issues that surround planning and open-cast are matters for the Department for Communities and Local Government, but we want to ensure the future of miners—as he said, some of his constituents have worked at the colliery in my constituency at Daw Mill—and that deep mines have a long-term sustainable future. That depends on ensuring that we have CCS. As for open-cast, the Government and minerals planning guidance 3 have a presumption against it.

The news that the Government have effectively abandoned their previously slow, embarrassingly unambitious and unfunded CCS competition and moved towards the vision for CCS that was articulated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) last year is welcome, but there is still huge scepticism that this is just another Labour smokescreen of spin and rhetoric. We are to have a statement shortly on CCS, but can the Minister answer one fundamental question? Can he guarantee that not a single new coal-fired power station will be built without CCS being up and running from day one? Or is this just another Labour “Sometime never; well into the future; not on my watch” strategy to get the Government through a difficult political period?

We can see that the Conservative party’s attitude towards the coal industry during the 1980s and early ’90s, when the Conservative Government closed the pits, remains in place. The vehemence with which the hon. Gentleman put his points demonstrates how miners in this country have faced the Conservative party’s opposition to their even being employed.

We will be making a statement within the hour—or very shortly; it depends on the first statement, so perhaps in two hours—in which we will set out in detail how we will be taking CCS forward. The hon. Gentleman’s claim that the Leader of the Opposition has been in some way an advocate for the coal industry is laughable. Ensuring that we have a low-carbon economy, with coal as a part of that, and that we generate electricity from coal using CCS, is a key component of our policy.