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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 11 November 2010

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Feed-in Tariffs

1. What plans he has for the future of feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewables; and if he will make a statement. (23141)

Before answering that question, I should like to offer the apologies of the Secretary of State to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House. He is unable to attend today’s departmental questions, as he is still travelling back from China at the conclusion of the Prime Minister’s highly successful visit. However, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), and I will do our best to field questions from the House. We would both like to welcome the new team to their places on the Opposition Front Bench.

In respect of question 1, as confirmed in last month’s spending review, the coalition is fully committed to feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewables. We want an ambitious roll-out of a range of decentralised domestic and community-scale technologies, and to maximise the scheme’s value for money, particularly in the current fiscal climate.

Specifically, we have said that when we review the scheme in 2012, we will reduce projected costs by 2014-15 by at least £40 million. Only in the event of deployment running ahead of published projections would we bring forward that review. But, to reassure the industry further, we will announce the trigger for such an early review shortly.

Many businesses say that too few people know how feed-in tariffs can help them save money and the planet at the same time. What steps can Ministers take to build feed-in tariffs up to a substantial market scale?

We are very keen to encourage businesses, communities and, of course, home owners to engage in the decentralised energy revolution, and to that end I am very pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we will shortly publish a new online initiative, giving a whole lot of detail to communities and businesses in order to allow them to access financial incentives and to cut through regulation.

Many peripheral areas such as my constituency cannot benefit from feed-in tariffs because they simply have the wrong transmission lines and infrastructure. Can the Minister assure me that, in the future, when there is a universal roll-out of feed-in tariffs, areas such as mine will not be hit by disproportionate costs because the infrastructure is lacking?

Absolutely. I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman thinks that his constituency is behind, and I shall be very happy to look into the specific case in his area. If he would like to write to me with specific issues, I shall ensure that my officials look into them, because we are committed to a national roll-out of this exciting technology.

What discussions is the Department having with financial institutions to ensure not only that access to feed-in tariffs is available to people on low incomes, who cannot borrow money at competitive rates in order to benefit, but that, if it really is a national programme, low-income people will fully benefit from it?

Feed-in tariffs are available to everybody, regardless of income, and there are some innovative market solutions and offers that allow people to access those technologies without needing any up-front capital. However, it is up to the market to bring forward such solutions, and for Government to create the environment in which the market can do so.

The influence of the Secretary of State’s visit to China has already been evidenced this week, as the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced its five-year plan to coincide with the fourth five-year plan of the People’s Republic of China. We are all state planners now.

In respect of small-scale renewables and feed-in tariffs, I note that solar power did not receive a single mention—not a single word—in DECC’s five-year plan, so will the Minister now admit that, on his watch, feed-in tariffs will be withdrawn from photovoltaics? What does he say to the pioneers and early adopters of that technology now that the sun is going down on photovoltaics?

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman should commence his career on the Opposition Front Bench shadowing this Department with a completely false scare story. It is completely untrue. We are absolutely committed to solar PV and to the widest range of domestic and community-scale renewables, but the fact is that we inherited a system that simply failed to anticipate industrial-scale, stand-alone, greenfield solar, and, although we will not act retrospectively, large field-based developments should not be allowed to distort the available funding for roof-based PV, other PV and other types of renewables.

Warm Front Scheme

2. What changes he proposes to make to the Warm Front scheme to ensure that it meets the needs of vulnerable fuel-poor households. (23142)

As announced in the spending review, DECC will fund a smaller, more targeted Warm Front scheme over the next two years as we transition to the full roll-out of the green deal, with its energy company obligation. We will shortly be consulting on the proposed changes to Warm Front to ensure that the eligibility criteria reflect the coalition’s determination to focus on the most vulnerable households.

Warm Front funding is to be reduced from £345 million to £110 million by next year—that is a 68% cut. The Government’s plans to try to bridge the gap are likely to be funded through a levy on consumer bills, but that does not take into account the fact that this perversely hits the fuel poor hardest. What account has the Secretary of State taken of the Government’s own figures, which estimate that although options such as an extension of CERT—the carbon emissions reduction target—might take between 21,000 and 31,000 households out of fuel poverty, the impact via increased fuel bills is that it results in 70,000 to 150,000 households being put into fuel poverty?

The coalition is very mindful of the impact of all levies on domestic fuel bills. That is why, in the comprehensive spending review, we decided, for example, not to go forward with plans to fund RHI—the renewable heat incentive—on the basis of a levy, but to fund it out of general taxation. However, I can assure the hon. Lady that we look overall at the benefits for the fuel poor that will accrue from access to the green deal, feed-in tariffs and social price support, as well as continuing support for Warm Front for the next two years. Taken together, this holistic approach will ensure that we continue to make progress against fuel poverty.

Considering the previous Government’s abject failure to tackle rural fuel poverty, will my hon. Friend tell me what we are going to do differently?

We are looking very carefully to ensure that our proposals for the RHI and social price support particularly take into account the needs of off-grid customers and the fuel poor. The green deal will take particular account of those in hard-to-treat homes, which are often older houses in rural areas.

Age UK estimates that more than 3.5 million older people across the UK live in fuel poverty, and every year more than 30,000 older people die from preventable causes over the winter months—a tragedy that we should do all we can to prevent. I have spoken to Age UK about the Government’s plan to phase out the Warm Front scheme and replace it with the green deal. Warm Front has so far brought 21st-century heating to more than 2 million households. Age UK is concerned that key components of the Warm Front scheme, including boiler replacements, will not be covered under the green deal. As another cold winter takes hold, has the Minister spoken to Age UK about its concerns, and can he guarantee that the green deal will be fair and will not leave millions of elderly people abandoned in their own homes, living in fuel poverty?

I can certainly guarantee, regarding the green deal, that fairness will be at the very heart of this exciting new proposition. In fact, the hon. Lady underestimates the number of fuel poor. Our departmental figures show that there are probably more than 4 million households living in fuel poverty, and that is a direct legacy of the Government whom she supported. Fuel poverty has been rising, year on year, and it did so right the way through the previous Parliament. It is a scandal that despite setting the target for 2016, the trajectory was going the wrong way. We need a game changer; we have to start again. We have to really attack fuel poverty, but we need new ambition, and we are bringing forward radical reforms to ensure that the delivery matches the rhetoric.

Carbon Budgets

3. What assessment he has made of the potential effects of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review on the ability of the Government to meet its carbon budgets; and if he will make a statement. (23143)

According to our initial analysis, we are still very much on track to meet our first three carbon budgets. However, the details of the carbon impacts of the spending review will be subject to change until all Departments have decided how to allocate their new financial budgets.

May I congratulate the Minister on achieving a 21% increase in environmental spending right across the Government under the CSR? Will he use this resource to unlock the private sector, which will have the benefit of reducing carbon dioxide emissions while at the same time helping the economy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That was an excellent settlement for the green agenda and we now have the resources to fund our core mission of moving towards a low-carbon economy. Ultimately, however, it will be the private sector and private capital, taking advantage of the opportunities that those resources afford, that will allow us to achieve that big transformation. All our initiatives and market reforms are aimed at crowding in private sector capital and making the private sector an exciting place to invest for entrepreneurs and investors.

Part of the private sector in my constituency, Stiebel Eltron, has come together with training provider, Scientiam, to open a new green energy training centre in Bromborough. That is the sort of action that could really help carbon budgets. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all involved?

I certainly will. It sounds like an excellent initiative, and the hon. Lady will know that despite the catastrophic deficit that we inherited, early on we made £150 million extra available for skills. She is absolutely right that skills and retraining are vital, and I would be delighted to learn more about that institution. Perhaps one day I might be able to visit.

Given that the Government’s own impact assessment of the feed-in tariffs to which the Minister referred earlier shows that the costs exceed the benefits by a factor of 20, wasting £8 billion of taxpayers’ money, how does that fit in with the comprehensive spending review? Have green policies been exempted from it and become a form of financial self-flagellation?

Not when I last checked.

I am afraid there is a fundamental difference of approach between the coalition and my right hon. colleague. [Hon. Members: “Colleague?”] My right hon. Friend. I beg his pardon. The feed-in tariffs have to be seen as a key element of our policies to drive a decentralised energy revolution. If we decentralise energy production, it will have a large number of knock-on effects. It will engage communities and householders, who will become more responsible in the energy economy and take up opportunities that are currently not available to them in an old, 20th-century style of energy provision.

To realise the carbon budgets, I make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman. He is a reasonable and intelligent man, I will give him that, and, despite the mixed messages, he understands the importance of new nuclear energy to the UK’s carbon reduction strategy. Will he go back to his Treasury colleagues and argue the case again for Sheffield Forgemasters, if only for the carbon reductions, for making the UK a world leader in nuclear build and the export of green jobs and technology, and for the sake of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg)? Just do it.

Really, is he still banging on with the first half-year’s crib sheet? I thought the hon. Gentleman had come with some fresh material.

We are absolutely committed to a thriving nuclear industry, not just for the domestic sector but for export opportunities. Participants in the industry to whom I talk are very confident about the outlook for the British nuclear industry.

Climate Change Financing

4. What discussions he has had on climate change financing in the UN Secretary-General’s high-level advisory group on climate change financing. (23144)

Over the past year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had wide-ranging discussions on potential sources of climate change financing as part of his involvement in the high-level advisory group on climate change financing. The discussions have focused on how developed countries can meet their Copenhagen accord commitment to mobilising $100 billion a year of public and private finance by 2020, to assist poorer countries with the climate challenge.

I thank the Minister for that reply, which I am sure we will be able to explore further in my Westminster Hall debate on Cancun next week. Last week’s report should be welcomed for presenting several innovative sources of climate finance, including a tax on aviation and shipping. When can we expect the Government to set out concrete proposals for taking forward any of those options?

They were of course options for the international community, not just for the UK, and we need to do a lot more work collectively to put the flesh on the bones of detailed and radical proposals so that the UK can consider each of them on their merits. I fear that there is still some time to go before we are in a position to do that, but the UK is very much committed to the process and to doing so sooner rather than later.

The Minister will know that some people are already writing down the prospects of a successful agreement at Cancun and talking about Johannesburg next year as the place at which an agreement might be reached. Will the Minister reassure the House that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that an agreement is reached at Cancun? Will he therefore show Britain’s role in that process by providing information about how we will commit climate finance as soon as possible?

I am glad to say that there is strong cross-party commitment to a legally binding global deal, but I do not think that we are being unduly pessimistic in saying that we do not expect a globally binding deal to be reached at Cancun. That seems to be the expectation of most of the key participants. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the UK is committed to making good progress at Cancun across a range of issues, including finance. We have committed in the CSR to a strong role for fast-start finance, details of which we have already announced.

Fuel Poverty

5. Whether he has assessed the effect of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review on households in fuel poverty. (23145)

The spending review committed significant resources to tackling fuel poverty. Warm Front will continue to install measures for around 160,000 households in the next two years. In addition, we are actively working on the green deal and its new energy company obligation, which will have a particular focus on vulnerable households, for the end of 2012. We have confirmed an increase to cold weather payments at £25 a week. We have also confirmed that, from April 2011, energy suppliers will provide new help with energy bills, particularly for the most vulnerable fuel-poor households, through social price support. I will make a more detailed announcement on SPS shortly.

We are grateful. A blue pencil is needed to some of these initial answers. They are simply too long.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but, with respect, talk is cheap. Can he explain how massively cutting budgets to Warm Front, which does a fantastic job in my constituency, will help to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, as per the previous Government’s target?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, fuel poverty grew year on year on year under the previous Government. It is simply a fact that 4 million households are now in fuel poverty; five years ago, 2 million households were in fuel poverty. If we had carried on with Warm Front business as usual, the fact of the matter is that it would have taken more than 20 years to achieve the 2016 target. We need a fresh approach, we need to bring in private investment and we need to create new markets. Only then, with the ambition that we have in the new coalition, will we really stand a chance of tackling fuel poverty.

Answers really must be shorter from now on. The Minister has been too long, and that is the end of it.

Energy Efficiency

6. How many households he expects to have participated in his Department's energy efficiency programmes by 2015. (23147)

The green deal will create a completely new market mechanism, incorporating an entirely new obligation on energy suppliers. It will drive up energy efficiency on an unprecedented scale, potentially reaching up to 26 million homes. Green deal plus and other initiatives should lead to around 10 million homes being treated by 2015.

That is good news, but as a promoter of the Warms Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he shares my disappointment at the relatively poor take-up of the scheme? What initiatives are the Government taking to ensure that vulnerable people are not cold in their homes this winter?

First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s long record of campaigning on this issue? I assure him that Warm Front remains open. We will be treating tens of thousands of new homes this winter. However, it must be the right long-term approach to look for new ways to crowd in private sector investment.

The Secretary of State has announced his intention significantly to advance the 2020 target for the roll-out of smart meters. The industry, however, is saying that, for each year in advance, there may be trade-offs in efficiency, the interoperability of the kit and the overall functioning of the scheme. Will the Minister ask his officials to investigate that trade-off between efficiency and the acceleration of the scheme, and report back to Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is a new sense of ambition on the roll-out of smart meters because they offer huge potential. He is also right that that is complex. There is a trade-off to be made, and we are alive to that. My hon. Friend the Minister and our officials are working on the matter collaboratively with the industry, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are making good progress.

Offshore Oil Drilling (Safety Regime)

7. Whether he plans to amend the safety regime for offshore oil drilling following the publication of the analysis of the causes of the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico. (23149)

I am delighted to take part in the Greg Barker show, Mr Speaker.

Although DECC regulates environmental aspects of the oil and gas sector, the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for safety. We have taken further steps to strengthen our regulatory regime by doubling the number of environmental inspections, and we are satisfied that the regime is one of the most robust in the world. We have been looking closely at information from the Macondo incident and will continue to do so. When those investigations are complete, we will determine what more, if anything, needs to be done to reinforce our regulatory approach.

My constituents in Kettering would like to know whether an incident such as happened in the gulf of Mexico could happen on the UK continental shelf, and if so, what the Government would be able to do about it.

One of the most immediate actions taken was to ensure that we have capping and containment devices—two containment devices that could deal very quickly with such an emergency are now based in the UK. We are also working with the industry on capping devices that would provide early, permanent solutions.

Will the Minister ensure not only that we will rightly learn any lessons from the inquiries into the gulf of Mexico incident, but that nothing is done to lose the leading-edge safety case regime that has been so well established since the Piper Alpha disaster?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are keen to see international standards and work on that basis. However, that means bringing other countries up to the standard that already operates in the North sea, rather than lowering our standards to other international levels.

What is the Government’s role in the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group, which was set up by the industry in the UK in the light of the disaster in the gulf of Mexico?

OSPRAG is rightly an industry-led initiative. We are working very closely with it, especially on identifying areas where Government involvement in crucial. We are particularly supportive of its work on developing immediate capping devices to ensure that should a disaster occur, it can be dealt with very quickly indeed.

Electricity Market Reform

The Secretary of State announced his plan for a consultation on electricity market reform in the annual energy statement in July. In accordance with the DECC business plan, the consultation will be launched in December.

What reassurance can the Minister give the House that that consultation will end up not like the endless consultations of the previous Government, but with a clarity of purpose on our energy policy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must put a stop to Green Papers, reviews and consultations. We must draw a line in the sand and say, “This is the time to make decisions, this is the structure and this is basis for getting on with it.” We simply must get on with the investment.

Will the Minister consult on the question of capacity payments for energy plant investment and on low and high-carbon markets? Alternatively, does he consider, as is suggested in the coalition document, that simply having a floor price for carbon will be enough to sort the market out for the future?

The hon. Gentleman knows a huge amount about these issues. We are consulting on a floor price for carbon, which we believe is essential, and also on other mechanisms that might be necessary to secure investment in low-carbon technologies. We will consult on capacity payments in terms of back-up generation capacity and on other ways of managing demand, which we think is a more efficient way to deal with that problem.

Renewable Heat Incentive

9. If he will take steps to ensure that the renewable heat incentive does not make UK energy-intensive industries internationally uncompetitive. (23152)

As announced in the spending review, the RHI will now be funded from Government spending and not from a levy on bills, so we do not believe that there will be any negative impact on the competitiveness of UK energy-intensive industries. On the contrary, the RHI will offer a great opportunity for energy-intensive industries to gain financially.

The deal for Sahaviriya Steel Industries, a Thai company, to buy Redcar steelworks is likely to be completed within a few weeks. Will the Minister meet representatives of that company to reassure them about the future carbon and energy policy for their industry?

I know that my hon. Friend is working extremely hard on this issue. I would be delighted to meet him and the potential purchasers to see what we can do to help to secure those important jobs.

Order. I am grateful to the Minister because he has heeded the advice that I have given to him. The exchange that has just taken place between the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) and the Minister is a good illustration of how these matters should be conducted. I feel confident that the Minister will want to build on the great advance he has made in recent minutes, and I hope that the House will also feel that this is beneficial to the way in which we do our business. We can always do better, each and every one of us, and there will be further opportunities.

The House will now stand and observe two minutes’ silence.

The House observed a two-minute silence.

On this subject, will the Minister meet the UK Energy-Intensive Users Group, because its report, published this week and entitled “The Cumulative Impact of Climate Change Policies on UK Energy Intensive Industries”, suggests that without a change of course, electricity prices for the steel industry—which is very important for south Yorkshire—could rise by as much as 141% by 2020? We are all climate-changers and carbon-reducers, but not at the price of eliminating our steel industry.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a serious point and last week I had a very good visit to Stoke and the constituencies of several of his hon. Friends to look at how this problem affects the ceramic industry. I would be happy to talk to him about how we can ensure that we do not unduly undermine the competitiveness of the steel industry.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to the renewable heat incentive. What representations has the Minister had to include deep geothermal energy in the RHI?

There is a lot of interest in geothermal, which is a very exciting technology with much potential. I have had several representations, not least from my hon. Friend, who is a great champion of this new technology. I am working with my officials to see how we can ensure that geothermal is fully exploited in the UK.

Tidal Power (Severn Estuary)

11. What assessment he has made of the effects on local employment levels of his decision not to pursue tidal technologies in the Severn estuary. (23154)

A Severn tidal power scheme could create jobs in Wales and south-west England during construction and operation. However, it could also cause job losses in the Severn estuary’s ports, fishing and aggregate extraction industries. We are talking to interested private sector developers and remain absolutely committed to supporting the growth of a successful UK tidal energy sector.

Is it not extraordinary that the Energy and Climate Change Secretary can go from being anti to pro-nuclear in a matter of days, yet abandon tidal power for Britain? The Severn estuary has the potential to create 5% of our energy needs and create 100,000 jobs. How does that square with the Prime Minister’s promise to put tidal energy at the top of his so-called green agenda?

The right hon. Gentleman put it correctly in his own blog, when he said:

“In an ideal world, we would all like to see the scheme that has the potential to provide the maximum amount of renewable energy and the least environmental impact in other ways”.

But that might not be possible. We have looked at the costs, the environmental consequences, the benefits it would bring, the alternative schemes and the resulting diversion of capital, and we have decided that other tidal mechanisms would be better.

What role did the environmental impact assessment have in the final decision not to proceed, and what lessons can be learned from this process?

It was part of the process, but it was not the whole process. We have also looked very carefully at the costs: the main barrage would cost more than £30 billion. We looked at the amount of subsidy that would require now, and believed that it was not the right way forward.

Offshore Wind Power (Port Infrastructure Funding)

12. What proportion of his Department’s funding for low-carbon technologies is likely to be allocated to port infrastructure for offshore wind industries in the next four years. (23155)

The spending review announcement included about £200 million to support the development of energy technologies, as well as up to £1 billion for carbon capture and storage. We will commit up to £60 million to support offshore wind manufacturing infrastructure at port sites, to meet the needs of offshore wind manufacturers.

I am grateful for that answer, and I am pleased that the Government are following through on this Labour party initiative. The Minister will know that north-east England, including the north bank of the river Tees in my constituency, is well placed to create thousands of jobs through the development of offshore wind farms. Can the Minister assure me that our north-east regional ports will get a share of this investment?

These are some of the best opportunities anywhere in the country. We know there are good opportunities across the country, and they will be particularly focused on assisted areas, which will certainly include parts of the north-east. There is great potential there that we hope will be developed.

Given the developments in this sector generally, will the Minister comment on the £70 million wind energy fund, which has just been unveiled by the First Minister for Scotland, and which the First Minister claims is open for business immediately and will lead to the creation of 28,000 jobs? We all hope he is right. Has the Minister’s Department been involved with the Scottish Government? How does he see this rolling forward?

The First Minister’s announcement was based on his own decision, and we are still waiting for more details about what it will involve. However, when we put together £70 million for Scotland and £60 million for England, we have a significant contribution to the development of this industry in the United Kingdom.

Green Investment Bank

13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the lending practices to be adopted by the proposed green investment bank. (23157)

The Secretary of State and I are in regular and close contact with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and other ministerial colleagues. Following the spending review announcement, the Government aim to complete the design and testing work for the function and form of the GIB by spring 2011.

How does the Minister intend to advise the bank on its functions when investing in essential green industry development? In particular, if we are looking for winners when investing in new innovation, we might miss the opportunity to provide seedcorn investment, which might then be taken up by other countries. It is essential that we look into investment in new technologies and that we do not miss these opportunities.

There are obviously other ways of investing in new technologies, including through the energy strategy board, and the coalition has made an absolute commitment to push forward a range of technologies. The GIB is about crowding in private sector investment into a viable green economy.

Does the Minister agree with me, with the chief executive of Greenpeace, John Sauven, and, for that matter, with Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth, that if the GIB is to be truly successful it must be independent and operate as a proper bank? It must not be seen as a fund or a quango.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is vital that the new institution, which will be the first of its kind in a modern economy, has the maximum capacity to crowd in private sector capital. As a result, it will need to have many of the functions that he lists.

In Scotland, some of the money for lending by the GIB will have been accumulated through the fossil fuel levy. This is money that came from Scottish consumers, and which the Secretary of State’s party promised to release unconditionally to the Scottish Government. Will the Minister press for the immediate release of the money to enable investment in renewable energy now, rather than waiting perhaps years for the setting up of the GIB?

There already is dialogue with the Scottish Government on this important issue. The way in which we administer those funds must ensure that they are used to help to drive forward green growth and green jobs.

It is a shame that the Secretary of State cannot be here today, but I appreciate that his private office let me know in good time. I suspect that, even stuck in an airport in Hong Kong, he must be finding it a challenge not to gloat about the settlement that his Department received from the Treasury. We have heard the Prime Minister talk about the “greenest Government ever” and the Secretary of State talk about a “third industrial revolution”. The Minister today has talked about the private sector playing a key role, and yet, as we have just heard, we have no detail about the green investment bank. Is it just a crowd-pleasing gimmick, designed for the Secretary of State to please his friends in Birmingham next September, or is it going to be something real?

That is a bit rich coming from the party that produced a crowd-pleasing gimmick after we had published our proposals for the green investment bank last year. Unfortunately, absolutely no work was done in the Treasury before May on any such proposal, so we are starting with a clean sheet of paper. As I have said to the hon. Lady, and as the Chancellor has said, we are working hard on an ambitious proposal, and we hope to make our proposals before the spring. This is very real, and it will play a huge role in driving the green economy.

But we still have a distinct lack of detail. We are very aware that “spring” in civil service language can extend for a long period. While the Secretary of State and his team are polishing their green halos—indeed, the Minister is wearing his green tie today—will they tell us whether the green investment bank will have any capital? We are already seeing signs that capital that could have gone into it is going straight to the Treasury. Will the green investment bank be profit making? Will it invest in proven technology or safe bets? The simple question is: when will we know what the green investment bank will be capable of doing and whether it will fuel the private sector investment in green technologies that the Minister has talked about today?

If the hon. Lady had been at the comprehensive spending review, she would know that the Chancellor has already committed £1 billion as a backstop. Indeed, he told the Treasury Select Committee last Thursday that that would be just a backstop and that significant further funds would come from asset sales. I appreciate the hon. Lady’s eagerness to support a Conservative and Lib Dem proposal, but I have to say that we are going to get this right, and we will come forward with a robust proposal by next spring as a matter of urgency.

Feed-in Tariffs

14. What plans he has for the future of feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewables; and if he will make a statement. (23158)

16. What plans he has for feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewables; and if he will make a statement. (23160)

As indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) earlier, I confirmed in last month’s spending review that the coalition is fully committed to feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewables.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Local councils have a crucial role to play, so what will the Government do to encourage them to take advantage of feed-in tariffs—especially small-scale feed-in tariffs—so that they can make money for local services as well as cut carbon emissions?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. One of the first things that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did was to abolish the previous ban on local authorities selling electricity to the grid. That will now help to create a new, exciting market. We are also making more information available to advise local authorities and communities on how they can access financial incentives.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s earlier answer, and I was pleased to hear his remarks about solar power. I met a manufacturer of solar power technology on Monday, and he was concerned not about the finance opportunities but about the lack of educational opportunities, in that some people do not seem to appreciate the benefits of feed-in tariffs. What are the Government doing to increase education?

It is about dissemination of information, for which our new web-based initiative will be an important tool. Obviously, unlike the previous Government, we will not be spending lots of money on pamphlets and advertising. We have to be cautious about that, but we are doing our best to get the message out there, and ensure that communities and local councils have the information they need.

Does the Minister agree that the third sector plays an important part in small-scale renewables and much else that we have been discussing in Question Time today? On this, the six-month anniversary of this Government, does he realise that the third sector is being destroyed because of the uncertainty of funding, and that it will not last much longer in the environmental area?

I have to say that I simply do not share the hon. Gentleman’s gloomy outlook for the third sector. We are engaging with some excellent social enterprises, and we certainly intend to ensure that the third sector is able to play as big a part as possible in both the green deal and the roll-out of renewable technologies at a micro level, in what is a very exciting agenda.

Floor Price (Carbon)

The Chancellor announced in the Budget that the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs would publish proposals in the autumn to reform the climate change levy to provide more certainty and support for the carbon price, and to encourage investment in low-carbon electricity generation. DECC officials have been supporting the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in developing these proposals, which will be published shortly.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and I welcome his Department’s consultation on a floor price for carbon. I hope that that will take the place of the tapestry of tariffs and subsidies that distort the market for clean energy. How will he ensure that the price is set at a level that ensures a level playing field and encourages long-term investment, including in nuclear power?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the most crucial issue in the area. This is one of the most important areas where we will be consulting and taking forward policy in the whole of this Parliament. We have to set it at a level that will stimulate investment, without penalising consumers or reducing the commercial advantage of British companies. That is a priority in our work.

Does the Minister realise that a floor price for carbon that is significantly above the market rate will be seen as a subsidy for the nuclear industry, and how does he justify that?

This is a mechanism to support investment in all low-carbon technologies. We were left with a mountain to climb—£200 billion of new investment—as a result of the failure to secure enough investment in the past. These are part of the crucial measures required to make sure that international investors see the attraction of investing in Britain.

New Nuclear Power Stations

17. What steps he is taking to facilitate the construction of new nuclear power stations without public subsidy. (23161)

I am on a roll now. The coalition agreement makes it clear that nuclear power without subsidy has a role to play in our future energy mix. The Government are committed to removing obstacles to investment in new nuclear. These include designation of a nuclear national policy statement, completion of the required regulatory justification process, completion of a generic design assessment, and putting in place a robust regulatory framework for waste and decommissioning.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Nuclear must be part of a diverse energy mix, but does he agree that it is now too late for new nuclear to come on line before the old capacity shuts down?

My hon. Friend emphasises absolutely the right point. We have a challenge coming in 2016 when one third of our coal plant will close. Another large chunk of coal will go towards the end of the decade, and most of our nuclear plant will close during this decade. Had it not been for the five-year moratorium on nuclear under the previous Government, we would have been five years ahead, and the energy security of this country would have been greatly enhanced.

As was mentioned earlier, it is critical to advance manufacturing that the new generation of power stations goes ahead. Companies such as Forgemasters are looking for certainty. Will the Minister guarantee that the building of new stations will go ahead, even if it proves necessary to provide some public subsidy?

We have said that we want international companies to look at the opportunities in Britain, and we are encouraged that it is increasingly becoming one of the most attractive places in the world for investment in new nuclear. We will remove barriers to investment, but there will not be public subsidy for such work, and companies are not asking for that. We are creating the right framework for investment to take place.

Topical Questions

Since our last departmental questions, we have launched a consultation on the revised draft national policy statement on energy calling for a surge in investment in new energy. We have worked with colleagues in the Treasury to secure a spending review settlement that allows us to deliver on our key policy objectives, and we have published our departmental business plan setting out how we will honour our commitments in the coalition agreement.

In the past few years, bonuses and other allowances paid to the Minister’s Department and its four quangos have totalled more than £30 million. What action is being taken to reduce these spiralling costs?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Targeting payment to specific staff, rather than building it into a general salary, is a more efficient use of public spending. For example, it does not increase long-term costs such as pension entitlement. We are, however, looking closely at such issues. We have already taken measures to tighten controls in areas such as travel, and we have implemented a pay freeze this year and next year for all staff other than those earning less than £21,000. The use of bonuses has been significantly reduced.

Moving from housekeeping to international issues, I note that next week there will be a debate on the Cancun climate change conference, thanks to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames). That debate is very welcome, but until we heard some snippets from the Minister today, it underlined the fact that there has been a deafening silence from the Government in the House about what they want to achieve. We all want a good outcome, and we recognise the challenges, as the Minister said, about legally binding international agreements. Will he tell the House clearly what the Government hope to achieve in the UK, and whether they are planning to make a statement in Government time?

We hope that there will be good progress at Cancun. In contrast to the sentiments expressed earlier, however, I think it is unlikely that we will get a legal agreement. We are certainly one of the most progressive nations, and we are following the example of the previous Government, to whose work on the international climate stage I pay tribute. It is tough but, as the Secretary of State said, there are grounds for optimism that we can make progress on measurement, reporting and verification, on finance architecture and on clarifying the next steps for the United Nations framework convention on climate change to make further progress towards a legally binding agreement. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady and her team to talk this through in more detail.

T2. I represent a constituency in the Pennines, where it already feels significantly colder than it does here in London. May I ask the Minister to explain what he is doing to ensure that we have adequate gas supplies at times of peak demand? (23167)

My hon. Friend raises a critical issue. We have already started to take action. I have licensed the Saltfleetby facility, which will give us a 15% increase in our gas storage, and the Deborah facility, which, if it gets the final investment decision, will double gas storage in this country. We shall also take steps in the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill this autumn to require greater security of supply from the energy companies.

Following this week’s publication of the “World Energy Outlook” by the International Energy Agency, have the Minister and his Department made any assessment to see whether they agree with the view that we are facing a global glut of gas? Has he also analysed the connect, or disconnect, between that fact and the rising gas prices that our householders and businesses in the UK are facing?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who was two of the best of the last batch of Energy Ministers. I had a meeting with the executive director of the International Energy Agency this week to talk about its work and about the energy outlook. We broadly share the analysis that we are moving into a period of widely available and relatively affordable gas, but the danger of that is that it could put off investment in gas development internationally, which could create shortages further down the line.

T3. Over the past couple of years, work has commenced in countries other than the UK on about 60 nuclear power stations, which will provide cheap, economically sustainable energy across the world. Does the Minister agree that this represents an opportunity for our own office for nuclear development, and will his Department support it in its endeavours to secure exports? (23168)

One of the advantages that we have is that, because we do not have a national champion, we have an independent regulator who is robust and understood to be very forceful and effective. We can encourage other countries to look at that as well. The work we are doing across the piece on nuclear decommissioning and development is also critical.

T8. The Minister has acknowledged the importance of private sector investment in the green investment bank. Will he outline to the House what practical steps are being taken to obtain such investment, and does he recognise that the delay in making a detailed statement about the bank’s function and structure is causing uncertainty in the sector, which will frustrate that investment? (23173)

We are not rushing to get this right in a matter of weeks. We are talking at length and in great detail with all the major participants in the City of London, and we have great support—as witnessed by a letter to the Prime Minister from the chairman of the green investment bank commission this week—from the major institutions and investors who know that the important thing is that we get this right. Compared with the speed of the previous Government, we are moving like lightning.

T4. When the previous Government introduced the Climate Change Act 2008, they estimated the costs at £200 billion, which they revised a few months later to £400 billion, or £20,000 per household. What is the latest estimate of fully implementing the Act? Is there any advance on £400 billion? (23169)

These are big figures and it is difficult to get one’s head around them. No new data are available, but I remind my hon. Friend that the cost of not acting is far greater than the cost of prudent early action. Lord Stern estimated that the cost would be between 5% and 10% of GDP. Moreover, this is a huge opportunity for UK plc.

Does the Minister recall that a couple of months ago I raised with him the question of planning applications for the installing of wind turbines close to villages? I asked him if the Department had decided whether the turbines should be 5 km or 2 km away, and I had the impression that he would have a look at it. Has he made his mind up yet?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point on which there is strong feeling on both sides of the House. We do not believe that that sort of distance restriction is appropriate, although we know that a different approach is taken in Scotland. We think it important for local communities to own the decisions, which is why we have a localism agenda. We want such developments to have the active buy-in and support of local communities, and we are determined to deliver that.

T5. Can the Minister assure me that he is working closely with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that their approach to localism in the context of planning does not unreasonably restrict the diversification of farm businesses as they enthusiastically embrace small-scale renewable energy incentives? (23170)

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that there is a great deal of cross-departmental working in the coalition. There are plenty of opportunities for farmers, particularly in the sphere of anaerobic digestion, which we consider to be capable of huge expansion.

As scoping work continues in relation to the green investment bank, can Ministers assure us that the bank will be geared to support projects in Northern Ireland? Can they assure us that the mistake involving the renewable obligation certificates regime will not be repeated, and that worthwhile projects will not be precluded because of their cross-border character when that is what makes the most economic and environmental sense?

The hon. Gentleman makes some very good points. I am pleased to tell him that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), had an excellent meeting with members of the Northern Irish Government yesterday. We are determined that the whole United Kingdom should be able to share the benefits and the investment involved in the transition to a green, low-carbon economy.

T7. Smart meters have a great potential to benefit both consumers and the national interest in reducing our carbon emissions. What discussions are the Government having with industry and regulators to ensure that the vital spectrum is still available to ensure that the roll-out of smart metering extends to the whole United Kingdom, including difficult-to-reach rural areas? (23172)

My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important point. A number of communication technologies may be appropriate in the context of smart metering. In July my Department, together with Ofgem, published proposals for the establishment of a national smart meter communications organisation. Ofcom is also directly involved, and we are working closely with it to deliver exactly the sort of solution that my hon. Friend wants.

As Ministers are no doubt aware, the Sustainable Livestock Bill will be before the House tomorrow. I appreciate that it is led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the domestic level, but what is the Minister doing to ensure that the issue is on the agenda at the international climate change talks?

It is a DEFRA issue, and obviously we will be asking our DEFRA colleagues how they think we, when representing the United Kingdom at Cancun, can best present the wider green agenda. However, I will talk to my colleagues in DEFRA, and if the hon. Lady wishes to make particular representations to me, I shall be glad to receive them.

Absolutely. Recovering energy from waste can play a very important part in tackling climate change, improving energy security and creating green jobs. However, given the waste hierarchy, before we use waste for energy we must reduce it, and recover it in ways that have less damaging environmental impacts.

In a number of his earlier, longer answers, the Minister referred to the green deal and the holistic approach that is to be taken. May I ask what discussion he or his officials have had, or plan to have, with the Scottish Executive about how the regimes in Scotland will marry with the green deal?

My officials have had such meetings, and I hope to have meetings myself as we develop the detail of the green deal. It is important that such opportunities are available throughout the country.

What can Ministers say to reassure the House that Government policy will result in the building up of UK industries in renewables and energy efficiency rather than simply our sucking in imports?

That is where skills come in. It is vital that we have the skills, and investment is therefore also vital. That is why the Government are investing in skills, science and innovation and the green investment bank. All three of them received substantial funding in the comprehensive spending review, and they are a key part of the mix. It is vital that we secure green jobs here in the UK and that we build up the supply chain not only for the green economy, but to help rebalance the UK’s manufacturing industry

Given that Longannet power station is now the only bidder left in the carbon capture competition, will the Minister move quickly to make a decision on that, and will he come to my constituency and see the work first hand?

I should be delighted to come to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. This is potentially one of the most important projects in the country, and I am delighted that the spending review was able to give £1 billion to taking forward carbon capture. That is the greatest single contribution any Government anywhere in the world has made to a single plant, and I very much hope we can make the Longannet project work. I should be very pleased to visit it with the hon. Gentleman.

This country has a liberalised energy market, but the previous Administration failed to persuade some of our European Union colleagues to liberalise their energy markets. What progress is this Government making?

Progress is indeed being made, such as in unbundling and separating the vertical integration of some of the larger European countries. They are also making particular progress in energy security, in terms of the development of gas and electricity connections. That will play a very useful role by greatly enhancing our security in times of international stress and pressure.

In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), the Minister acknowledged the huge potential of Teesside and the north-east in the manufacture of renewable energy. That requires Government support, yet business support is being cut, particularly in the regions. Given the enormous potential of Hartlepool, Teesside and the north-east, what can the Minister do to make sure we realise that potential?

It is a tradition of these exchanges that I discuss when I will visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I shall do so before the next exchange. I will be there in early December, so that I can better understand the massive contribution businesses in his constituency and thereabouts can make in respect of our energy security and the development of low-carbon technologies in this country.

The Government’s current target is for 15% of energy to be produced from renewable sources by 2020. If the measures we are taking to encourage renewables prove successful, will the Government consider being more ambitious and revise that target upwards?

We have asked the Committee on Climate Change to look at whether that level of ambition should be raised. We are also examining whether we can do more through international co-operation: have some areas of renewable energy been locked out because they cannot be used for other countries’ domestic markets, so can we go further by looking at a “whole islands” approach around the British isles to maximise the resources that are available?

Will the Minister update the House on the progress, or otherwise, being made in the development of the carbon capture and storage projects involving clean coal technology here in the UK?

As I have said, the spending review settlement allocated £1 billion to project 1. We will then take forward three further projects, and we have now announced that that could be open to gas as well. We are looking at three further projects because we believe Britain should be leading the world in this technology, and we are absolutely determined that it will.

The generation tariff payment is not the consideration of any supplier and is therefore outside the scope of VAT. If a commercial company wishes to assign its income to a third party in exchange for the supply and installation of solar panels, will the funder of the panels be able to claim back the input VAT?

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not quite catching all of his question, but I think it relates to solar panels and VAT. I should be very happy to look at the issue, and if he writes to me, I will examine it in detail.