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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 7 July 2011

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Renewable Energy Infrastructure

1. What recent assessment he has made of the incentives available for investment in renewable energy infrastructure. (64264)

3. What recent assessment he has made of the incentives available for investment in renewable energy infrastructure. (64266)

The current financial mechanisms to incentivise renewable electricity are the renewables obligation and the feed-in tariff scheme. We are currently undertaking reviews of the RO banding and the FIT scheme, and the renewable heat incentive is due to go ahead this year. The Government have also set aside up to £60 million of direct support for the development of offshore wind manufacturing at port sites in English assisted areas.

There are some fantastic community-led renewable projects in my constituency, including Oncore—Oxford North Community Renewables—which is a project to build solar panels on Cherwell school in north Oxford. However, despite the fact that we all recognise that such projects are vital to our efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, they often struggle to raise sustainable funds. Will the Secretary of State tell me how he expects projects such as the green investment bank to help support community renewables projects such as these?

Access to finance is clearly a major issue for projects such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and the green investment bank will certainly play a role eventually. Our FIT scheme reforms have focused on ensuring that money goes to community schemes rather than City speculators. The banks are increasingly taking a favourable attitude to this matter and finance is increasingly available from the high street banks. I am pleased therefore to confirm that yesterday the Treasury opened a consultation on the provision of other finance and on ensuring that enterprise investment schemes and venture capital trusts investing in FIT schemes through community-interest companies, co-operative societies and community benefit societies continue to qualify for improved support, as will those generating electricity from micro-hydro schemes. I hope that this change will focus investment on schemes that benefit local communities.

I have written previously to the Secretary of State on behalf of Evance, a manufacturer of small wind turbines in my constituency. One of the main issues it has raised has been the need for clear guidance for planners on how to deal with small wind systems. Will he tell me what discussions he and his ministerial colleagues have had with the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue? In particular, would any guidance include specification of acceptable noise levels for these small—less than 50 kW—wind systems?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. It is a matter for DCLG, as she implied, although I have discussed it with that Department, and I expect an announcement shortly that I hope will indicate that some progress has been made.

Will the Secretary of State tell us precisely what percentage of the respondents to the recent FIT consultation supported the Government’s view? What assessment has he made of the impact of the review on manufacturers such as Kingspan in Hollywell in my constituency and Sharp in Wrexham, which he visited and lauded but has now pulled the rug from under?

I respect the right hon. Gentleman for standing up for his constituency—I would expect nothing less—but the responses to the FIT consultation were not as binary as he suggests. People did not give yes or no answers. We had to take a decision on the FIT programme for a simple reason, which was that, unfortunately, the planning that went into the announcement assumed that there would be no large-scale solar projects for three years. If the right hon. Gentleman, who was a Minister in the previous Government—as I well remember—is prepared to take responsibility for those assumptions, I would be very pleased, but sadly I am not. We have had to amend those assumptions and ensure that we have an affordable scheme that can provide steady growth—

Underground heat pumps and solar panels will become a fact of life for us all in the not-so-distant future. What are the Government doing to help areas such as mine—former coalfield areas—to play a part in manufacturing these things so that once again we can power Britain and the world?

We have seen enormous growth in low-carbon goods and services. In fact, the sector now employs 910,000 people across the UK economy so it is no longer a cottage industry—it is serious stuff. In relation to the green deal, particularly some of the kit being manufactured for it, we are in discussions with manufacturers to try to ensure that they are thinking about the scale on which the green deal will operate, because obviously if the market is relatively small, there will not be the economies of scale that can get prices down and the opportunities up. I am determined—

My right hon. Friend mentioned the review of the renewables obligation certificates. He will be aware of the great opportunity presented by the wave hub project located off the north coast of my constituency. In respect of the review, however, what reassurances can he give me and the House that there will be an even playing field north and south of the Scottish border?

The devolved Administration—the Scottish Government—have the ability to vary ROC support somewhat, which they do in the case of advanced marine renewables. We are determined on both sides of the border to see progress on those technologies, because they have enormous potential in the years to come, and I am sure that there is enough to satisfy those both south and north of the border.

Government Carbon Emissions

The Prime Minister announced on 14 May 2010 that this would be the greenest Government ever and that central Government would lead by example, by reducing their emissions by 10% within 12 months. I am pleased to announce that the Government have achieved that target, reducing emissions by 13.8%— I think I am entitled to round that up to 14%—using weather-corrected data. Never before have central Government achieved such a reduction in such a short space of time.

As the Government have done so well and surpassed their 10% target, may I encourage the Secretary of State to be ambitious when setting central Government’s next carbon reduction goals? Will he work with business and the rest of the public sector to ensure that they achieve the same scale of reductions?

I am very pleased to confirm that the Prime Minister has announced a new five-year carbon reduction target of 25%, to ensure that we continue to drive down carbon and energy use in the Government. By focusing attention on the issue among decision makers, we can help to move the whole country along. We need to practise what we preach, and we will.

Can the Secretary of State please tell the House what the exact level of carbon emissions from the parliamentary estate was previously, so that we can be absolutely clear what it is now, after the 13.8% reduction, or have the figures been estimated and banded?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be shocked if I attempted to take responsibility for the parliamentary estate, which is clearly up to the House of Commons. This issue is strictly about central Government, not the parliamentary estate, but I would urge Mr Speaker, using all his great influence, to ensure that the parliamentary estate is performing just as well as central Government.

I warmly congratulate the Government on more than achieving their target, which stands in stark contrast with previous Governments. None the less, at a glance around the governmental estate—and the parliamentary estate, too—we see lights burning all night long, with no use of energy-efficient lighting. We also see the ambient temperature of Ministry of Defence buildings, such as the one in my constituency near Corsham, at 25°, which means that civil servants have to sit with their jackets off, because otherwise it would be too warm. Surely we should get our lights off at night and get the temperature down, so that people feel cold in the office and put sweaters on.

I hesitate to say this, but I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We have set an ambitious target and there is more work to do. Whether that means getting people to put on woolly jumpers or getting them to turn the lights off, we will do it, and we shall continue our efforts.

Employment and Skills (Energy Sector)

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on skills and employment in the energy sector. (64267)

13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on developing skills in the low-carbon sector. (64277)

My Department works closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to promote skills and employment in the energy sector. The Budget announced £180 million of funding for 50,000 additional adult apprenticeships, and we announced in March that at least 100,000 green deal apprentices could receive Government funding towards their training. There are many opportunities, with the new build nuclear programme alone expected to create 30,000 high-skilled new jobs nationally.

What steps are the Government and the Minister’s Department taking to ensure that jobs in the energy industry supply chain are developed in this country and not abroad?

I was very pleased indeed to have the chance to meet the hon. Gentleman, his local authorities and other Members of Parliament from Humberside to talk about the immense potential in those areas for developing the supply chain for the offshore wind sector. That is why we have put in place a £60 million programme to attract manufacturing investment to those sites, and it is encouraging to see the number of manufacturers looking to the United Kingdom.

The Minister may be aware of my interest in apprenticeships. I welcome the increased number of apprenticeships, although I am concerned that it does not go far enough. What reassurances can he provide that there is a joined-up approach across Departments to ensure that apprenticeship places are created in low-carbon areas of our economy and regions such as the north-east which have real growth potential?

I hope the hon. Lady will be aware of the document “Skills for Sustainable Growth”, which was produced last year. It addresses these matters so as to ensure that we can address apprenticeships issues in a more flexible and responsive way, enabling us to react to demand as it evolves in the system. We very much want this to happen in areas such as the north-east, and the local enterprise partnerships and local authorities will have an important role to play in ensuring that we take a joined-up approach to this.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating a company in my constituency, Trade Skills 4U, which has taken on hundreds of apprentices? In particular, it has retrained former members of the armed forces to give them skills relating to solar energy and heating. Does he also share my perplexity at Labour voting in Committee against the fourth carbon budget?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I absolutely welcome the work that is going on to retrain people who have one skill set that might be relevant to the low-carbon economy. We see the potential in the green deal for 100,000 jobs in that area by 2015, and perhaps 250,000 jobs in the longer term. The situation on the fourth carbon budget was even more extraordinary than my hon. Friend suggests, in that Labour Members voted three ways: some voted yes, some voted no, and others abstained.

Given that some 70% of the UK’s nuclear work force are due to retire by 2025, at the same time as we are planning to build some 16 GW of new nuclear capacity, what action is my hon. Friend taking to plug the nuclear skills gap?

We are working closely with other Government Departments, specifically the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the National Skills Academy for Nuclear has offered 1,200 apprenticeships in the nuclear sector in the past year, along with 22 foundation degrees and 2,500 short-term courses in the nuclear sector. This is an area in which industry is rising up to the challenge, and our universities and further education colleges are all working together very constructively.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), we were absolutely delighted, during the Energy Bill’s Committee stage, when the Government did not reject Labour’s amendment to establish a green deal apprenticeship scheme as part of the green deal. That kind of scheme will aid employers in the energy and low-carbon sectors who have a shortage of skills in their work force, but most importantly, green deal apprenticeships will give young people a route into a long-term career. However, the Minister has since indicated that the Government might seek to change these proposals on Report. Will he now guarantee that he will keep Labour’s green deal apprenticeship scheme and not water it down or remove it from the Bill?

We always seek to bring absolute delight to the hon. Lady. We were delighted to find among the batch of amendments that she tabled one that we could endorse and support, although we are looking at the nature of that proposal to see whether it delivers exactly what we want and whether we could improve it still further.

Carbon Emissions (2020)

5. What representations he has received on his objectives for the reduction of carbon emissions by 2020; and if he will make a statement. (64268)

The Government have committed to reduce UK emissions by 34% by 2020. The Committee on Climate Change confirmed on 30 June that we are on track to meeting this target. Internationally, the Government remain committed to moving to a 30% EU target. I have had numerous discussions with my EU colleagues and a wide variety of stakeholders in recent months on the importance of the EU low-carbon transition, including a move to 30%.

Given the agreement, and the ambition of the targets, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give the House today that businesses will be able to meet those targets without incurring ever higher energy bills or having to pass on the costs to their consumers, who might not be able to afford them?

We are working hard with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on a package to help energy-intensive industries to ensure that, for example, when we build much of the important energy infrastructure that we are going to be building over the next 10 years, the demand for steel and aluminium stays in the United Kingdom. That is a crucial part of what we are doing. My hon. Friend should not forget that we are also seeking an enormous increase in demand for British manufacturing as a result of the need to replace our energy infrastructure, and that investment levels will be running at double the normal level. That will give an enormous shot in the arm to manufacturing.

The Government are facing both ways on this issue. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether the Tory MEPs who last week voted against an increase to 30% in the EU commitment to reducing emissions by 2020 are part of the “greenest Government ever”?

Perhaps it is now the policy of Labour Members to incorporate Members of the European Parliament into this Chamber, but until that happens—

I got in here separately on the basis of an election. Let me point out to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that when I left the European Parliament to come here, I remember keeping a league table on the three main parties in this Chamber whose MEPs agreed with the policy at Westminster, and I am not at all sure that my Conservative colleagues would be the most embarrassed by it. On a number of occasions, then and now, Labour MEPs do not necessarily take the same line as Labour Members in Westminster.

Energy Supply (Decarbonisation)

6. What estimate he has made of the number of jobs which could be created as a result of his plans for decarbonisation of energy supply. (64269)

The Government have not estimated the impact of the decarbonisation of energy on employment levels, but we have substantial opportunities—for example, offshore wind has the potential to employ a further 70,000 workers by 2020, bringing benefits to the UK of £6 billion to £8 billion a year. About 16 GW of new build nuclear could create up to 30,000 new jobs and equates to investment of around £50 billion, with the construction of each reactor delivering investment equivalent to that for the 2012 Olympics. We should not forget either the impact of the green deal in the current Energy Bill, which is forecast to increase the number of jobs in the insulation sector from 27,000 to 100,000 by 2015. This is a jobs-rich, green-growth programme.

While I welcome the potential for new jobs in the green economy, does the Secretary of State agree that we need to strike a balance between generating new jobs and protecting jobs in the existing manufacturing sector, especially in the black country, part of which I represent, which has manufacturing businesses with high-energy intensiveness—Somers Forge being one particular example? Does he agree that we need to strike a balance so that we do not undermine the competitiveness of our manufacturing industry?

I absolutely assure my hon. Friend on that. As I mentioned previously, we have a working group with BIS looking exactly at what help is necessary for the energy-intensive industries. It is also worth pointing out that, particularly when we are emerging from such a deep recession, it is jobs in new industries, rather than merely the recovery of the old industries, that tend to drive the overall recovery. That was the story of the 1930s: we did not regain our prosperity by reversing the declines that had happened in the old industries that had caused the recession; we built entirely new industries. The low-carbon goods and services industry offers us enormous potential in that respect.

To consolidate and maximise the benefits of the low-carbon economy, does the Secretary of State agree that rather than having a broad concept of enterprise zones, we actually need to create energy zones so that we can maximise the skills base in those areas and transfer the skills from existing downgraded industries into the energy sector?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that industries that share a skills base and a knowledge base often tend to cluster. As I understand it, however, that is not the enterprise zone concept. It is certainly the case that, through the ports infrastructure improvement programme, for example, we are encouraging the clustering of some of the new technologies in offshore wind and elsewhere.

Community Energy Projects

7. What steps he is taking to promote community energy projects in co-operation with public sector organisations. (64271)

The coalition agreement includes a strong commitment to encourage community ownership of renewable energy projects. We have taken a range of steps to deliver on this commitment. These include removing barriers to the development of community energy projects, setting up a website to provide practical support to communities and working directly with local government to promote best practice.

In my constituency, Warwick hospital and Community Energy Warwickshire, a local social enterprise, have teamed up to put solar panels on the hospital’s buildings. Given the amount of property owned by the public sector, does my hon. Friend not agree that we should do everything we can to encourage this kind of partnership? Will he meet members of Community Energy Warwickshire and Warwick hospital to see how we can replicate this kind of project across the country?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and his constituents. This is exactly the kind of project delivered through exactly the kind of partnership that we need to see more of. The coalition is working on a programme including a range of measures to ensure that we drive this forward. I look forward to explaining those in detail to my hon. Friend when I meet him and his constituents.

How can community energy projects be advanced if the Minister’s Department is collaborating with the nuclear industry to lie about the true effects of Fukushima, as described in leaked e-mails published by The Guardian? Is it true that an official in his Department wrote to EDF and the other companies saying, “We must get in, and we must make sure that the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not fill the space with the truth”?

I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I have absolute trust in my Department, and the suggestion that there has been some Fukushima cover-up is absurd nonsense.

Far from being a champion of community energy projects, the Government seem to be intent on punishing them. In June the Minister cut feed-in tariff funding for schemes generating more than 50 kW. The Secretary of State said a moment ago that he wanted to make feed-in tariffs affordable, but cutting them for medium-scale school, hospital and community projects makes them unviable.

The Minister is aware that we disagree fundamentally with his decision, and our view is shared by the solar industry. Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, has said that the move would cripple the UK’s fledgling solar panel industry, adding:

“Crushing solar makes zero economic sense for UK plc because it will lose us major manufacturing opportunities, jobs and global competitiveness.”

This is yet another example of Government policy damaging our economy and cutting support for industry, rather than generating jobs and growth. Will the Minister admit that he got it wrong, and that he should think again?

The people who got it wrong were the people in the Labour party who were in government and created this programme. They know full well that the model was fundamentally not fit for purpose. The hon. Lady and her Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), decline to name a figure, but how much more money would they pump into a scheme that would be paid for from people’s bills?

If we had left the scheme unreformed, more than £3 billion would have been added to the cost in the form of high subsidies. We are committed to rolling out solar energy, which is a dynamic technology of the future, but we must do it responsibly. We cannot do it by providing the open-cheque subsidies that would be encouraged by the irresponsible attitude of Opposition Front-Benchers.

Electricity Market Reform

8. What recent assessment he has made of the potential contribution of demand-side measures to electricity market reform. (64272)

Demand-side measures have huge potential to help us to reduce emissions and cut costs. The coalition’s green deal will be the most ambitious demand-side programme since the second world war, but we must go even further. Our proposals for energy market reform will drive radical new ways of reducing demand on an industrial scale, and will allow demand reduction measures to compete on an equal footing with new generation for the first time.

I am hugely encouraged by the Minister’s answer. Will he bring forward detailed proposals on how energy efficiency will be supported by the EMR? Knowing, as he does, the importance of EMR and of public finance, emissions reductions and energy security, will he commit himself to pressing for the maximum possible ambition?

I can assure my hon. Friend, who is an expert on these matters, that there will be the maximum possible ambition in the EMR documents that we will publish next week, but there is much more work to be done. We will need to consult the industry. Demand reduction is not like alternative forms of energy generation. We are creating a new model, and different types of indices and accounting will be necessary. We will need a robust system of measurement as well as the market mechanism. I have absolutely no doubt that we can crack it, and I can assure my hon. Friend of our ambition and determination to do so.

Last week I received my gas bill, which showed that my consumption had been 25% lower than it had been during the same period last year. At the same time, however, the direct debit payments requested by the company were rising substantially. How confident is the Minister that demand-led measures will help hard-pressed consumers?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his heroic efforts to reduce consumption. He is right: the best way of ensuring less exposure to rising gas prices, oil prices and fossil fuel prices generally is to reduce consumption. The green deal—the most ambitious roll-out of home energy efficiency since the second world war—will be a massive bonus for all our homes, and we hope to have applied it to 26 million homes by 2030.

Energy Saving Trust

9. What assessment he has made of the performance of the Energy Saving Trust; and if he will make a statement. (64273)

The Energy Saving Trust has helped to deliver substantial carbon savings and has assisted in Government energy efficiency objectives. However, the step change in ambition that will come with the roll-out of the green deal will include the Government ending dependence on just one monopoly provider and opening up the market for advice and best practice to dynamic competition.

I agree that the Energy Saving Trust has done great work. It has been publicly funded and it has provided a lot of advice and resources for people, so why will the Minister not ensure that all that publicly funded advice and resource information published to date continues to be available to the public through an organisation that will become a social enterprise?

There will continue to be publicly funded information, particularly on the green deal. We believe that the public should get the very best information and that the way to achieve that is by opening up the provision of advice to competition, rather than by just continuing with one monopoly provider. The Energy Saving Trust has done good work in the past, and we certainly anticipate that it will be part of the tender for the new provision of advice under the green deal.

Domestic Energy Bills

20. What recent discussions he has had on domestic energy bills with representatives of the six largest energy companies. (64284)

21. What recent discussions he has had on domestic energy bills with representatives of the six largest energy companies. (64285)

Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers and officials regularly meet energy suppliers to discuss market issues, and this afternoon I will be hosting an energy summit for small, non-big six suppliers, to discuss the barriers they face to competing in the market, with a view to making sure it is as easy as possible for them to enter it.

Bringing the Secretary of State back to the issue of the big six energy companies, do they do enough to make vulnerable customers aware of their potential eligibility for a social tariff, and if they do not do enough, what will the Government do to make sure vulnerable customers are made aware of their potential eligibility?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important question, especially as we approach the winter months. As he may know, we have put the warm homes discount scheme on a legislative basis and it is absolutely crucial that our targeting efforts continue. We are doing a lot of work, not least with the Department for Work and Pensions, to try to ensure that we can identify the people who will be most in need, and of course the green deal, which will start next year, will prioritise those in fuel poverty so that we tackle the root causes of the problem and do not merely seek to apply a sticking plaster—

The Secretary of State did not answer the point about the big six, so I will give him another chance. We have some of the highest energy prices in Europe. What action is he taking with the big six to ensure that electricity and gas prices in this country are fair for those whose living standards are being squeezed by his Government?

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect about the comparison with other European countries’ electricity and gas prices. In fact, in both cases our prices are among the lowest. They could certainly be lower, and I am determined to try to make sure that we have the maximum competition in the market, because in my experience that is always the best guarantee that the consumer will get the best deal. That is why we want more companies to enter the market, and the electricity market reform will encourage more market entrants on the generator side. That is also why in the long term—

Order. I think we have got the thrust, and we are very grateful, but we must have shorter answers. Exchanges are taking too long.

The charity Age UK predicts that rising energy bills will take 250,000 more pensioners into fuel poverty, and those pensioners are under-heating their homes by rationing their consumption of fuel and thereby increasing their exposure to potential ill health, misery and depression. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that gas and electricity prices are fairer, something that the Prime Minister promised those pensioners?

As I said in a previous answer, we are doing two very practical things. One is providing the warm homes discount and ensuring that it is made available to those most in need; the other is ensuring that we tackle the root causes of these problems. Another key issue for anyone facing high energy bills is the need to switch, as I have been trying to encourage them to do. As the hon. Lady may have noticed, customers of the big six who are already on dual fuel direct debit accounts could have saved between £160 and £200 in 2010 merely by getting on to the cheapest tariff available at the beginning of the year.

But for people to make the savings they need to understand what they are being charged. Does the Secretary of State think that there could be improvements to and reductions in bills and that the market could be opened up if there was more clarity on the tariffs available and less confusion about what things were going to cost?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and what he describes is one of Ofgem’s objectives in tackling this issue. It is also one of the objectives we are introducing in legislation: we want to ensure that people can see on their bill that there will be a clear alternative with the same supplier at the cheapest tariff.

The big six seem very quick to put prices up, but they act much more slowly to reduce their prices when wholesale prices fall. There are alternatives out there, such as the social enterprise Ebico, which supplies energy on a not-for-profit basis. What more can the Secretary of State do to make customers aware that they do not need to stick with the big six if they are being ripped off?

The key is to encourage people to act. At the moment 99% of people are with the big six, and they are very unlikely to look at alternatives and to switch. If we can get people to look more comprehensively on a regular basis at alternatives, substantial savings can be made, and we can drive greater competition, we can simplify bills, we can bring more new entrants into the market, we can make sure that Ofgem is keeping that market under review and we can give the best possible deal to British consumers.

We have heard a lot of warm words from the Secretary of State today, and before the election the Prime Minister made promises about what he would do to tackle energy price increases if he got into power. We have seen these huge price increases, and customers are rightly confused and angry, so what is the Secretary of State going to do right now to tackle this problem? The electricity market reform is all very well, but we could deal with issues relating to doorstep selling and smart meters. There is action that he could take now, so I would like to hear what he is planning to do to help consumers today.

As the hon. Lady knows, much of what we can do takes time, but we have already, in just over a year in government, moved to legislate on the warm homes discount. That means that we will be providing a legal underpinning for the scheme which will help our poorest consumers and those most at risk in fuel poverty. We are also moving on energy saving and moving to increase competition in the market. We are trying to provide assurance and an increased ability to switch, and to simplify tariffs. That is quite an agenda, and none of it was being undertaken by the previous Government.

Energy Efficiency (Housing)

The green deal is our ambitious new programme to transform energy efficiency in housing and in small and medium-sized enterprises. From late 2012, home owners, landlords and tenants will be able to install energy efficiency at no up-front cost, with repayments coming from their energy bill savings. Alongside the green deal, the energy company obligation will offer targeted support to the fuel poor and hard-to-treat homes.

On 30 June, the Committee on Climate Change published its third report to Parliament, saying the following about emissions from residential buildings:

“Implementation of measures slipped in 2010. There will be a need for a significant acceleration in the pace of emissions reduction if indicators and carbon budgets are to be achieved”.

Will the Secretary of State therefore table an amendment to the Energy Bill before the summer recess to produce a statutory strategy to ensure that these targets are met?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: not only did we slip slightly last year in the final throes of the regime that we inherited from the previous Government, but if we had carried on at the rate of progress of the previous Labour Government it would have taken 80 years to retrofit homes to the standard that we hope to achieve in two decades. We will certainly be linking the green deal to our commitments in the climate change legislation, and that is an amendment that we introduced and is included in the Energy Bill.

Despite my best endeavours when I was in the Minister’s job, Londoners received only 5% of the insulation jobs and of the carbon emissions reduction target, even though they make up 15% of the population of England. Will the Minister now introduce a regional obligation on energy companies so that Londoners get a green deal and not a raw deal?

The right hon. Lady is right. Unfortunately, the programmes we had under the previous Government were ineffective, particularly in London. We are transforming that with the green deal and the energy company obligation and we shall certainly ensure that the roll-out of energy efficiency measures under the coalition is much fairer and much more ambitious than we saw under the previous Government.

Yesterday, a report by uSwitch showed that fuel poverty levels in the UK are spiralling, with 6.3 million households—almost a quarter of all UK homes—now classed as being fuel poor. That highlights the urgent need for energy-efficiency improvements coupled with support from Government. However, in the past year the Government have systematically scrapped support for fuel poor households. We have seen Labour’s Warm Front scheme cut, winter fuel payments reduced by up to £100 and the rejection of many Energy Bill amendments that would have provided extra support to—

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. She will know that under the final five years of the Labour Government, the number of those in fuel poverty rose from 1.5 million to more than 4 million—an absolutely catastrophic record bequeathed to the coalition. We will turn that around with the most ambitious energy-efficiency programme since the second world war and a far more effective way of delivering help to the fuel poor.

Wind Turbines

12. What steps he plans to take in response to the recommendation to his Department from Hayes McKenzie on the adequacy of guidance to developers and local authorities on best practice in the assessment and rating of noise from wind turbines. (64276)

The Hayes McKenzie report was published in June and included a range of recommendations. The Institute of Acoustics has agreed to a request from me to set up a working group to take forward these recommendations and develop advice for communities, developers and planners on how best to assess the noise impacts of proposed wind farms in a consistent manner.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Footnote 34 of that report stated that the noise regulations were “inconsistently applied” and recommended better guidance on best practice for developers and planning authorities. Supposedly, the Government are working with the industry to draft that. Until the Government issue that guidance, developers across the UK are taking advantage of the confusion. When will we finally get these recommendations?

We have asked the Institute of Acoustics, because of its professionalism in this area, to consider things on a case-by-case basis rather than waiting until the entire report is complete so that we can have as much clarity and consistency as possible at the earliest possible stage.

Carbon Capture and Storage

15. When he expects to announce a timetable for the additional carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. (64279)

We expect to launch an accelerated process for the selection of further CCS demonstration projects by the end of the year, when we will set out a detailed timetable. I cannot wait to hear the hon. Gentleman’s supplementary question.

I thank the Minister for his response and, indeed, for his reduced emissions.

The Government’s claim to be the greenest ever is quickly unravelling. Carbon capture and storage is vital in tackling climate change and to the security of future energy supply, so why are the Government dragging their feet on these vital developments?

I simply do not recognise that description. We have given more money than any Government anywhere in the world to a single carbon capture project—£1 billion—and we have the most ambitious programme: when countries such as Norway and Holland are letting theirs slip backwards, Britain’s is still on track. We aim to deliver four projects by 2020, and the hon. Gentleman should celebrate that success because of the jobs it will bring to his constituents, among others.

Carbon Floor Price Mechanism

17. If his Department will undertake an impact assessment of the effect of the carbon floor price mechanism on the competitiveness of energy-intensive industries. (64281)

An assessment of the impacts of the carbon price floor on energy intensive industries is given in HMRC’s tax information and impact note, published alongside the Budget. Electricity bills for an average energy-intensive business are estimated to increase by 2% and 6% in 2013 and 2016 respectively as a result of the carbon price floor. However, in the late 2020s electricity bills will be between 2% and 5% lower than would otherwise have been the case.

Will the Minister outline what specific issues the Government are considering to prevent energy-intensive industries, such as the steel industry in my constituency, from being disadvantaged in comparison with their global competitors by policies such as the carbon price floor?

As the hon. Lady knows, we are meeting not just the steel manufacturers, such as those in her constituency, but a range of energy-intensive industries. I will be meeting the chief executives of several before the House rises for the recess. We are considering a range of measures in conjunction with the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and in the autumn we will announce the result of that collaboration.

Energy Tariffs

Ofgem has just consulted on initial proposals to simplify tariffs and reduce consumer confusion. We welcome Ofgem’s proposals but we think consumers need better information to help them to take control of their consumption and costs, so we are taking forward proposals to require information on bills about a supplier’s cheapest tariff and how the consumer’s consumption compares with that of similar households.

Is that going to be this year or next year? When are we going to see simplified, clearer energy bills?

We are taking that power in the Energy Bill so that if that does not happen we will in any case have the power within the next few months to deliver on that commitment.

Biogas Technology

19. What assessment he has made of the potential long-term benefits to the economy of expenditure on biogas technology. (64283)

The coalition Government are committed to increasing substantially the generation of renewable electricity and heat from waste through anaerobic digestion as well as through advanced conversion technologies such as gasification. Energy from a range of waste products contributes to reducing emissions, enhancing energy security and creating green jobs.

Anaerobic digestion has a number of advantages over other renewable energy technologies. It is generated constantly and can be stored in the grid in the form of gas, but people are having specific problems getting through the planning process to support the development of anaerobic digestion plants. What can the Minister do to help with this?

Obviously, planning per se is a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, but we are keen that where any renewable energy installation occurs in a local community, the local community should share in the wider benefits and the financial benefits, helping them to retain some of the business rates in their community and potentially to take ownership of those assets through community share ownership. There is a whole range of community benefits, but we need to do a better job of explaining them to local residents.

Underground Coal Gasification

The Government recognise the potential of underground coal gasification, but the technology is still in its early stages. Our view is that as a carbon capture option it is not a priority to pursue at present. The Coal Authority has lead responsibility, as the freehold owner of our national coal resource, and we continue to monitor developments in the sector.

Newcastle university in my constituency has spun out a start-up, Five-Quarter, to pioneer coal gasification. As the Minister will know, 75% of Britain’s coal reserves are still deep underground, much under the North sea. There is potentially more energy there than in all the natural gas so far extracted from the North sea, so should not the Minister be doing more to help to support this pioneering work?

I would be very grateful if the hon. Lady would bring those people from the university to meet me to talk about the work they are doing and how that resource can be developed more effectively. In the past couple of years, 14 licences have been granted for areas close to the shoreline. This is a technology we are keen to watch, but I would be very grateful to learn from the university’s expertise.

Topical Questions

Since the last departmental Question Time, the Energy Bill has completed its Committee stage. Yesterday, we announced that Whitehall carbon emissions have been cut by nearly 14% in one year: the Department of Energy and Climate Change achieved an impressive reduction of 21.3% and was only just pipped at the post by the Department for Education. We have also revealed the simplification proposals for the carbon reduction commitment and climate change agreements. We have responded to the Committee on Climate Change’s third annual progress report to Parliament, as required under the Climate Change Act 2008, and the fourth carbon budget, covering the period from 2023 to 2027, is now law.

There are many energy-intensive companies across the black country producing high-value items for export all over the world. Those companies, which I would not call old industry, are concerned about the carbon price floor and rising energy costs. Can my right hon. Friend advise whether the joint working group between the Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and his Department will meet representatives of the chemicals and aluminium industries to hear their concerns?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I met representatives of the aluminium industry very recently and that we have a regular programme of meeting companies from energy-intensive industries. Indeed, I have also had contact with trade union representatives from energy-intensive industries. We want to see a solution that will ensure those industries are able to thrive within the United Kingdom—she can have my absolute assurance on that. As my colleagues have pointed out, there are discussions under way between BIS, the Treasury and us on this.

The green economy road map is under way in the Green Economy Council. It is very important that we get that process of work right, and the hon. Lady will know that getting a cross-governmental road map right is not always the easiest process, but I can assure her that it is under way and that she will be put out of her misery shortly.

Whenever the right hon. Gentleman’s Department has to work with other Departments, progress on green issues stalls. We have now learned that the flagship Energy Bill, which the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), has spoken about a great deal today, has been shelved. When will we see the Bill back in the House, and will it delay the start of the green deal?

Obviously the timing of the final stages of the Energy Bill is a matter for the business managers, but we are determined to hold to the October 2012 deadline for the launch of the green deal and are working to ensure that we meet it, despite the congestion we have faced in the House of Commons. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for encouraging us to come forward with further details of our policy and note that she is about to offer what has been billed as the first detailed insight into the Opposition’s thinking on low-carbon policy at a green business event, which I am sure we all look forward to.

T2. As Ministers will know, Cornwall has ambitions to become the green peninsula in the UK through renewable energy and therefore warmly welcomes the Government’s proposed marine energy park. What progress has been made on that, what timetable has been set and will Ministers ensure that the park provides the vital stimulus so that the wave hub can get going off the north coast of my constituency? (64290)

My ministerial colleagues have had regular meetings on this with the green energy programme board and are making good progress. We will continue the workstream to try to accelerate our commitment to low-carbon goods and services in the UK economy. It is a high-growth opportunity, and obviously Cornwall will play an important future role in that.

T5. Will the Minister confirm his support for the pioneering plans for underground coal gasification off the Northumberland coast, as described earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), and agree to meet representatives from the Opposition, from Newcastle university and from Five-Quarter to seek support on the issue? (64293)

That is exactly the offer I made to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). I am keen for that meeting to be as wide as possible, and indeed happy for it to include the entire parliamentary Labour party. This is an important technology and we are keen to understand the expertise that the university has.

T3. The Minister will be aware that farmers and parish councils across Suffolk are keen to contribute to reducing local carbon emissions and supporting renewable energy, but there is great concern about the divisiveness of onshore wind turbines in local communities. What other renewable energy measures is his Department keen to promote on a local level? (64291)

There is a whole range of technologies for renewable energy that are appropriate at local level, such as anaerobic digestion, which has already been discussed today. Furthermore, we have introduced £860 million to support a range of renewable heat technologies that will be significant for our future, including air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. However, I urge my hon. Friend not to take too jaundiced a view of onshore wind turbines. So far I am the only Member of the House who has been booed on “Any Questions” for pointing out that onshore wind turbines are beautiful, a view I hold to firmly and with which I hope other Members will agree.

T7. Many people in Wales are excited about the possibility of shale gas transforming the welsh economy, but equally many of my constituents are worried that the chemicals that are pushed down into the ground will end up in the watercourse and that the fracking process, which has possibly already led to problems in Blackpool, might lead to real problems across the whole of the south Wales coalfield. What will the Minister do to reassure my constituents? (64296)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. There is potential for shale gas in the United Kingdom, but only one application is going forward, in the north-west, and that is on hold to see whether there is any link between the recent minor earth tremors there and the drilling process. We need to understand fully any issues with that. It is a legitimate technology, but the fluid is 99% water and the majority of the remainder is an inert soapy-type compound—

Order. Ministers are rather testing the knee muscles of a number of right hon. and hon. Members who keep bouncing up and down.

T4. Leeds has a strong case to be considered for the green investment bank, and I look forward to discussing it next week with the Minister, but may I ask for some cross-departmental working? The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announcement, which appeared to suggest that Leeds was no longer in the running, was not helpful, so can the Minister assure me that it is not a foregone conclusion that the bank will be in London ? (64292)

I can assure my hon. Friend that no decisions on the matter have been taken. He is absolutely right that BIS is the lead Department on it, but decisions are some way off and we have some work to do on scoping and on getting right the detail of the proposals before siting becomes salient.

In relation to the Humber ports, the Minister talked earlier about the £60 million that is available for the development of green energy on the portside, but that was an announcement by the previous Labour Government of course. In terms of the job opportunities for my constituents, can he explain the targeted assistance that will be available to Hull?

The difference we have made is that that funding is linked specifically to manufacturing projects, rather than to speculative improvements in ports. In addition, £70 million has been brought forward in Scotland, and there will be perhaps more in Wales, so we are very keen to see specific projects. Siemens is looking at the opportunities on the north side of the Humber in Hull, where very good progress is being made, and there will be a fixed formula for establishing exactly how much Government support is going to be available for private sector investment.

T6. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage the Danish company Vestas to build a wind turbine factory in my constituency? (64294)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am very keen to see Vestas come back to the UK market as a manufacturer. I remember visiting its plant on the Isle of Wight some years ago, and it had a manufacturing facility in Woolston close to my constituency. The fact that it is looking at re-establishing itself in the UK is enormously encouraging, and we are in conversations with the company. Clearly, Sheerness as a site is not an assisted area and therefore would not benefit from the subsidies that have been found for assisted areas, but it has other advantages, of which I am sure Vestas is well aware from its discussions with my hon. Friend, and I very much hope that it takes that decision to go forward.

The Secretary of State, in one of his lengthy answers to his interviewer on the “Today” programme, waxed lyrical about the potential of wave and tidal energy. Will he therefore explain why the earmarked amount from the development fund has been reduced from £50 million to £20 million, which green energy specialists have described as a drop in the ocean and completely inadequate?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that that is new money, which will be spent—unlike some allocations that were made under the previous Government. We are very committed to bringing forward such early-stage technologies, which are going to be part of our future, and I have been very keen to see for myself the progress that has been made, particularly on wave projects.

T8. By 2012, Bentley Motors in Crewe in my constituency will have made 100% of its range compatible with renewable fuels, reducing its CO2 emissions by at least 15%. Will my hon. Friend visit the Bentley site to see how that and other investment is helping to reduce the impact on the environment, and to discuss what further support his Department may be able to offer? (64297)

I was very pleased to have the chance earlier this week to talk about those issues with Bentley, which is of course a world-class engineering company based in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I shall be in touch with his office later today to fix a visit in the coming weeks.

Will the Secretary of State reflect further on the anaerobic digester plants that are close to and in built-up areas? Is he aware that the stuff being carried by lorries trundling through the village of Whitwell in my constituency is not the green deal but brown and stinks to high heaven? What does he have to say to the people there?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The more I do this job, the more I realise that there is not a single energy source, whether it is anaerobic digesters, wind turbines or nuclear power, or indeed fracking with shale gas, that does not involve concerns and worries. It is our job to make sure that those are minimised, and we want to ensure that his constituents suffer the minimum disruption to their lives in built-up areas.

T9. I thank the Minister for giving his time earlier this week to meet the GreenWin organisation from my constituency. He will have noticed that it stands well prepared for green deal roll-out in my part of the world. Will he keep at the forefront of his mind at all times the fact that it is not only these big society organisations that will make the green deal a success, but the small value-added services that can be offered to make energy efficiency possible for many of our constituents—services such as basic loft clearance, which he knows could be a deal breaker? (64298)

I was delighted to meet my hon. Friend and GreenWin, which is an excellent organisation whose expertise is now radiating beyond his constituency. He is absolutely right. Many of the barriers to the green deal and take-up of energy efficiency are not just financial but involve practical measures such as clearing the loft. A community response to overcoming those barriers is often the very best way. My officials will be working to see how we can spread the expertise of GreenWin right across the country.

An observant constituent of mine noticed on a very sunny day that he was getting nothing back for the electricity he was generating from his solar panels. Luckily the problem—it was a grid problem—has now been resolved by Western Power. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the infrastructure across the country is adequate to take on all the electricity, especially in areas where solar panels have become very popular, and to make absolutely sure that those people are able to get the feed-in tariff that they are generating?

Part of the solution to this is the rolling out of smart grids, which will measure two-way flows of electricity and therefore give an absolutely precise reading of what is being put into the grid. We are taking forward that programme, and we have already shaved a year off the time scale that we inherited from the previous Administration because of the many benefits that it will bring.

Will my hon. Friend update the House on what recent actions he has taken to ensure that the problems encountered last winter by constituents of mine who heat their homes with fuel oil will not be repeated this year?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that at this time of the year, because this is when we need to be planning for the winter. The Office of Fair Trading is investigating the matter. I have asked for its report to be completed by the early autumn so that we can decide exactly what measures need to be introduced to make sure that the problems of last winter are not repeated.

I am sure that a Minister as progressive and forward thinking as the Secretary of State is convinced by the arguments put forward by those who advocate double summer time. What efforts is he making to reduce carbon emissions by following this approach and speaking to his Cabinet colleagues about the issue?

I was quite intrigued by the whole issue of double summer time because I, perhaps like the hon. Gentleman, thought that it was a bit of a silver bullet and an easy solution. Unfortunately, it turns out that there are more complications, not only north of the border but certainly there, and that the extent of the carbon reductions is not as clear cut as it may appear. However, it is a matter not for my Department but for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Sir Michael Pitt from the Infrastructure Planning Commission, supported by the Department, requested a fair, independent and transparent report on the cost of undergrounding and any alternative to cables and pylons. Now that KEMA has been sacked, the Institution of Engineering and Technology cannot endorse a report because there is not one. National Grid is implicated for not providing the figures that are necessary for whole-life costs. The public are left with buried figures rather than buried cables. What can the Minister do to get information on costs available to people before the development consent applications have been received by the IPC?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. She is a particularly doughty campaigner on this issue, and I am aware of how significant it is in Somerset. All I can say is that we will try to be as open as possible about all the information. If we have in any way failed to be open, I ask her to get in touch and we will make sure that we are being so. My understanding is that the costs of undergrounding are roughly 10 times as high as the costs of pylons, and that pylons are going to be quite important.