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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 508: debated on Thursday 8 April 2010

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Housing (Energy Efficiency)

1. What recent steps his Department has taken to improve the energy efficiency of housing; and if he will make a statement. (325604)

Since 2002, the carbon emission reduction target has helped fund over 7 million insulation measures. We recently published a household energy management strategy for pay-as-you-save insulation, devolution of powers over energy efficiency to local authorities and new standards of regulation in the social and private rented sector that together will help reduce emissions from households by 29 per cent. by 2020.

Such a Government initiative has been of great benefit to New Addington in Croydon, a significant social housing estate that was excellent for the 1950s in terms of space and good design. What can be done to support the initiative of local people who want the area to become an eco-town? What prospects are there?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing recently announced the first wave of eco-towns and funding under that. We want to do more on this. There is great enthusiasm in local areas for this to happen, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I hope that we can take this forward.

Mr. Greg Barker. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman had indicated that he wanted to come in on this question.

I had not expected to, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for my inattention, as I had been expecting to intervene on Question 2. However, at your direction, I shall intervene on Question 1 because what I want to say is still apposite.

After 13 years of Labour government, we still have the most energy-inefficient homes in Europe and many, many millions more homes require action. Will the Government now embrace our green deal, namely £6,500 of energy-efficiency improvements for every home? Or, given that B&Q, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and leading energy companies have all embraced our approach, is this another issue where Labour is at war with business?

I had expected a music hall atmosphere this morning and the hon. Gentleman did not disappoint. As we can see from the general election campaign, the difference between us and the Conservative party is that we published earlier this month clearly worked-out and costed plans on pay-as-you-save insulation, on regulating private sector landlords to improve energy efficiency and on local authorities. The Conservatives talk about the £6,500, but as with so many other things from them, they have no idea where the money is coming from.

Can I tell companies such as EA Technology and Energetix in the Capenhurst area that the work they are doing on energy-saving measures, load balancing and novel technology solutions will be supported by the next Labour Government? Will my right hon. Friend commit to working with the Science Minister to ensure that the good work of such companies is brought into production in the UK by UK companies by the next Labour Government?

Yes, I can give that assurance. I thank my hon. Friend for his championing of these issues. Over the past 18 months or two years, we have seen an increasing understanding of the reality of the connection between tackling climate change and green jobs in this country. We have seen that with announcements on the offshore wind industry, electric cars and a whole host of other matters. He is right that Government support for private sector business is essential in this area.

Fuel Poverty

2. When he expects figures to be available on the level of fuel poverty in the UK in 2008; and if he will make a statement. (325605)

The 2008 fuel poverty statistics report will be published on 14 October 2010. This will contain the 2008 fuel poverty numbers for England and the UK. Final figures can be produced only after analysis of the detailed housing survey results. However, to address this lag, we published projected levels of fuel poverty for 2008 and 2009 in England in the most recent annual report on fuel poverty statistics.

The Government’s own prediction, which the Minister mentioned, said that one in four homes will now be in fuel poverty. Given that domestic fuel prices have risen 80 per cent. since 2004, is it not time for a public inquiry into the discrepancy between wholesale and retail fuel prices?

The hon. Gentleman, who is my near neighbour in Staffordshire, is right that there were sustained price rises between 2004 and 2008 that have increased fuel poverty. That is a matter of concern to all hon. Members. We are adapting our policies to cope with that, not least, I hope, by obtaining the House’s final approval tonight for the Energy Bill, which will allow us to introduce social price support for the poorest households. What is not necessary is what I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about: referral of the whole energy market to the Competition Commission. This is a time when we need sustained investment in the future of our infrastructure, and that would only delay it.

As my hon. Friend knows, there are over 100 years of coal underground. Should we not look at a strategy for extracting that coal? That would make a major contribution to the eradication of fuel poverty.

I am sure it is right that a diverse energy supply will help us to keep control of energy prices, and clean fossil fuels such as coal will assist in that. That is why we are world leaders with our levy for supporting four commercial demonstration models of carbon capture and storage.

Given the customer confusion caused by more than 4,000 different tariffs, will the Minister congratulate Scottish and Southern Energy on putting its cheapest tariff information on all its energy bills—going beyond the Government’s wish of annual statements—and will he encourage other energy companies to follow suit?

In recent months I have seen good examples of energy companies trying to improve the clarity of their bill—plain English, the way the bills are set out and the information that they give. I applaud the example that the hon. Gentleman gives and encourage other energy companies to do the same. I would like to be returned to Government, in this Department, to do more on this subject after 6 May.

One of the best means of reducing fuel poverty is tough regulation of the energy marketplace. Has the Minister read with the same concern as I had the report by Consumer Focus into the performance of Ofgem in regulating npower’s price-sculpting mechanism and assure me that a future Government will take a more robust approach to the rather flaccid efforts of this regulator?

Again, I hope that later today the House will approve the Energy Bill, which contains measures to strengthen the powers of Ofgem and sharpen its act in terms of being more proactive in its support for consumers. I would love to be back in the next Parliament, taking action to ensure that Ofgem does its job properly.

Housing (Energy Efficiency)

3. What mechanisms he has put in place to increase the level of energy efficiency in rural homes classified as hard-to-treat. (325606)

The carbon emissions reduction target—CERT—obligates energy companies to install a variety of household energy efficiency measures, including those suitable for hard-to-treat homes. CERT is delivered throughout Great Britain including in rural areas.

Additionally, Warm Front fits energy-efficient measures in vulnerable households. Any rural household could be eligible for Warm Front assistance as long as the applicant is the home owner or tenant in the private sector, and is in receipt of a qualifying benefit.

Is the Minister aware that in areas such as Northumberland many of the poorest people live in stone-built properties with no cavity wall, no gas supply, no dual fuel tariff, dependence on bottled gas or solid fuel, and often difficulty in getting access to warm home schemes? Does she recognise that further targeted steps are needed and perhaps an easing of the rules to ensure that some of the people most in fuel poverty in rural areas are helped?

I acknowledge every point that the right hon. Gentleman has made, and we have been working on every aspect of those problems. Ofgem is encouraging connection to the gas grid, where that is possible and economic—with support, of course. In January this year it announced that all four gas networks will be linked in partnerships to enable new connections to be made, and we expect that up to 20,000 new households will be connected to the gas grid under that scheme. In a year’s time we shall have the renewable heat incentive, which will benefit particularly those who wish to switch from liquefied petroleum gas and other expensive fuels. We also have CERT, which is increasingly being incentivised to cope with hard-to-treat homes and solid wall insulation. Over 56,000 homes have already been insulated, so there is some progress.

I once lived in a 17th century stone cottage in a rural area, so I know how difficult it is to take those measures—[Interruption.] Hon. Members seem to be amused by the fact that I lived in a stone cottage. The Government have done such good things in terms of Warm Zone and Warm Front, and the Minister knows of the proud record of Kirklees and Huddersfield. Is it not about time that a useless organisation—the National House-Building Council, which, as every lawyer will tell you, issues certificates that are not worth the paper they are written on—stopped allowing any building that does not conform to a high level of sustainability?

My hon. Friend knows that we have made huge progress in increasing building regulation demands, not only for new build, which will be carbon-neutral by 2016, but for retrofitting of existing homes. There is already a huge Government undertaking on this subject. I shall not comment on the organisation named by my hon. Friend, but I intend to look into it when I return to this job.

Electricity Demand/Capacity

4. What assessment he has made of the balance of generating capacity and likely demand for electricity in the UK in the next 10 years; and if he will make a statement. (325607)

We are confident that we will meet demand for electricity over the next decade. About 18 GW of plant is due to close by 2020, but already 20 GW is either under construction or has planning consent. The most recent analysis in the “Energy Markets Outlook” in December 2009 suggested that the electricity capacity margin remains above 10 per cent. for the whole of the next decade.

I hope that the Secretary of State’s optimism is well founded. Does he understand that when the obituary of this Government is written in a few weeks’ time, one of the most critical passages will relate to the 2003 energy White Paper and those seven fateful words—

“We do not…propose…new nuclear build”—

words that undermined our nation’s nuclear skills base and which cost us vital years in the fight to avoid severe power shortages in the next decade. I genuinely fear that there will be such shortages.

The interesting thing is that three or four years later the Leader of the Opposition was saying that nuclear should remain a last resort. It is this Government who led the debate on nuclear power. I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I have to tell him that we need all forms of low-carbon energy, including renewable power. He brought before the House an exclusion zone proposal on wind farms—a proposal with which I disagree. Let us have low-carbon energy; that is what we are driving towards with planning reform, nuclear power and renewables.

In the past two weeks we have seen the true cost of trying to run the world on cheap coal, with 150 Chinese miners trapped underground in a country where 6,000 miners die every year, and 25 miners killed in West Virginia—employees of a serial violator of mine legislation. Will the Government take on the role of leading the international debate on the ethics of putting miners’ safety before profits?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which I have discussed with him. It is right that we take up these issues through organisations such as the International Labour Organisation and other international bodies and I have said to him that we will do so.

At the end of term, I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and his team for their energy and commitment. Do they realise that they would be wise as well as energetic if they gave up the new deception they now share with the Conservative party that nuclear power is what we need to have a safe, clean and secure energy future? Why is his party, like the Tories, willing to put the health, wealth and personal security of the people of Britain at such great risk in the future?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his question, but I profoundly disagree with the second part of his question. When we look at the scale of the task in terms of low-carbon energy, we have very ambitious targets on renewables—approximately a sixfold increase in renewable energy by 2020—and nuclear must be part of the energy mix. We need to move on all fronts—nuclear, renewables and clean coal—because the scale of the challenge of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent. by 2050 is so enormous that we need every form of low-carbon energy.

Are we looking at the Thames estuary, eastwards of Thurrock, for tidal power generation comparable to the wonderful innovative scheme in operation at Strangford lough in Northern Ireland? Would the Minister care to join me in my retirement at Strangford lough, where I can show him this wonderful technology?

Let me take the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend. The House will sorely miss his character and the passionate way in which he took forward a whole range of issues.

We need tidal power in this country, and it can play an important role. I look forward to joining him after the election—I hope in my current post—with the newly elected Labour Member of Parliament for his constituency, to see what tidal power can do.

Whatever the future holds for us all, we have much enjoyed our exchanges with the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends across the Dispatch Box, but it is not over yet. Eight weeks ago, the energy regulator said:

“In 2017 we get to the really sweaty-palm moment in terms of possible shortages…It is the scale of collapse…that is profound and worrying.”

Is the energy regulator another of those who have been deceived?

Let me start by saying that I have also enjoyed our exchanges. The hon. Gentleman shadowed me when I was the Minister for the Third Sector and since then when I have been Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change. I look forward to him continuing to shadow me in his present post after the general election.

The energy regulator put forward a series of projections based on modelling in the Project Discovery document to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The difference is that what I read out are actual plans that are being taken forward for 20 GW of new power. I am confident about security of supply, but the big question for Britain is whether it should be low-carbon or high-carbon security of supply. That is why it is so important that we move forward on nuclear and indeed renewables, on which the Conservative party has a bad record locally.

Of course, it is not just the regulator. The Government’s own chief scientist told the BBC that there is a worry that in 2016 there might not be enough electricity. In 13 years, we have had 11 Energy Ministers, from the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) to Lord Truscott, eight Secretaries of State in charge of energy from the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown) to Lord Mandelson, five energy White Papers, and more than 100 consultations. Is it despite all that or because of it that the Government officially expect blackouts during the decade ahead?

I feel like I am hearing the hon. Gentleman’s greatest hits this morning, but they are not that great. We are not predicting what he said would happen in 2017, and he knows from the “Energy Markets Outlook” that that is not so. The truth is that we have moved forward in a whole range of areas to provide the power that the country will need in the coming decade, but I return to the point that the big question is whether we take the difficult decisions on, for example, planning. We finally have a planning system in this country that business supports, but the Conservative party says that if it got into government it would overturn it on day one. That will not help the low-carbon transition in this country.

Ministerial Meetings

5. When he next expects to meet local authorities in East Anglia to discuss renewable energy initiatives in that area. (325608)

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I have no plans to meet local authorities in East Anglia at this time, but meetings continue at official level as appropriate.

Have the Government set renewable energy generation targets for counties? Is the Minister aware that Norfolk has many offshore wind turbines both in place and planned for the future? Will that offshore energy be part of the renewable target for coastal shire counties?

What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that the Department has developed and published a methodology to help regional authorities to assess potential renewable and low-carbon energy in their areas. He is on record as having many objections to onshore wind energy, and arguing that offshore wind is preferable. The Government believe that we need both onshore and offshore wind energy. There is no question but that onshore wind is the most proven and most reliable of our renewable technologies, and we cannot set it aside, although we are developing offshore wind energy for which, as he knows, we are the leading country in the world. Offshore wind energy is two or three times more expensive than onshore wind, depending on location, which is why there is no question about it—we must have a mix.

Over a year ago, we called for the setting up of marine renewable energy parks to help make Britain the world leader in development of wave and tidal power. As the tide finally goes out on the Government and we wave them goodbye, does the Minister accept that she could and should have done more to bring together local authorities in East Anglia and other coastal areas to highlight the UK’s huge potential in those crucial technologies, and to ensure that the investment in green jobs that they can bring comes to Britain instead of, again, going to other countries?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Government have made great strides in developing marine technology. In the south-west, we already have a wave hub, to which we have made £60 million available. We have made it clear that, although it is not an immediate technology, which can be deployed at this moment, as wind can—the hon. Gentleman needs to get his party’s position on wind straight—[Interruption.] Yes, objection? There is a 60 per cent. refusal rate. We are working on marine technology, we are giving money, and we are developing the strategy, which will follow on naturally from all the other investment in renewables that the Government are making.

Electricity Demand/Capacity

Peak demand for electricity is expected to be broadly the same in 2025 as now, but we need to replace high-carbon sources of energy generation with low-carbon sources, including renewables and nuclear. To make this happen, we have reformed the planning system and are proposing reform of the electricity market, as set out in the energy market assessment published at the Budget.

Those may be the Secretary of State’s figures, but will he accept that just about every independent expert predicts a growth in demand of approximately 2 per cent. per annum? If one takes the growth in green energy in the past 13 years and projects it forward, it will not even keep up with the growth in demand. Coupled with that, I strongly suspect that his figures do not take into account the increased use of electric cars. Will he not, even at this late hour, admit that he has not planned for enough generating capacity in this country for the years to come?

No, I will not admit that. I do not know whether I am maligning the hon. Gentleman unfairly by saying that he is one of the wind power refuseniks on the Opposition Benches—

If the hon. Gentleman is not, that is very good. He should persuade the other people in his party because we need onshore and offshore wind and all those things to move forward. He is right that we need to up the pace—that is why we are reforming planning, for example. The worst thing that could happen for low-carbon transition in this country is a Government who came in and reversed all those planning reforms and slowed things down again. We need to speed up, and we will under this Government.

Renewable Heat Incentive

The renewable heat incentive is the first of its kind in the world and is on track to be introduced on 1 April 2011.

The Government launched their consultation on the proposed renewable heat incentive on 1 February. In the consultation document, we set out our proposals for the scheme and we are now seeking views from stakeholders. The consultation on the draft proposals closes on 26 April. We will continue to develop our proposals following the feedback and comments that we receive.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and look forward to the introduction of the renewable heat incentive from these Benches and to his announcing the day of implementation.

The consultation document states that an announcement on the funding of the renewable heat incentive will be made in the Budget. The announcement in the Budget was of a further review. Does my hon. Friend anticipate the results of that review arriving fairly shortly, and will he give me an assurance that that will not impact in any way on the date of introducing the renewable heat incentive?

My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on the subject, and I am grateful for his support for the policy. It is true that the Treasury statement at the time of the Budget was modest, but it confirmed that the scheme is still on track to begin on 1 April—I think that is the reassurance that my hon. Friend seeks.

Do the Government have any plans to assist the installation of renewable heat facilities in existing commercial buildings?

The intention is that we will support and encourage the deployment of renewable heat technologies of every scale and in every sector, so, yes, that includes businesses.

Carbon Capture and Storage

8. What progress has been made in the establishment of a carbon capture and storage demonstration plant in South Yorkshire. (325612)

The European Commission and Powerfuels Power Ltd have signed a contract awarding a grant of €180 million from the European energy programme for recovery for the first phase of the Hatfield integrated gasification combined cycle—IGCC—and carbon capture and storage project.

The Government have announced that the Yorkshire and Humber region will be the first low-carbon economic area for CCS with the aim of facilitating investment in CCS and promoting business opportunities in the region.

I thank the Minister for that very positive reply. The development of coal power stations with equipment to provide CCS is essential to the future of this country. Does my hon. Friend agree that, with its rich heritage in heavy engineering and innovation, South Yorkshire is well placed to lead the world in the development of CCS?

As I understand that my hon. Friend is standing down, may I first pay tribute to all the work he has done in the House, particularly on behalf of his communities and in the interests of miners? He is, of course, absolutely right that his area has historically been very dependent on mining industries, and it has a great future as there are so many skills and technology capabilities that can make it a world-leading centre for the very impressive carbon capture and storage technology, which is being pioneered in this country with Government support, and for which, if we pass the Energy Bill this afternoon, there will be a financial support system that will be the very best in the world.

Climate Change Conference (Cancun)

9. What discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on objectives for the UN climate change conference in Cancun. (325613)

I have frequent discussions with my EU counterparts, including with the Spanish presidency this week, and we recently published our post-Copenhagen prospectus, which sets out our strategy for Cancun and beyond. The most important thing the world needs to do is to forge the comprehensive legal framework that eluded us at Copenhagen.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I encourage him in his continuing efforts to secure the binding agreements that will implement the Copenhagen accord. Does he agree that it would be an important show of good faith from the developed world if it was to indicate that it would be willing to extend its commitments under the Kyoto treaty beyond the initial 2012 deadline?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. That was a big point of contention at the Copenhagen talks, and we said in our post-Copenhagen document that we would enter into a second commitment period under Kyoto, provided that there was an acceptable legal framework alongside the Kyoto proposals. That is an important signal to developing countries who are reluctant to enter into a legal treaty and who are worried about the developed world’s commitment to Kyoto.

I presume that the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers will go to the meeting on climate issues in Bonn in the first week of May. If they do go, will they take the message that it is vital that we now have a 30 per cent. European emissions target and not a 20 per cent. target, and that we have a new structure at the United Nations—a climate security council or some such body that can ensure that there is momentum? Further, does he agree that in the election between now and then the British public would be very foolish to vote for any candidates who do not accept the overwhelming nature of the science showing that we have the worst climate crisis that anybody has ever known?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We do want to move to the 30 per cent. target for Europe as part of an ambitious global deal. I also agree with his remarks about the UN, and there is an opportunity to upgrade the UN post in charge of the UN framework convention on climate change. As for the hon. Gentleman’s other point, I was shocked to read in the Financial Times that only a handful of the 206 Conservative candidates who were contacted accepted the unequivocal reality of man-made climate change. That shows the stakes in respect of climate change at this election.

In congratulating my right hon. Friend and the Government on having led the world in combating climate change, may I ask what action he will be seeking in Bonn and Cancun and what action he will be taking in this country to ensure that at least 15 per cent. of all energy comes from renewable sources by 2020?

My right hon. Friend is completely right about these issues, and about the importance of showing that we here at home are moving forward as part of getting the ambitious global deal that we need. That commitment to the 15 per cent. renewable energy target is very important. It is also important that we transmit the learning here to other countries so that they can move forward. This is therefore about UK and European commitment as part of an ambitious global deal.

If we want to lead the world, we need policy, not just targets. Had it not been for Conservative leadership on the environment during this Parliament, Britain would have no feed-in tariffs, no renewable heat incentive, no ban on new unabated coal, no roll-out of smart meters and no Climate Change Act 2008. On every measure, Labour first opposed us and then adopted our policy. So will the Secretary of State say, “Thank you” to the Conservative party for achieving more in Opposition in five years than Labour’s 19 Ministers did in 13 years of dithering in office?

I will not say, “Thank you.” The reality of the Conservative party’s record in this Parliament on climate change is that it began with the stunt with the huskies, initiated by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), and it ends with the Leader of the Opposition saying, “Here are 10 reasons to vote Conservative,” and not one of them is about climate change. We find out that Conservative candidates have not changed; they do not believe in man-made climate change. So the truth is that we have a whole range of stunts but an unchanged Conservative party, on this issue and every other issue at this general election.

Order. I fear that the shadow Secretary of State was seeking to divert the Secretary of State from the path of virtue, which involves focusing on the Government’s policies, as the right hon. Gentleman knows.

The trouble is that the Secretary of State is auditioning for the role of Leader of the Opposition, and we wish him very well in that effort.

The right hon. Gentleman’s most significant achievement is a mastery of the cut-and-paste function on Conservative policy, so will his manifesto match ours in establishing a floor price for carbon, a green deal for every home in the country, an offshore electricity grid, a network of marine energy parks, a security guarantee in the electricity market, a smart meter in homes by 2016 and no third runway at Heathrow? The Energy Networks Association has called that package

“the most comprehensive energy policy ever produced by an opposition.”

The hon. Gentleman has clearly learned nothing during his time as shadow Secretary of State. A list of policies does not make a strategy, and image does not make substance. That is the truth about the Conservative party. Why would the Conservatives put the green transition in this country at risk? For example, they oppose renewables the length and breadth of this country. They oppose the progress that is being made. The difference between the Labour party, and the Labour Government, and the Conservative party is that we have conviction about tackling climate change while it is all about image and detoxifying the brand.

Feeder Tariffs

We are introducing feed-in tariffs to encourage small-scale, low-carbon electricity generation by individuals, communities, businesses and organisations that have not traditionally engaged in the electricity market. The costs and benefits of the feed-in tariff scheme are explained in detail in the impact assessment that was published alongside the Government response to the feed-in tariffs consultation and is available from the Department of Energy and Climate Change website.

It is obviously desirable in principle to encourage people who generate their own electricity to feed the excess into the grid, as long as the costs do not exceed the benefits. Small wonder, then, that the Minister failed to answer the question and tell us that the costs of his new feeder tariffs are put by his experts at £8.6 billion, which is 20 times their assessment of the likely benefits. Given that even George Monbiot thinks that that is barking mad, will the Minister consider a more sensible and economically justifiable system of tariffs?

The cumulative cost to consumers is estimated at £3.1 billion to 2020, and the impact is an average increase of £8.50 annually to domestic bills over the period 2011 to 2030. If the right hon. Gentleman were followed by more people in this country, it would be difficult for the country, its Government and its citizens to tackle climate change effectively, but perhaps some people are following his views, most particularly Conservative candidates.

The introduction of the feed-in tariff will be very welcome to people such as the operators of the Torrs hydropower system in New Mills in my constituency—a community-owned hydropower station, of which I happen to be a shareholder. Is my hon. Friend aware that the big barrier is still the start-up costs of community hydro schemes? The Methodist church in Glossop is considering the possibility of having one on its ground, but what hope can he give those who are looking for help with those start-up costs before they can benefit from the feed-in tariff?

I have seen some of the community enthusiasm for small-scale hydro. For example, I visited a scheme at Tutbury in Staffordshire earlier this year. The feed-in tariff is intended to galvanise such communities by showing that they can make a commercial return on such schemes. I am afraid that I shall have to offer to meet my hon. Friend outside the Chamber to talk to him about possible sources of capital funding for such schemes, but there is interest, for example, from some commercial banks today.

Electricity Demand/Capacity

11. What recent estimate he has made of the level of additional electricity generating capacity that will be required by 2015. (325616)

It is estimated that around 16 GW of existing electricity generating capacity—coal, gas, oil and nuclear—will close by 2015. Some 2.3 GW of new generating capacity was commissioned last year, 10.1 GW is currently under construction, 11.3 GW has both planning permission and permission to connect to the grid, and a further 18.5 GW is in the planning process in England and Wales. This new capacity, as well as energy efficiency measures, means that there will be sufficient capacity in 2015.

I am interested in what the Minister says, because it seems to be at variance with what Ofgem and others say. The Secretary of State talked about the greatest hits of my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I would rather go back to Gold radio station, which I listen to because it plays music from the 1960s and 1970s, and that reminds me of when I sat by candlelight through the power cuts. Does the Minister think that Ofgem and others are wrong when they say that they expect power cuts within the next decade?

There is a difference between facts and projections for the future. I have just given the hon. Gentleman the facts as they are today. Project Discovery was all about stress-testing the system, using scenarios that would put it under stress. What the hon. Gentleman can see from the statistics that I have given him from the Dispatch Box is that there is more than sufficient capacity to 2015.

Can the Minister assure me that the production of aircraft carriers will not be threatened by a lack of generating capacity, given that the manufacture of the aircraft carriers is already threatened by the Opposition?

My hon. Friend’s chutzpah is remarkable, enabling him to get aircraft carriers into a question about capacity. I assure him that all reasonably foreseeable demands on the electricity system are catered for in the answer that I gave.

Renewables

12. What his most recent estimate is of the proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources. (325619)

Provisional 2009 data on electricity generation were published in the March 2010 edition of Energy Trends. This showed that, after excluding an estimate for non-bio degradable waste use, 6.6 per cent. of electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2009. In 1997, the equivalent figure was 2 per cent.

From the answers earlier on renewables, it seems that the Government do not share the pessimism of a number of independent commentators who have said that not enough has been done by way of technology, and particularly by way of developing skills, to achieve the 2020 target. Will the Minister say by how much he estimates we will miss the 2020 target?

I certainly will not, because we will not miss the target for 2020. The hon. Gentleman should watch and learn as all the new renewable capacity, including the immense amounts of offshore wind generation that are already planned in this country, takes effect. On skills, I had the great pleasure last week of launching, on behalf of the Government, a consultation on the subject of skills for a low carbon economy, with the opportunity there to transform the economy of this country and create millions of new jobs in a clean, green and prosperous UK.

Wave Energy

14. What estimate he has made of the potential contribution of off shore wave energy to meeting energy needs in the next 10 years. (325621)

The Carbon Trust has estimated that between 1 and 2 GW of wave and tidal energy could be deployed in UK waters by 2020. This will be followed by large-scale deployment in the period beyond 2020.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his encouraging answer. Taking account of that larger scale deployment, what proportion of our energy needs does he estimate can eventually be produced in that way? Can the aim of reaching that target be accelerated, in order to increase our take from that form of renewable energy?

In the future, as depicted in the low- carbon transition plan last year, our energy will come from a diverse range of sources, including all kinds of renewables, new nuclear power, and clean fossil fuels such as coal and gas with carbon capture and storage. Within that, marine energy has a huge part to play, as was shown in the recent marine energy action plan, which was agreed between my Department and the industry, with the result that the Carbon Trust estimates that there should be about 16,000 jobs directly engaged in wave and tidal stream energy by 2040.

Climate Change

15. What his most recent assessment is of the progress in tackling climate change made since the Copenhagen climate change conference. (325622)

Since Copenhagen, we have seen support for the Copenhagen accord grow. Over 100 countries have now associated with the accord, and more than 70 have listed actions and targets to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. Those countries account for over 80 per cent. of global emissions. The willingness of many countries to take substantial domestic action demonstrates that—with ambition—the international community has the opportunity to come together to tackle dangerous climate change effectively.

A lot of progress has been made. We have seen China submit to the United Nations its proposals on the way in which it aims to reduce its emissions below business as usual and on how it aims to participate in international discussions. Indeed, we have also seen the constructive way in which China is approaching the progress towards Mexico.

Of course, some issues at Copenhagen disappointed us, and some of the actions of China were a disappointment, but I must say that we are delighted with the way in which China has responded to the accord, and look forward very much to working with it in future.

Fuel Poverty

16. When he expects figures to be available on the level of fuel poverty in the UK in 2008; and if he will make a statement. (325624)

I am most grateful, but the particular question to which I should like to draw the Minister’s attention is this: in rural parts of the north of England, where the cost of housing is high, the wages are below average, and the cost of energy is high, what special measures are the current Government proposing in the short time available to them to reduce fuel poverty?

The hon. Lady does better to ask me than Conservative Front Benchers, since their detailed policy document says nothing at all about fuel poverty or any policy to tackle it. In her constituency, more than 1,400 households have been helped with insulation measures by Warm Front. If the House passes the Energy Bill later today, that could help up to 2 million households with their energy bills.

Electricity Generating Capacity

In addition to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) some moments ago, taking into account planned closures of existing power plants and other factors such as the renewables targets, modelling suggests that we might need around 100 GW of total capacity in 2020. In a typical year now, peak consumption will be around 60 GW and total available supply around 80 GW.

I am clearly at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby in my recollections of “Life on Mars”—I remember doing my public exams in the dark. The Minister has expressed confidence in his models, but will he at least recognise that those on the Treasury Bench are almost alone in believing in those models and that there will be sufficient capacity?

I am pleased that Opposition Members have such fond memories of a Conservative Government that brought the country to its knees as they tried to destroy the coal mining industry in this country. However, I have nothing to add to what I said earlier to the hon. Member for Blaby. Those are the facts, and the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) is talking about projections or perhaps his own wishes.

Topical Questions

Over the past 18 months, my Department has set a new plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent. by 2050; published low carbon transition plan sector by sector for our country; produced a comprehensive plan to help households go green; introduced feed-in tariffs; as well as passing through this House a levy for clean coal. We look forward to continuing our work into the next Parliament.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State has realised that his Department feels that climate change does not originate—in any shape or form—in the United Kingdom. I ought to have had a question on the Order Paper, but the Department withdrew it, because it did not want to the Secretary of State to answer it. That question referred to the effect of climate change brought about by the continued urbanisation of our countryside—in particular, I draw attention to a new township of 2,200 in the Mile End area of Colchester. This is the question that the Secretary of State’s officials did not want to answer: what recent discussions has he had with ministerial colleagues on the effect of climate change on the UK’s wildlife and habitat?

I think that perhaps people were being over-protective; if I had known, I would have been happy to answer the question, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to ask it now. He raises the important issue of the impact that climate change can have on our natural environment and biodiversity. Conservative Members complain about wind turbines, but the bigger threat to the countryside is climate change—that is what could have a real impact on our countryside. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman got to ask his question and I agree with the intention behind it.

Humankind is borrowing from the earth’s capital at a rate that threatens the very viability of our planet. Although we do not yet have an agreed currency for the environmental deficit, does the Secretary of State agree that tackling that deficit is as vital as tackling the fiscal deficit? How are we doing in this country in meeting Lord Stern’s recommendation that we should have a carbon constraint on the economy equivalent to 2 per cent. of GDP if costs are not to be even higher in the long run?

Let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is standing down. We did not always agree on every issue, but she pursued the issues that she cared about passionately and with great idealism. She asked about carbon constraint. We are living at the moment as if there were three planets on which to live, rather than one. That sums up our excessive use of carbon in this country. Carbon budgets are an important step forward in constraining what we do, Department by Department and sector by sector.

Order. If I am to accommodate everybody who wants to get in, there will need to be single, short questions and short answers.

T2. The Secretary of State is enthusiastic about wind power and other renewable energy sources. Will he address two concerns? The first is that wind energy can be connected to the grid only by non-environmentally friendly and wasteful overhead power lines. The second is that renewables can be achieved only by heavy subsidies from all energy users. (325630)

My answer is that, yes, there are costs to the low-carbon transition, but the costs of not acting are much greater than the costs of acting. That is the central finding of Lord Stern’s report, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) referred some moments ago.

Will the Secretary of State say a few words about the impact of the proposed level of feed-in tariffs on the development of anaerobic digestion plants such as the proposed Selby renewable energy plant, which is set to power 10,000 homes in the town?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned tirelessly on a whole range of issues in the House. He will be sorely missed. He is right to say that the issue of anaerobic digestion and the feed-in tariff is important. After the consultation on the feed-in tariff, we made some changes to help anaerobic digestion projects. That will help the take-up of what my hon. Friend has talked about.

T4. Does the Secretary of State share my party’s concern that a number of active Conservatives, including parliamentary candidates, do not believe that climate change is happening or believe that if it is happening it cannot be changed by Government policy? What steps will he take over the next few weeks to assist us in challenging that? (325632)

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As I recall, there were only five votes against the Climate Change Bill when it went through the House. If those Conservative candidates are successful, there will be less of a consensus on the issue in the House than we had at that time. That is why we need to maintain the consensus and convince everyone around the country that climate change is real, happening and man made.

There are now more than 250 climate change agreements with the chemical industry. Has my right hon. Friend calculated the impact of next year’s reduction in the subsidy on the climate change levy from 80 to 65 per cent. in respect of the energy-intensive industries?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is standing down. He raises an important issue about energy-intensive industries and protection for them. A number of changes were made and there has been some consultation since then with those industries. We are convinced that we can make that change in a way that gives them proper protection against the things they are concerned about.

T5. Is the Secretary of State aware of the consensus between me and George Monbiot? Mr. Monbiot says that the Government’s introduction of feed-in tariffs will“shift £8.6bn from the poor to the middle classes. It expects a loss on this scheme of £8.2bn, or 95%.”How does the Secretary of State justify that loss and waste? (325633)

I do not consider it to be waste. [Laughter.] I am not sure why that is so funny. There is a cost to making the transition to low carbon. Part of the way in which we need to make it is by individuals having solar panels and wind turbines on their roofs. That is a way of engaging people and local communities. The right hon. Gentleman’s remarks would be better directed at his party’s Front Benchers, who want to make the feed-in tariffs even more generous.

Despite the Tories’ attempts to destroy the coal mining industry, the north-east of England still sits on massive coal reserves. What future does the Minister see for that coal?

My hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in supporting a UK domestic coal industry, and so do the Government. We see that a future for a strong domestic market will come from making a success of carbon capture and storage. That is why we have been prepared in the Energy Bill to make provision for funding to contribute towards four commercial-scale demonstration models of the full carbon capture and storage operation.

T6. May I ask the Secretary of State the question that the Under-Secretary failed to answer? Given the Government’s dithering about nuclear energy and other matters, are we going back to my youth, when I sat working by candlelight under both Labour and Conservative Governments? Will he categorically disagree with Ofgem and others who say that there will be power cuts in the next 10 years because of the Government’s dithering? (325634)

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman; we are not going back to the 1970s, although the Conservative party may be going back to the 1980s. I am confident about security of supply in this country.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, on 1 October 2008, we introduced a modified pneumoconiosis scheme. That allows a miner who was employed by British Coal to claim a compensation payment, either under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 or the 1974 scheme. However, is he aware that a man who has been employed in the private sector since 1994 can claim only under the 1974 scheme? Those payments tend to be lower than those made under the 1979 Act. Will the Secretary of State look at that anomaly and set in place a remedy when he comes back after the election?

That is a very fitting question from my hon. Friend at the end of this Parliament. Hundreds of thousands of families up and down the country have reason to thank him for his extraordinary campaigning on compensation for miners and their families. As with so many other issues that he has raised, I am sure that an important point is involved. We will take up the issue.

T7. Germany has gas storage capacity equivalent to a quarter of its annual average consumption. By comparison, ours is tiny. Why does the Treasury Bench think that we have enough? (325635)

It is called the North sea. Germany does not have its own indigenous supplies of gas and oil, but the North sea continues to provide more than half our gas supplies each year.

Has the former Conservative Government’s privatisation of many energy production facilities in this country made it easier for the Secretary of State to construct a sustainable energy policy?

The competitive market has brought benefits to Britain, but it needs to be properly managed and regulated. The document that we published at the time of the Budget sets out how the energy market needs to be reformed.

T8. When I walk home late at night following late sittings in the House, I often notice birds singing because of the light pollution. Does the Minister think that that is a potential issue, and could any action be taken to deal with that significant distortion to our climate and environment? (325636)

The hon. Gentleman has obviously not had the pleasure that I have had from a nightingale that I find singing in my garden. There can be joys in hearing birdsong in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, he is still awake at that time, like me and many other hon. Members. The demands of energy efficiency mean that the Government look increasingly at whether light levels could be reduced while being consistent with the safety of people, such as the hon. Gentleman and me, who are on their way home.

Can I say to the skilled work force at Urenco that, whatever happens to the future of Urenco, Britain will maintain its pre-eminent position in nuclear fuel enrichment?

My hon. Friend can say that. Urenco plays an important role in this country and is part of our nuclear asset, and we intend to keep it that way.

Will the Secretary of State finally accept that the Government have failed people in rural areas in terms of fuel poverty? In such areas, there is not a choice of suppliers and the use of a car is a necessity, not a luxury.

I think that in my earlier replies on rural homes, I suggested that there was a need to give more attention to rural areas and to make sure that people living there are able to make real savings and reduce their bills. That is clearly going to happen as a result of the types of measures that we are introducing, from extended carbon emissions reduction targets to the increase in CERT and adjustments in the warm homes programme, as part of which air source heat pumps are being trialled.

My final contribution to this House is quite fundamental. The northern half of this planet grew rich from 200 years of exploitation of carbon. Can the Minister assure us that everything is being done to ensure that the southern half of the planet can develop riches of its own without that dependence on carbon?

We will miss my hon. Friend, who raises an important issue. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister held the first meeting of the high-level panel set up under the Copenhagen accord and set out how we can find $100 billion a year by 2020 to help people in the developing world not just with adaptation to climate change but with mitigation. That speaks to the issues of justice that my hon. Friend asked about and has fought for in the House.

As one who remembers questions by candlelight in this House in the year that the Secretary of State was born, may I ask him whether he believes that we are truly honouring our historic debt to our mining communities and giving sufficient emphasis to coal technology?

Let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is also standing down from the House. He will be much missed, and is a respected figure on both sides of the House. He used to try to persuade me when I was Third Sector Minister not to call it the third sector, and he never quite succeeded, but we will miss him.

We should always think about the debts we owe to our mining communities. I represent a mining area. Work has been done on regeneration of our coal field areas and on reopening some pits, including in my constituency, but there is always more to be done on this issue.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker and I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). As a Conservative who in this House has consistently supported the mining industry, may I ask the Secretary of State how much he believes that clean coal technology can contribute to the security of energy supplies in this country? We have so much coal here that I believe that coal can continue to play a major role in energy generation.

The hon. Gentleman will be much missed from this House. He has been a fighter not just for coal but for manufacturing industry in general and he has distinguished himself and is known throughout the country for the work that he has done. He is right to say that clean coal technology is an important part of our future. We are shortly to pass the Energy Bill, which introduces a clean coal levy to fund carbon capture and storage demonstration. That could be a massive industry for the future for Britain and could benefit all our regions. I hope that the House will pass the Bill and that we can get on with the business of making that happen.