[Relevant documents: The Third Report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Session 2010-12, on The revised draft National Policy Statements on energy, HC 648, and the Government response of June 2011.]
I suggest that, for the convenience of the House, motions 1 to 6 should be debated together, and should be voted on at the end of the proceedings.
I beg to move motion 1,
That this House takes note of and approves the Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1), which was laid before this House on 23 June.
With this we shall consider the following:
Amendment (e) to motion 1, leave out from ‘of’ to end and add
‘the Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1), which was laid before this House on 23 June, but declines to approve it until it is amended to insert in section 5.14.7 a direction to the Infrastructure Planning Commission to consider the impact on the waste hierarchy of energy-from-waste generating stations of over 50MW.’.
Motion 2—National Policy Statements (Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure)—
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure (EN-2), which was laid before this House on 23 June.
Amendment (b) to motion 2, leave out from ‘of’ to end and add
‘the National Policy Statement for Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure (EN-2), which was laid before this House on 23 June, but declines to approve it until it is amended to include energy-from-waste generating stations to the list of covered technologies in section 1.8.1.’.
Motion 3—National Policy Statements (Renewable Energy Infrastructure)—
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3), which was laid before this House on 23 June.
Amendment (a) to motion 3, leave out from ‘of’ to end and add
‘the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3), which was laid before this House on 23 June, but declines to approve it until it is amended to omit energy-from-waste plants’.
Motion 4—National Policy Statements (Gas Supply Infrastructure And Gas And Oil Pipelines)—
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Gas Supply Infrastructure and Gas and Oil Pipelines (EN-4), which was laid before this House on 23 June.
Motion 5—National Policy Statements (Electricity Networks Infrastructure)—
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5), which was laid before this House on 23 June.
Motion 6—National Policy Statements (Nuclear Power Generation)—
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6), which was laid before this House on 23 June.
This debate is intended to fulfil our commitment to parliamentary approval of the national policy statements. The motion constitutes a further important milestone in the Government’s programme to secure affordable low carbon energy which will make the UK a truly attractive market for investors in energy infrastructure.
Let me briefly explain the background to the national policy statements and the purpose of each one. I shall, of course, be happy to take interventions as I go through them. Members may find it convenient to concentrate on the subjects individually, but I am mindful of the number who wish to speak in the debate.
The national policy statements do not contain new energy policy or change the standard for consenting projects, but they set out clearly and for the first time the national policy that must be considered before the granting of consent to infrastructure projects that are examined by the Infrastructure Planning Commission and, when the Localism Bill has been enacted, by its successor. The policy statements are critical to the new fast-track planning system that will encourage developers to embark on energy projects without facing unnecessary hold-ups. It will also ensure that local people can have their say about how their communities develop, and that decisions are made in an accountable way by elected Ministers.
We urgently need new electricity-generating infrastructure to replace our ageing power stations. If we are to meet our ambitious carbon targets, we must electrify much of our industry, heating and transport sectors. That could mean doubling our electricity generation, with about 60 GW of new capacity coming on line by 2025. Over the next 10 years, a quarter of our generating capacity will close as old or more polluting plants close. As the reserve margin of spare generating capacity falls, the risk of interruptions to our energy supply rises.
More than half the new capacity that we urgently need should be met with renewable energy, and a significant proportion of the remaining capacity should be met with other low-carbon technologies. That is a real challenge. Business and industry tell us that investment in infrastructure will help them to create growth and jobs. By setting out the need for new energy infrastructure, including a mixed portfolio of electricity generation, the national policy statements will unlock that investment and provide market certainty.
As Members will know, having considered the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s report and responses to the first public consultation in 2010, we made changes to the draft national policy statements and accompanying documents. Given the nature of the changes that we made, we decided to consult on the revised draft national policy statements between October 2010 and January 2011. Alongside our public consultation was parliamentary scrutiny of the revised draft statements. That work was undertaken by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which considered the changes from the drafts that were consulted on by the previous Administration. The Committee then published a report, setting out 18 recommendations on the revised drafts.
We intend the national policy statements to be approved if that is the will of Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will designate them as quickly as is reasonably practicable. It has been suggested that designation should have been delayed until after we had reviewed them in the light of the electricity market reform White Paper which was published last week, but we do not think that delay is either necessary or desirable, as the policies have been developed in parallel to ensure they are consistent.
Does the Minister consider it wise to omit any reassessment of the costs of nuclear power, given that many countries have abandoned their nuclear power plans in the wake of Fukushima? Has he thought about a possible increase in costs, especially to guard against a natural disaster or a terrorist attack?
The hon. Gentleman, who understands these issues, will be well aware that the national policy statements concern not the costs of different technologies, but the planning consents for them. If companies decide that the costs have risen and are not affordable, and that they will not achieve a return, they will not go ahead with the investment, but that is not the subject of this debate. However, we have conducted a thorough assessment of the lessons that need to be learned after Fukushima to determine whether any adaptation is needed in the policy statements. That is why we have reflected further, and have taken more time to consider them.
The overarching national policy statement, EN-1, sets out the need for each of the different energy infrastructure technologies. It makes it clear that we need a diverse mix to provide affordable, clean energy. It explains the Government’s policy on clean coal with carbon capture and storage and the need for gas and biomass electricity generation plants to be “carbon capture ready”, and sets out the part that renewables and new nuclear power stations will play in meeting our emissions reductions targets.
As the Minister will know, the Select Committee was anxious for wave and tidal generation to be included in the policy statements. When does he intend to produce a national policy statement covering those important new technologies?
The hon. Gentleman knows that we attach tremendous importance to the potential of marine technologies. He will also appreciate that the national policy statements relate to major infrastructure projects involving more than 50 MW. There is currently no possibility of any marine technology of that scale. The national policy statements can be adapted in due course and will be reviewed over time, and as technologies of that scale emerge, it will be possible for a policy statement to be established. However, the schemes that we are currently seeing are much smaller, and can therefore be dealt with through the other planning procedures that cover them.
The overarching national policy statement explains the need for transmission networks, which are vital to get electricity into the grid—from locations where there is no existing network infrastructure—and to consumers. It also explains the need for gas and oil infrastructure to ensure that we can take advantage of diverse supply options for gas and oil. Some fear that our policies will lead to a “dash for gas”. We understand their concerns, and we will keep a close watch on the electricity generation that is coming on line. If in the future we decide that our policies are not having the desired effect, we will review them, but the national policy statements are not the place for that review.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) pointed out earlier, other countries are giving up nuclear power, and they will make a “dash for gas” to meet their base load. Has it occurred to the Minister that we may have to do the same in relation to our own base load?
The hon. Gentleman is right. We have considered that, and I look forward to giving evidence to him and his colleagues on the Select Committee tomorrow morning.
This is a permissive framework, which involves planning consents. It is not a case of people going ahead and building the plants. A range of other investment decisions need to be made in order for the final decision to be made, but at this stage what is critical is the establishment of a structure so that people understand how the planning system will work.
The number of gas-fired power stations that are under way, constructed or at an advanced stage of planning substantially exceeds the figures set out in EN-1. Would the Minister be prepared to table amendments to it, in the light of the reality of actual construction as opposed to what is in the document?
I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that that will not be necessary. When the decision is finally made, it will be legitimate to take account of the fact that if the disbenefits were considered to outweigh the benefits, consent would not need to be given. If it were felt that consent was being given to too much higher-carbon generation capacity and therefore that environmental issues—low-carbon issues—were seen to be more important, that would be a material factor to be taken into account. That can already be done through the system. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that we have a significant amount of consented gas for which there is not currently construction. That also brings us to part of the problem: at the moment, we are not seeing anything like enough investment and construction work in our energy infrastructure.
As nuclear stations take 10 years to build and the older stations are closing, and as renewables are not generating as much energy as the Minister would like, is it not inevitable that gas will fill the vacuum?
There is a continuing need for gas, and the hon. Gentleman has set out the time scales accurately. We face a challenge: we have to get twice as much investment in our energy infrastructure in every year of this decade as was achieved in the last decade. We need a step change in those investment levels, but as he rightly says, there will be a continuing role for gas as well.
Is the Minister worried about China? It is continuing with its nuclear programme, and about half the world’s nuclear generators will be built in China in the next 20 years or so. Skills, capability and resources will therefore gravitate towards the east. Will that place difficulties on our ability to keep the lights on?
We all have to be very mindful of the situation in China. In the time it will take us to build one nuclear power station in this country, it will be building dozens. We have to understand the pressure that that creates for the construction process and the skills challenges. However, I have visited the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and have seen, along with him, the investment going into nuclear skills there, and more generally into the low-carbon economy, and I am very encouraged by what I have seen not only in Hartlepool, but in many other places around the country: businesses, councils, trade unions and others are working together to ensure we have the necessary skills to deliver the construction of plant.
This is not the time for explicit single-sector emissions caps. We recently set the level of the fourth carbon budget in line with the Committee on Climate Change recommendation. This amounts to a 50% reduction in emissions against 1990 levels for the period between 2023 and 2027. It would be wrong to introduce new planning conditions for one part of one sector in the national policy statements when we have already introduced legislation on emissions for all sectors together. Each technology-specific NPS sets out particular issues that apply. As the need case in the overarching NPS states, it is vital to have investment in clean fossil fuels to ensure that we have a secure supply of diverse energy generation.
The Tyndall Centre has said that even the targets of the fourth carbon budget would provide only a 56% to 63% chance of avoiding a 2° C rise in average global temperatures. Is it not therefore the case that even the fourth carbon budget is not setting the right targets?
The hon. Lady knows what has happened. The Committee on Climate Change has made recommendations to us, and we have responded to them, and we were widely seen as one of the world leaders in this respect; the United Kingdom is well ahead of most other countries. It would be helpful if she would sometimes welcome the changes and the advances being made, rather than always saying it is not enough. It is appropriate to recognise in the course of these debates that Britain has shown real global leadership. There is cross-party agreement on that, and it should be welcomed.
The fossil fuels NPS—EN-2—explains what drives site selection for power plants and the practical requirements for carbon capture and storage. Together with relevant bits of EN-1, the EU emissions trading scheme and our own policies on an emissions performance standard, it will give developers confidence that there is a stable regime under which they can invest in the fossil-fuel generating stations that are necessary to provide the essential back-up for intermittent generation from some forms of renewable energy, or perform as low-carbon generators themselves, fitted with carbon capture and storage.
Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the carbon capture and storage programme? When does he expect the first major CCS project to be up and running cleanly?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s interest and expertise in these matters. As he knows, we took on some of the work of his Administration by allocating an extra £1 billion for the first full-scale CCS project—the largest amount any Government anywhere in the world had given to a single project. Over recent weeks, we have been negotiating very carefully with the interested parties about how we can deliver what we want in terms of the knowledge transfer and output for the CCS project, based on what they believe is achievable for the funding. Those discussions are ongoing, and we hope that they will be brought to a conclusion with the first plant being operational by 2015.
We have also said there will be three other projects, and we have evolved the policy we inherited from the previous Administration by saying that one of them should be on gas, in recognition of the long-term role gas is likely to play and the significant interest in this country in developing gas technologies. At a time when other Governments are slipping back their time scales for CCS, it is encouraging that the UK programme has been moving forward. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will warmly welcome that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) mentioned China. Does the Minister share my concern about the number of coal-fired power stations still being built there, in that the development of that CCS technology may be accelerating in places other than the UK and we may lose out on the opportunity to export some of the skills and expertise that we might otherwise be able to export if things were to move a little faster here?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. When the original competition was set out by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), the thinking behind it was that we should be developing technology in this country that we could sell to the Chinese. The reality is that the Chinese are rapidly trying to develop technology that they want to sell to us. We have a strong opportunity to lead. We have some of the world’s leading technological and academic experts, and we have fantastic sequestration facilities in the depleted oil and gas fields in the North sea. The UK should be in a position to lead in this area, but we are mindful of the point the hon. Gentleman makes: other countries are equally determined to get there ahead of us. That is why the focus on delivering those four plants has been so important.
The renewables NPS—EN-3—addresses sustainability of biomass, how waste incineration plants fit into the statutory waste hierarchy by using waste that would otherwise go to landfill, and specific impacts of onshore and offshore wind farms, including visual impacts, noise from onshore wind farms and collision risks for birds and bats.
As the Minister has just suggested, incineration is considered in the renewable policy statement, yet it produces significant quantities of CO2. Should it not be redesignated under the fossil fuel category?
It is important to put this in its proper place in the waste hierarchy. There is a clear commitment between us and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The waste policy it has recently produced sets out that incineration should be considered for electricity generation only after all other options, such as recycling and reuse, have been looked at. We also recognise, however, that it is better to try to find ways of using it for electricity generation than to put it into a landfill site with the inevitable consequence of the methane gas it will emit, which is many times more dangerous than CO2. This needs to be seen as part of the waste hierarchy, to which we are absolutely committed, but we must also recognise that the generation option is better than going down the landfill route.
I am encouraged by what the Minister has just said, but would it not be better if the statement—or the Minister now, on the record—were to make that clear? He will be aware that many constituents throughout the country are very unhappy about the idea of having incinerators located near them, and if we want to move to a low-carbon economy we must take people with us.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a strong case for smaller, local waste facilities because people understand the connection between them and their local community and the waste it has produced. We are also seeing a range of new technologies coming on, such as pyrolysis and the gasification process, which are very clean technologies and which we are very keen to encourage. The national policy statements apply only to larger facilities. My concern about any suggestion of taking this element out of the national policy statements is that the Infrastructure Planning Commission would then have no guidance whatever in making a determination on a large plant. That would create havoc; it would be much worse for local communities and it would create many additional anxieties. Therefore, the way in which we have incorporated it in the statements, which are to be read in conjunction with the waste review, is the right way to approach this in an holistic manner.
The Minister is discussing renewables and technology. Is he not concerned at the relatively weak state of British manufacturing’s capacity for solar generation, either for hot water or for electricity? Does he envisage Government intervention to try to strengthen those necessary and valuable industries in order to take advantage of an very fast-growing market?
Again, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have made changes to the feed-in tariff to focus on microgeneration, as was the original intention. The nature of the tariff will drive forward significant investment in solar. We have to recognise that the UK is not a game changer in the pricing structure of solar, because our market will always be smaller than that of countries where there is greater potential for solar. Nevertheless, we want solar to achieve what it can in this country, and we want an industry to grow up to support that and deliver the products.
The Government have a coherent and ambitious plan for major renewables. In addition to the green investment bank, the energy market reform and the fourth carbon budget, how will the national policy statement aid genuine renewables more than the other energy sources covered by these statements?
The purpose of the national policy statements is to facilitate the planning process. What we hear time and again from people keen to invest in different parts of our energy infrastructure is that the planning process is one of the biggest blocks to their being able to make progress—huge amounts of renewable energy are blocked in the planning process. The statements are intended to give greater clarity to investors and to those who are making the decisions, so that our process can not only be much faster and much more constructive, but can provide appropriate engagement for local communities, because we are equally committed to ensuring that their voice is heard in decisions on how their communities evolve.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that, given the number of Members who wish to speak in this debate, it is fair to take only one intervention from each Member.
And here is another one.
We have been talking about waste disposal, particularly in the nuclear industry. The statement refers to underground storage, which is unproven but technically feasible. Does the Minister agree that it is pointless going ahead with a nuclear programme unless we have somewhere to dispose of the waste?
Order. Before the Minister rises to his feet, this would be a good point for me to inform the House that this debate is due to end at 9 o’clock, there have to be wind-ups at the end and 18 Members in the Chamber have already indicated that they wish to take part. There is going to be a time limit and, at the moment, it is getting shorter and shorter. So those who wish to speak might want to hold back on their interventions.
Thank you for your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will be very observant of them in considering which interventions to take.
My hon. Friend does make an important point. We are working with communities that have volunteered to take forward some of this work to see whether there are appropriate locations for a waste disposal facility, and we are committed to making this happen. We have expressed an ambition that we should have such a facility open 10 years earlier than previously planned—by 2029 rather than at the end of the 2030s. I hope that that will show to him and others our commitment in this area.
On the renewables national policy statement, we do not specify areas in which to locate wind farms, nor have we placed limits on generating capacity in each area, although, as in all cases under the Planning Act 2008, it will be open to the Infrastructure Planning Commission—or, through the Localism Bill, to Ministers—to refuse an application for consent if it considers that the adverse impacts outweigh the benefits. To complement the electricity generation national policy statements, policy statement EN-4 addresses requirements for gas and oil infrastructure and EN-5 addresses those for electricity networks. Changes in the pattern of supply and demand, and shifts in technology mean that we will need more of both those types of infrastructure in the coming decades.
Electricity transmission networks most familiarly mean overhead lines supported on pylons, and it is only that type of connection that requires Planning Act consent. Considerable concern has been expressed about the impact on landscapes of an increasing number of networks. The overarching NPS and the electricity networks NPS make it clear that developers should consider undergrounding or subsea cables for transmission networks. The electricity networks NPS also explains that although it would be preferable for grid connections to be applied for at the same time as the generating infrastructure it is associated with, there are circumstances where this may not be economically sensible. We have also stated that the Holford rules should be followed when developers are planning the routes of proposed overhead lines. That actually strengthens the policy, because before this NPS the use of the Holford rules by developers was voluntary.
I hear what the Minister says. I hope that once the IPC has some guidance, perhaps from the failure of the KEMA study, Sir Michael Pitt and the IPC will have some other way of considering the undergrounding and subsea options on the basis of costs that are realistic and that they will be judged against the work that has been done, both in this country and abroad.
I could sense that my hon. Friend was going to intervene even before she had risen to her feet, because she has been such an assiduous campaigner on these issues. That work is being taken forward. We want very robust evidence about the alternative costs, and I hope that she is reassured by my words about the need to consider alternatives.
The sixth NPS is on new nuclear power stations. It sets out the issues to be considered as part of the planning process where new nuclear power stations are proposed; a number of other matters are, of course, considered under other regimes. It also identifies the eight sites that we have concluded are potentially suitable for new nuclear development. That provides an important degree of clarity for industry and communities over the next few years. However, any application to build a nuclear plant on those sites still needs to go through the same rigorous processes as any other proposal under the Planning Act. The nuclear NPS also clarifies how the IPC should consider any issues regarding waste during its examination of an application and the role of the regulators and their relationship with the IPC. In addition, we have set out how applications for non-listed sites are treated by the IPC.
My hon. Friend knows that my constituents are disappointed that Dungeness was not included on the list of eight sites approved in the NPS. If there were problems with one or a number of those eight sites, would there be scope for allowing a site such as Dungeness to come back into play?
We were not limited to eight sites in the process that we went through. We decided that eight of the sites that developers had proposed to us were appropriate and could realistically be developed by 2025. Our concerns about Dungeness related to the special area of conservation, which is protected by law, and we were not persuaded that we could comply in that regard if the site was being developed. We have said that in every other respect Dungeness fulfilled the criteria, so if the special area of conservation issues can be satisfactorily resolved there is no reason why Dungeness could then not come forward separately.
Will the Minister give way? Just once more?
Just once more then.
I am enjoying the Minister’s comments about nuclear. He may have seen the recent Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology—POST—note on carbon emissions, which stated that over the life cycle nuclear produced one third as much carbon as solar. Is that properly reflected in the thrust of these statements in their entirety?
My hon. Friend raises important issues, but they are not addressed in the national policy statements. The statements are about the planning rules—the background to which decisions on new applications should be considered. There is considerable debate, which he will appreciate is being led inside and outside this Chamber, on the relative low-carbon merits of different technologies.
Following events at Japan’s Fukushima plant in March, we asked Dr Weightman, the UK’s chief nuclear inspector, to produce an independent report on the lessons to be learned from the incident and the implications for our nuclear industry. The interim report was published in May and a full report is due in the autumn. We have now carefully considered the planning policy in the national policy statements in the light of the findings of the interim report. We particularly note Dr Weightman’s conclusion that he sees no reason, in considering the direct causes of the Fukushima accident, for curtailing the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK.
The interim report does not identify any implications for the strategic siting assessment of new reactors and we do not believe that the final report will, either. That does not change the guidance within the nuclear national policy statement, which says that the Infrastructure Planning Commission should consider flood risk, including from storm surge and tsunami, and should consult the nuclear regulators as part of that consideration. We are satisfied, therefore, that the nuclear national policy statement can proceed.
Approval and designation of the national policy statements are vital steps on the path towards our 2050 targets. By setting clear and consistent policies on energy infrastructure, development consent decisions can be made on a firm basis that is transparent to all, but this is true only when national policy statements are designated. While they remain in draft, the Infrastructure Planning Commission and other decision-makers can treat them only as “relevant and important”, not as the primary documents they are intended to be. Although the Infrastructure Planning Commission—or its successor—would consider them, until they were designated developers would not be given the confidence in Government policy that would encourage investment. Approval, followed by designation, will make the national policy statements primary documents. They will therefore provide certainty and stability for developers and investors looking to make new infrastructure proposals.
The national policy statements for energy infrastructure are a vital component of the coalition’s programme for government. They will promote investment in energy infrastructure, delivering growth and jobs. They will help us to achieve our carbon emissions targets and they will secure our supplies of affordable low-carbon energy. I commend the motion to the House.
I am pleased we are debating the national policy statements after we discussed them in draft form in December. Our debate then was short and our debate today will be even shorter—I hope the Minister joins me in deeply regretting that fact. We cannot do justice to the number of national policy statements and to the Members present in the Chamber, who will, I suspect, have roughly an hour and a half for debate once I have concluded my remarks, and that is terrible.
The final national policy statements, if they are approved by the House, will be critical in achieving a green, affordable, secure and diverse energy future. The building blocks for that future were, as the Minister suggested, shaped under Labour and we want them to be put in place without any further delay. Much has happened since our debate in December. We watched the terrible incidents in Fukushima unfold and, rightly, across the globe, across Europe and across the UK, we sought to see what lessons we needed to learn. The Minister is right to say that in the UK we did not rush to judge but carefully examined our sites, a process that is ongoing under Dr Weightman, while all countries across the EU carried out their own stress tests. Understandably, and with our support, the Minister delayed the NPSs, including the one on nuclear, to allow proper consideration to be given to those events.
We agree firmly with the conclusions reached in EN-1 and EN-6: nuclear, as a low-carbon proven technology, could play a key role in diversifying and decarbonising our energy and in meeting our climate change objectives. It is a proven low-carbon technology that can be deployed on a large scale and could complement carbon capture and storage, if it is successful, renewables and fossil fuels as part of the mix. The eight identified sites in EN-6 are potentially—I stress potentially—capable of development by 2025. Many in the green movement, although not all of them, now recognise these and other benefits of nuclear generation, although those who have long been opposed to the technology should be respected for their views, too.
My hon. Friend will know that there are plans in the document to build new nuclear power stations at Oldbury and Hinkley Point. If those power stations are built, large areas of Wales will fall within the diameter that has been set for the no-go area at Fukushima. Should not the people of Wales be fully consulted on those plans, in the interest of localism, before they go ahead?
I would expect the people of Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales to have a full input and I am sure that the Minister, when he concludes, will be able to confirm that that is exactly what would happen. My hon. Friend’s point is very well made: such a decision cannot be made unilaterally and there has to be input from across the regions, too.
I said that those who doubt the technology should be respected, and not long ago the Secretary of State was one of those doubters. Confronted with the evidence and, I guess, with office, he has changed his tune. I must tell the Minister that the manic contortions of the Secretary of State over the financial support for nuclear have surpassed those of a Chinese acrobat in recent weeks. Last week, during the electricity market reform statement, when challenged by his party colleagues, he laid out three financial mechanisms that could support the development of new nuclear facilities alongside other low-carbon technologies. He did that to explain to the House that there was no subsidy for nuclear.
As the Secretary of State has come out of the closet on nuclear, he ought to stop trying to hide his embarrassment. The expansion of low-carbon technologies does not come free and they will all—onshore and offshore wind, biomass, future wave and tidal, CCS and nuclear—require some support and market intervention to drive in the levels of capital required. The medium to long-term protection that that gives through the diversity of energy security is in the interests of UK plc and we support it.
We do not, however, support sleight of hand or the appearance of double dealing. The carbon floor price announced in the recent Budget is a pretty poor way of generating the new low-carbon investment that the documents envisage. It was, in fact, a back-door windfall for existing nuclear and renewables to the tune of £1 billion and a far from stealthy Treasury tax grab of £740 million in 2013-14 rising to £1.4 billion in 2015-16. That decision shook confidence in DECC’s grasp of electricity market reform, shocked some of the big six utilities on which the Minister explicitly depends for the level of new investment required and it hammered the energy-intensive users, risking exports of jobs abroad along with carbon leakage. It gives carbon tax a bad name and shows who is in charge of DECC policy: the Chancellor.
On EN-6, although it is good to see the groundwork physically being dug for the first of the new generation of stations at Hinkley Point, will the Minister tell us when he anticipates that the first such station will be completed and online? Can he give us an indication of the dates for bringing the others online? Will he please not say that it is entirely up to the market, as that would suggest that he has not met any nuclear operators over the past year? He has, as I have, and I am sure he will have some idea of when that will happen.
Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I am, about the grid for some of the new power stations and, for that matter, renewables and about how the energy will get into the system for people to use?
Very much so. That is the benefit of having the package of NPSs to consider tonight, as we need to deal with the grid connectivity, too, to which I shall return in a moment. My hon. Friend makes a good point.
We are also considering EN-3 on renewable energy. Since we last debated the draft NPS on renewables, we have learned that the UK has dropped out of the top 10 global league tables for investment in renewables. That is quite a feat for the greenest Government ever. We have not just slipped out; we have bombed out. We have crashed out from having the fifth highest inward investment according to global rankings at the end of Labour’s Administration to having the 13th, according to the Pew report, in just one year. Today’s NPSs, including that on renewables, are part of the end-of-term report for the greenest Government ever, which states: “Must do better. After early promise, fails to live up to expectations and has gone backwards in many areas.”
The renewables document, EN-3, however, will succeed because it is built on very good foundations. It is welcome that the Government have made good on Labour’s ports competition and have started to build the manufacturing, distribution and servicing base in our ports, which will see a massive boom in our offshore wind. That builds on the consenting regime for offshore that was already under way under Labour. Those measures will provide crucial green jobs in manufacturing, engineering, design and maintenance up and down hard-pressed coastal regimes and in supply chains across the country, so they are to be welcomed. With streamlined planning in place, we will have the potential to create several hundred thousand jobs and to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by hundreds of millions of tonnes as we head in the direction set by the previous Government.
An answer to a question in January showed that incineration produces more CO2 than gas-fired facilities. Are we not giving incineration an incredibly favourable position by including it in the renewables statement rather than in the fossil fuel statement?
I understand the sentiment behind my hon. Friend’s question. The difficulty is the broad scope of the term “waste incineration”, as many different types and technologies come under that category. The issue is addressed in some of the amendments, including two tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), to which I shall return. My hon. Friend makes a very valid point and we have to be very confident that we are not going backwards by including certain things.
Let me direct Ministers’ attention to the bold statement in EN-1 that
“the Government supports a move across the EU from a 20% to a 30% emissions reduction target by 2020.”
That is very good, so can the Minister explain in his concluding remarks why his party’s Members in the European Parliament voted against those same proposals two weeks ago? It is so disappointing that wave and tidal power have taken a back seat in the Government’s plans again despite this national policy statement. Given the slashing of Labour’s marine renewables funds, the shelving of any proposals whatever—big or small—for the Severn estuary, the worrying noises from within the industry, in which people are looking to invest abroad, and the long wait for wave and tidal technologies to be properly recognised in the renewables obligation certificates fund, it is no wonder that the head of RenewableUK described the £20 million, out of a £200 million low-carbon innovation fund, that was given to the Government’s flagship marine scheme as
“a drop in the ocean”.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point about marine technologies. The Secretary of State has said that the mature technologies do not require a subsidy or any Government support, but does my hon. Friend agree that the technologies he is talking about have yet to be developed and will never become mature unless they get the Government support that is needed?
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely key point. If these technologies are to get up to large industrial and commercial scale, they need support; that cannot be done in any other way. Labour showed that with what it did with offshore wind and we need to replicate that in this regard. Hon. Members should look at the way the Scottish Government are driving ahead with these technologies in terms both of consents and of the ROC structure. Wales has immense potential but we also have potential all around the English coast.
In light of the documents, what specific plans do Ministers have to make sure that the maximum possible benefits from the huge and imminent expansion of renewables, notably in offshore wind but also in onshore wind as well as in other renewables such as biomass, large-scale wave and tidal technologies—if we get to that level—and energy from waste, stay in the UK in the form of jobs, skills, training, manufacturing, distribution and economic growth? The Secretary of State’s repeated warm words about green jobs will generate no dividend whatever if all the relevant technology and skills are imported. How will the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) help Mabey Bridge of Chepstow —a company he knows very well from his recent welcome visit to open its new turbine shaft manufacturing plant—to secure contracts from the many multinational companies that are currently sourcing many of their parts, labour and skills overseas?
The same question has to be asked in relation to the other national policy statements about nuclear, carbon capture and storage and all the other technologies in which we could be developing green jobs in manufacturing and a world-leading competitive edge in green expertise and knowledge. The purpose of our amendment (c), which was not selected—I understand why, Madam Deputy Speaker—was simply to remind the Minister to get a move on and do what he promised. We were promised the green economy road map in April, but April came and went, as did May and June, and here we are in July, with the House rising tomorrow or the day after. Did he mean April 2012, perhaps? A year that started with a tragic decision and lost jobs in relation to the Sheffield Forgemasters’ loan was depressed further by the UK’s falling out of the global top 10 for renewables investment and the unseemly mess of the feed-in-tariffs fiasco. It is now ending with the Minister having lost the green economic road map. Perhaps he is waiting for the return of a Labour Government to get us back on the road to green jobs; we would love to oblige. If not, will he just do what he said he would do and show us his road map?
My hon. Friend will have heard the point I raised with the Minister about the relative weakness of the British renewables industry. Does my hon. Friend think that a lot more could be done through local planning guidelines on new buildings to ensure the generation of electricity and of course more hot water from solar methods, which would in turn generate industry in this country?
I entirely agree. I have huge support for what my hon. Friend suggests for energy generation in individual houses and on estates—driven by local authorities and with private landlords. It is also about making sure that people benefit from the measures we put in place. It should not be just a one-way channel with the big-six companies providing energy, but with energy being sent the other way.
On carbon capture and storage and carbon capture readiness, the EN-2 document is good as far as it goes, but what is less good is the Government’s progress to match ambition to reality. As the document notes, CCS could potentially scrub as much as 90% of carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power generation. It gives us a real chance to bolster our energy security by maintaining wider diversity in the energy mix. Labour recognised that: as the Minister said, we ran the competition for the first large-scale CCS demonstration project. We also identified £l billion-worth of funding on which the Minister is following through. He is to be commended for holding his Treasury colleagues’ feet to the fire and keeping the £l billion at the ready. We had the announcement on the first CCS project this time last year, early on in the coalition. It was repeated in the emergency Budget, then in the comprehensive spending review and again in the recent Budget statement—it has been announced more times than the spring, summer and autumn sales at DFS—but what have we actually had? What money has been spent or work carried out? The answer is zero, zilch, nowt.
Let me give the hon. Gentleman a chance to put the record straight. Will he confirm that under the last Labour Budget there was no funding whatever for the CCS project and that it was only when we came to power that we gave real money to it— £1 billion, which is more than any other Government anywhere in the world have given to this sort of work?
I can put the record straight: not only had we identified the project but we had pledged the money for it.
Indeed we had: the CCS competition was up and running. Instead of having a delay of a year and waiting for some announcement, we would have been getting on with it now.
That is just the first project. We have also, as we have heard tonight, been promised projects 2, 3 and 4, depending, of course, on Mr Chancellor being his usual generous self and/or on European new entrant reserve funding—or perhaps on the tooth fairy at some point. If our amendment on CCS had been selected, we would simply have been asking the Minister to put our money—taxpayers’ money—where his mouth is.
If CCS is successful on an industrial scale, it will help with diversity and security of energy by making gas and coal part of our low-carbon future. Without it, the energy sources in these national policy statements—coal imminently and gas very soon after—are doomed in the UK. It has to work. Without it, the opportunity for Britain to lead the way in research, development and industrial application and to develop a world-lead in the export market will be missed. More to the point, we have a moral responsibility to do this. To all the people who argue that no fossil fuel can ever be clean, I say, “Look at China’s increased generation of energy every year, which is equal to total UK energy capacity. Look at China building one traditional ‘dirty’ coal-generating plant every single week,” because if we are serious about our intent to tackle international climate change, what greater opportunity is there to help others tackle their and our addiction to traditional, wasteful fossil fuel burning and create opportunities to lead in this innovation?
EN-5 deals with electricity networks infrastructure and the multibillion pound investment required. The whole House will want to wish National Grid a happy 75th birthday, but when you are 75, things start to creak a little and things fall off—present company excluded, Madam Deputy Speaker, including yourself. We not only need the investment in maintenance, but we need to link up parts of the country that are currently energy deserts. We need to develop more two-way connectivity to allow the generation that was mentioned to and from new locations, to develop a smart grid over time, and to deal with the potential doubling of electricity demand.
EN-4 anticipates the need for new gas import infrastructure and storage capacity to help avoid the volatility in prices to which we are now subjected and to provide gas security. The national policy statements that we have not touched on cover environmental and other planning issues exhaustively. The Minister’s officials are to be congratulated on their hard work across the board.
Underpinning all the welcome NPSs before us, the EMR last week, the new energy Bill, which we anticipate some time in the coming parliamentary Session, and the current Energy Bill, which seems to have been lost in action temporarily, is the need not only to tackle our energy consumption by demand-side measures and energy efficiency and to have new energy production that is low carbon and increasingly renewables-based, but to resolve the most complex of energy conundrums in the most cost-effective way possible. The Minister and his Secretary of State are in danger of losing the argument for new generation energy before they have even begun. They have lost focus on the need for affordability, for UK plc to remain competitive internationally, and for people to be able to pay their bills without making the choice between eating and heating.
Two of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) have also been tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. I have spoken to my hon. Friend about my worries that at this late stage, with the need to get the national policy statements completed, any of the amendments could add further delay to the already delayed NPSs. However, I have great sympathy with his desire to see that the waste hierarchy is effectively applied to all energy waste. Although I cannot support his amendments if they cause delay, I join his call for the Minister, perhaps in his concluding remarks, to make it clear that outside the NPSs, the IPC will have to take account of the waste hierarchy and make the right decisions.
I think the Minister will agree that, as I said at the outset, it is disappointing that these national policy statements, which will underpin our energy future in the UK, have so little time to be debated today, but it is good that they exist. As so many hon. Members wish to speak and so little time is available, I simply say to the Minister well done on getting to this point. It has been long awaited and we understand why. We can afford no more delay, dither or uncertainty. Ernst and Young’s recent report stated baldly:
“Compared with the level of ambition, clarity of policy direction and scale of investment being delivered by a number of other countries, the UK is in danger of being left behind.”
The Secretary of State needs to put a bit more of his energy into delivering our energy future.
Several hon. Members
Order. We have approximately 55 minutes left to take 18 speakers. I shall set a time limit from now of five minutes on all Back-Bench speakers. That means that not everybody will get in if every Member takes five minutes. Out of courtesy and consideration for fellow Back-Bench Members, Members might like to curtail their speeches. They can do the maths as well as I can.
I begin my contribution to the debate by putting my cards clearly on the table. My constituency, Montgomeryshire, is threatened as never before in its history—threatened not by military might, but by energy policy and by an invasion of wind turbines, electricity pylons and substations on a scale that will destroy the natural beauty of mid-Wales and desecrate its landscape. I owe it to my constituents who sent me here to do everything within my power and within the law to limit such desecration. More specifically, I speak with a total commitment to defeating National Grid’s mid-Wales connection project, a monstrous proposal which underpins it all.
The national policy statements are hugely significant documents. I wanted—but I am not able—to spend a considerable amount of time referring to all the positive points in those documents. I shall concentrate on the one aspect that concerns me most. We know that we are facing a huge problem. We must face the reality that the United Kingdom faces on energy. The coalition Government have no choice but to tackle the problems facing future supply. Action has been delayed too long and previous Governments have ducked difficult decisions. Our existing nuclear power generating capacity is nearing the end of its life. We cannot allow ourselves to become dangerously dependent on imported energy from less stable parts of the world, and we have signed up to moving towards a low carbon economy.
Those factors have led many of us to reassess some of the opinions we once held with certainty. After being an opponent of nuclear power all my life, I have recognised now that it is essential. After opposing the Severn barrage all my life, I recognise now that we must encourage the private sector to come forward with a realistic proposal. Perhaps the most important thing of all is that we drive forward with our innovative green deal to reduce energy use. But I do not believe that we should sacrifice the countryside of Britain for a technology that satisfies Government objectives in only the most superficial and short-term way.
To create a massive overdependence on onshore wind would be a short-sighted and costly mistake, driving millions of the poorest people into fuel poverty and costing Britain thousands of jobs for a marginal benefit. Mid-Wales is facing a prospect that it has never thought about before. The National Grid’s mid-Wales connection project envisages a new 400 kW cable stretching from the heart of mid-Wales down one of our narrow valleys to the existing grid in Shropshire, some 30 miles distant. It involves a 20-acre substation and about 100 km of cable, and because it is a connection dedicated to wind farms, it will eventually involve about 600 additional wind turbines. It is an horrendous prospect.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
No, I am sorry, I do not have time. I cannot give way. I owe it to other speakers.
The project has led to the rising of a people’s protest unmatched by anything in my lifetime’s experience. Even the First Minister of Wales and his Welsh Government have issued public statements opposing the substation and opposing the line. I have time to touch on only two points this evening, and those are crucial. The national policy statements give leviathan-like powers to the Secretary of State through the approval process. My first point relates to the attitude of people towards onshore wind. I suspect that in mid-Wales most people were generally supportive of the concept of onshore wind, until this proposal came forward. Now, as far as I can see, the whole of mid-Wales has turned against the entire sector and is linking up with other organisations across Britain to take on the sector. I have never seen anything so unified.
The second point is about the unity of the United Kingdom. If we manage somehow to force the project on Wales when the people are against it, the First Minister is against it, his Government are against it, and both branches of the coalition parties in government here are against it, we will create an unmatched degree of resentment. I suggest that the Minister Google the word Tryweryn when he goes home, and he will understand that previously we had an occasion when external demands for power would have desecrated Wales. The people rose up in opposition, and they will do so again if the project goes through.
I have tabled three amendments to the national policy statements motions—amendment (e) to motion 1, amendment (b) to motion 2, and amendment (a) to motion 3. I have one minute in which to speak to each one, so I will try to get the end of my speech in first. I say to the Minister that, on the arguments about delay, and if he accepts any changes, I understand the need for clarity, which is partly what I am arguing for, and that the industry needs some sort of certainty on the plan. A supposed delay in the national policy statements would not mean that applications could not be made, proceed and be heard. I know that because an application is currently being heard for a huge incinerator in my constituency that would take 750,000 tonnes of non-recycled waste every year and generate 65 MW of electricity.
That perversity has come about by default, in the sense that the Minister, having decided that waste should be part of the IPC process, has set a minimum requirement of 50 MW, which has almost invited the industry to come forward with applications for huge developments. The industry has decided that it will have various sub-UK regional units, and has used this opportunity to do exactly that. Nothing has been said about the proximity principle.
Local people are trying to decide how best to deal with their own waste locally. Part of the solution might be smaller incineration, and I do not contest that. I contest the scale of the current proposals, which is why I have tabled the amendments. As an hon. Member said earlier, the argument for moving this material into the guidance on fossil fuel is about the fact that it produces a huge amount of carbon. I understand the argument about why methane is better than carbon because it can be captured and used. In fact, the incinerator proposed in my constituency, basically as part of a current open-cast mine, is next to a huge landfill site. So there is a triple alliance. They are capturing the methane from the landfill site and selling it, so to me that is something of a false analysis.
The question is whether such activities are green. In the context of the proximity principle, I fail to understand how it is green to drag waste from one end of the country to another without adding carbon into the calculation. I also fail to understand how it could be carbon-neutral to import waste, because my great fear is that the way this guidance is structured means that it will not be about waste policy, but about opportunities for people to speculate on energy generation, ignorant of a waste policy. The receiving stations for the waste will be at ports, to come by rail and road to be burned. The sustainability of these mechanisms is questionable. If we are to move to zero waste the amount of potential fuel supply will reduce—and rightly so—so how sustainable will they be over 25, 35 and 40 years? They might be sustainable if we were to burn the waste generated by the Camorra in Naples and import it into Newport to do that, but heaven forfend that such a thing should take place. Well, not now.
The waste hierarchy is not simply about local questions of determination. In the longer term it could go much further, so I invite the Minister to choose, of all the amendments I have tabled, to put this method into the IPC’s consideration process. If it is not possible to do it this way, will he please explain how it should be done, because at the moment we have a series of factors that it is apparently not to examine. It seems that the list of what not to examine, including connection and the grid, is more important than the list of things it is to examine. That means that it cannot determine any particular decision in the round, in its proper context—certainly not in relation to energy supply under the waste hierarchy.
I say to the Minister that there are security problems here. If we choose to have a smaller number of larger units, that is not secure. We should be looking for a more distributed process. That is what I thought the Assembly in Cardiff was trying to think about. This trumps anything that the Assembly would want to do. It is a policy that applies across England and Wales, yet it denies the Welsh Assembly Government the opportunity to make a real decision. That is why I proposed to take it out of the processes. That would not have stopped wind energy and all the other things, but it would have given them the opportunity to determine that, so I ask the Minister—with very little time now to speak to the amendments properly—to take account—
Order. I call Martin Horwood.
I rise to speak to the nuclear national policy statement in particular on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party, and to state our clear and unchanged view that nuclear power is unsafe, unaffordable, uninsurable, unpopular, not renewable, not decentralised, not particularly reliable, and not the kind of energy that the greenest Government ever should ever be caught promoting. When we are already paying £1.5 billion a year in nuclear clean-up and decommissioning costs from the previous generation of nuclear power stations, when we still do not know how, when or where we will dispose of the last 64 years’ worth of radioactive waste, and when country after country is abandoning nuclear power, it is extraordinary that one of the national policy statements before us today seriously proposes embarking on a new generation of nuclear power stations.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but he must desist from peddling the myth that the decommissioning costs that this country faces are entirely due to the civil nuclear programme. Does he not accept that most of those costs are due to our military programme?
I accept that a percentage of them are—we have debated this at length in relation to the Energy Bill—but the hon. Gentleman must accept that a huge bill is still falling on taxpayers in this country as a result of the last generation of nuclear power stations. Why would we want to risk repeating that mistake?
I acknowledge that nuclear power is a relatively low-carbon energy source, but it is not renewable. Uranium is very far from being a renewable resource, and may prove to be very expensive if more of the world chooses to follow us down this dangerous path, although few would do so if even the insurance costs of nuclear power were accurately reflected in its price. One estimate suggests that French nuclear power might be four times as expensive if the French taxpayer were not the insurer of last resort.
I also acknowledge—I agree with the Minister on this point—that fulfilling our future energy needs is a challenge. The overarching national policy statement sets out the need for urgency, with one quarter of the UK’s generating capacity due to close by 2018, but the nuclear NPS states on page 235 that applicants only have to provide a plan that is
“credible for deployment by 2025”.
It even states that
“a detailed project plan…will not normally be needed.”
The worldwide experience is that not a single nuclear power station has ever been built on time, on budget or without public subsidy. It is very doubtful what contribution nuclear will make to closing the energy gap.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way, for the last time.
The hon. Gentleman has made his party’s position on new nuclear very clear, but where does it stand on extending the life of existing nuclear plants so that low-carbon generation can be extended to bridge the gap that he talks about?
There is already an issue relating to existing nuclear, as the floor price for carbon will give it an undeserved subsidy for no actual change in behaviour.
Planning for the energy gap pales into insignificance beside the time scales that have to be imagined for waste disposal and site safety. It is those long-term dangers that should concern us most. Politicians are often criticised for a lack of long-term foresight, but certainly not this Government. The historian in me is delighted to report that we are making policy today for the mid-22nd century and beyond. On the very long-term scale there is the moral question of whether material that is likely to be dangerously radioactive for millennia should ever be intentionally created, however safely we plan to store it. We can know as little about societies 1,000 years from now as the Anglo-Saxons could have known about us. To talk of long-term storage, accessibility and monitoring arrangements over such time scales is utterly meaningless. We are leaving a toxic legacy to future generations about which we can know absolutely nothing.
The NPS does not appear to pay any attention at all to those issues, but it does have something to say on rather shorter historical time scales. In relation to those, Ministers are acting not so much like Anglo-Saxons making policy for today, but like Gladstone or Disraeli trying to determine our current waste disposal policy. The NPS states, on page 239:
“Geological disposal of higher activity waste from new nuclear power stations is currently expected to be available for new build waste from around 2130”
That is on the assumption that spent fuel rods kept on site will have cooled sufficiently for disposal in geological disposal facilities. Every decade of activity will add another decade to the end disposal date.
Hon. Members are today being asked to make nuclear waste disposal policy well into the mid-22nd century. Of course, policy making on such a time scale is not remotely practical, and the NPS admits as much. On page 239 it says:
“it is possible that there could be waste on site for longer than the assessment has been able to look ahead. Predictions of potential climate change impacts become less certain the further into the future the assessments are for, and it is not practicable to consider beyond 2100 at this stage.”
That is an interesting contrast with the Weightman report, which explicitly evaluates risk only in so far as that is reasonably practical and does not even address the major cost of evacuation and dislocation that has emerged at Fukushima.
Why are we being asked to approve a policy with risks that will be significant into the mid-22nd century when the NPS itself admits that those are not practicable to foresee, and the Government’s own safety adviser has not even tried to address them? The NPS talks of additional safeguards to cover these risks, saying that applicants need to
“identify the potential effects of the credible maximum scenario in the most recent projections of marine and coastal flooding”
and demonstrate that they could take “further measures” if necessary. I suspect that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and the No Need for Nuclear campaign, and all their lawyers, will no doubt take full advantage of those words, with scope for years of argument and debate. If I were an investor in new nuclear, I would not be holding my breath for a return on investment before 2025.
The jury is still out on the long-term effects of Fukushima, but it is already clear that even without a major Chernobyl-style meltdown 50,000 people have still been displaced, and there is a bill running to tens of billions of pounds—and, as always, the taxpayer is being asked to foot the bill.
The real lesson, if I can paraphrase this in parliamentary language, is: stuff happens, and when it does, nuclear power is the worst possible energy source to have lying in its path. At this of all times, we should reassess our national commitment to nuclear. I know that the radioactive tendencies in the Tory and Labour parties make the passing of this policy statement inevitable, but we must challenge every licence and its capacity to withstand the worst-case scenario of climate change, and we must challenge every hidden and indirect subsidy that will make nuclear power possible.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). I have heard it all before, and I still do not agree with him. I stand here as chair of the all-party nuclear energy group, so it would not take a genius to work out where my sympathies lie. The hon. Gentleman talked about the stone age, and that is exactly where he would like us to be. We are trying to develop a future—somewhere we want to go to. Eventually, one day, man will have to solve the problem of his own survival and move to another planet. It is pretty clear that the hon. Gentleman did not wait for the spaceship before he went there.
I am bothered by what the Minister said about the time delay that has, once again, been introduced. I attacked my own Government on the length of time it took them to put their policies together, and here we are again, not much further forward than we were at the time of the last general election. I accept that the national policy statements are needed, and I support them. If there are votes, I will support the Government on this, because it is vital to this nation. It was said earlier that there was no solution to the problem of nuclear waste, but there is. Anybody who wishes to go to Oskarshamn in Sweden will see that technology in action. The good news is that Sweden has taken the next step and is now building its new repository.
We all want CCS technology to succeed and prosper. Does my hon. Friend agree that although Members in all parts of the House seem to be betting the farm on CCS succeeding, what we know about radioactive waste disposal is significantly well in advance of what we know about carbon capture and disposal?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. If anybody knows anything about nuclear power, it will be him, as Sellafield is in his constituency and he deals with it on a day-to-day basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) did well in speaking to his amendments in a very short space of time. He and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), who is not in his place at the moment, said that they dislike incinerators. The good news is that people who live around nuclear power stations do not dislike them; in fact, they see them as a source of wealth and a way of developing further.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Scotland at this point. These NPSs apply to Scotland as well, energy being a matter that is reserved to this House. We can abide by all of them north of the border except on one thing, which is the most important in the development of any new technology or, for that matter, old technology—planning. In Scotland, planning can be used to stop new nuclear power stations or wind farms being built anywhere, whether offshore, onshore or anywhere else. That is wrong, and the Government and this House should take a careful look at it. Thousands of jobs and billions of pounds are involved in building a nuclear power station. The west of Scotland, in particular, will need 9,000 jobs in a few years’ time, and we are not going to get them thanks to a Government north of the border who use the planning rules to stop nuclear development, all because of a doctrine and an ideology followed by many people in this House—the hon. Member for Cheltenham is one of them—that has nothing to do with how real people have to live their lives now and in future.
I have heard the talk about Fukushima. Although everybody in this House regrets what happened there, the fact is that the problem was not the nuclear power station but the tidal wave that hit it.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not.
I do not believe that anybody has, as yet, been killed because of the nuclear power station. Tens of thousands of people have been killed thanks to the tsunami, but that is unfortunately the way things are going.
I have already said that I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Base load for this country is very important, as is the cost of energy. Two of the big six have already put their prices up. It is the Government’s job to try to make sure that we bring these people to task, but we do not want to give them loads of money to build wind farms in places where they are no good and a waste of money, as we have seen in many places in Scotland. I want a level playing field in energy for everybody. If there are no subsidies for nuclear, there should be no subsidies anywhere else. If we are looking to try to promote low carbon, then so be it. However, my wee old ladies up in Drumchapel, an area of my constituency that is one of the poorest areas in the country, are worried about how they are going to pay their electricity bills at the end of this year. That is a bit more important than whether we build a wind farm in the middle of nowhere that is a waste of money and that we are subsidising.
There are many items in the national policy statements that are to be commended. Were it not for a trip that I made a number of years ago, it is unlikely that I would be addressing the House about my concerns over nuclear power. It is important that emotions do not blur the facts that form the substance of this debate, but it was incredibly difficult to suppress the strength of feeling that overwhelms one when visiting the small, now deserted town of Prypiat, which is now in Ukraine.
I intend to highlight why I believe that the quest for new sources of nuclear power, as a means of producing energy, should be halted. Although I am sure carbon emissions have a place in this debate, my concern about nuclear is focused elsewhere. It can be divided into three main categories: first, the financial viability, without Government subsidy, of any new nuclear facility; secondly, how new nuclear waste can realistically be disposed of; and thirdly, but most importantly, human and animal safety.
I am acutely aware of the need for new ways to generate power. If nuclear generation really was the only option, I would of course support new nuclear power plants. We cannot allow the lights to go out. However, nuclear power will not keep the lights on. I believe that cleaner fossil fuel plants, which are relatively fast to build, renewables, and state-of-the-art decentralised power stations are better alternatives.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
In the interests of the debate, I have to continue. I am ever so sorry.
I find it very worrying that the Government are providing significant subsidies, met by the taxpayer. Subsidies are a useful tool for kick-starting new investment. They occur in a number of ways for a wide variety of sectors, but nuclear power should not be part of that.
Disaster insurance is another factor that must be considered, as we heard earlier. Vast liabilities fall to the taxpayer. European law caps insurance liability to £1.6 billion for the industry, and payouts after that fall to Governments. Estimates are still being formed for the recent disaster in Japan, but it is thought that it will cost in the region of £60 billion. Shortfalls like that could cripple our economy.
The second category is that of waste products, which I mentioned in my question to the Minister. Unfortunately, how we will have clean, effective and safe waste management for future nuclear radioactive waste remains unanswered. Underground storage has been suggested, and I thank the Minister for his earlier reply, but at the moment that is only technically achievable and is not a proven reality. Future waste costs are unknown and rely on technology that is yet to be proven to work. That risk from an inevitable by-product is unacceptable.
The final category is safety. The Chernobyl disaster, 25 yeas ago in 1986, brought home to the rest of the world the fact that nuclear power is phenomenally dangerous, and not just in the immediate vicinity of the disaster but across a wide, Europe-sized area. It is well-documented that radioactive caesium was detected in a number of upland areas in the UK. An Environment Agency report from last month states that in 2009 restrictions were still in place for 343 farms or part farms, affecting 190,000 sheep. Twenty five years on, there is still a considerable legacy for the UK from a nuclear disaster some 1,200 miles away. Indeed, freshwater fish in Cumbria still show signs of contamination. Worryingly, the maximum radiation dose that any member of the public would receive from eating those fish was assessed to be up to 10% of their annual limit.
No monetary cost can be put on the devastation should the highly unlikely but possible eventuality of a nuclear accident occur. The national policy statement says that
“the risk of radiological health detriment posed by nuclear power stations (both during normal operation and as a result of an unplanned release) is very small.”
Let us note that it does not say “zero”. A nuclear disaster may be a remote possibility, as we were told in 1985.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I have only got another minute. [[Hon. Members: “You would get an extra minute.”] I know, but it is fairer to other people if I keep going.
If a nuclear disaster did happen, the consequences would be immense. The question I ask today is whether it is really worth the risk. We must balance slightly cheaper electricity against an unknown cost that would dwarf any expenditure contingency plans. I say that it is not worth it and we should not take the risk. I urge the Government to reconsider their nuclear programme.
We are all aware of the need to fight climate change and we all have a role to play. This is an issue we need to face as a nation. The question is whether we are facing it as a nation and whether all parts of the nation are playing the same part. Are we all in this together? I would say that we are not. Whether one can stake a claim to the accolade, “We’re all in this together” depends on where one lives.
I speak for a region and a county that can fairly say that they are playing their part in the fight against climate change. Our commitment to generating energy from renewable sources is exceptional. Durham county council was the first local authority to produce a renewable energy strategy back in 1994. In County Durham, 22% of our renewable energy needs are met from renewable sources, predominantly wind. We have 16 wind farms with 65 turbines that generate more than 120 MW of power. That provides for the energy needs of 69,000 houses. In Chilton in my constituency, Dalkia has built a biomass facility with the support of the local community, which generates up to 17 MW of electricity. The wind farms at Trimdon Grange, Walkway and Butterwick generate 44 MW of electricity from 21 turbines, which are all more than 100 metres tall or four times the height of the Angel of the North. The county also produces renewable energy from hydro and landfill.
My part of the country is playing its part, especially when compared with other parts of the country. In the context of the national policy statements, we should look at how the rest of the country is sharing the burden of renewable energy generation. The latest figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show that the north-east is producing more than 40% of its energy needs from renewable sources when all approved schemes are taken into consideration. That is equivalent to the regions of London, the west midlands, the south-east, the north-west, the east, the east midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber combined. The north-east is producing 563 MW from approved renewable energy schemes, which is more than twice the figure for the south-east and the south-west.
The position on wind farms is even more telling. County Durham is again playing its part, but what about the rest of the country? There are significant schemes in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire. Let us look at the members of the Cabinet. Only five host wind farms in their constituencies. The largest wind farms are in the constituencies of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander). The former has 226 turbines and the latter 259. However, those constituencies are huge. The first covers nearly 1,500 square miles and the second approaching 2,000 square miles. That is equivalent to one turbine per 6 to 7 square miles. E.ON is to announce a wind farm in my constituency with up to 45 turbines. If that was added to those already in existence and in planning in the Sedgefield constituency, there would be 78 wind turbines in 151 square miles, which is one turbine per 2 square miles. Hampshire, where the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has his constituency, consumes three times as much energy as County Durham and produces zero of its energy from renewable sources. That is not all of us being in it together.
Over the past 30 to 40 years, Durham county council has done an excellent job in reclaiming the pit heaps that once scarred the landscape. It did not do that for the landscape to be reindustrialised, and this time without the thousands of jobs. It does not have to be like that. Renewable energy needs to be produced, but there must be more efficient ways of doing it.
I will not take interventions because I am thinking of other colleagues.
An example is the biomass facility in Chilton built by Dalkia, which produces 17 MW of electricity. A written answer that I received from the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), last week stated that wind turbines are 21.5% efficient. Therefore, it would take 40 turbines to produce the same electricity as the one biomass facility in Chilton. Strangely enough, that is about the same number that E.ON wants to build on a 16 sq km site just to the south of the village and on part of a site of special scientific interest. No doubt the company will produce a handsome community chest for the area. However, when that is compared with the population of 40,000 and the increase in energy prices that my constituents face, not to mention the thousands of pounds to be received by a handful of landowners to see the area blighted for 25 years, it is asking too much.
Of course there is a need for renewable energy and for a national plan. However, that plan must involve the whole nation and it must share the burden, not just the benefits.
This country faces a serious threat of black-outs unless we undertake a major programme of building new generating capacity to replace the existing plants that are coming to the end of their lives or that will no longer be legal under EU directives. I strongly support measures to streamline the planning process so that that construction programme can go ahead and, in particular, to encourage the development of nuclear after 12 wasted years in which there was a failure to move ahead with the nuclear programme.
We will be able to avoid the black-outs only if all our effort is put into this unprecedented construction programme. I do not believe that the country can afford, in addition, to build generating capacity that has no real use. That is what a lot of these measures are about. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said in a recent article that the measures he is introducing will deliver “secure, affordable energy”. They will deliver neither secure nor affordable energy. Renewables are not secure. The sun does not come out at night, it does not come out in the winter very often, and it does not come out when it is cloudy. It is not available when we most need the energy.
Wind is intermittent. The recent Stuart Young report stated that wind plant operates at less than 20% of its capacity over the country as a whole for half the time, less than 10% for a third of the time and barely 1% for one day every month. For each of the four highest periods of peak demand in 2010, it operated at only 4.7%, 5.5%, 2.6% and 2.5% of capacity. Precisely when we needed it most, wind was not there.
For some reason, people ignore the lessons of the past. The great Victorian economist Jevons wrote back in 1865:
“The first great requisite of motive power is that it shall be wholly at our command, to be exerted when, and where, and in what degree we desire. The wind, for instance, as a direct motive power, is wholly inapplicable to a system of machine labour for during a calm season the whole business of the country would be thrown out of gear.”
Those who seriously believe that we can run this country on wind power are living in a dream world and are harking back to the middle ages.
Nor will this programme produce lower costs. The Secretary of State said that it would keep bills lower than they would be if we stuck with the existing arrangements, but I find that statement completely indefensible. We cannot lower the cost of energy by requiring people to use more expensive types of energy. If we replace low-cost energy with high-cost energy, we will not and cannot reduce the costs, yet that is the whole thrust of the programme. The Renewable Energy Foundation and the Committee on Climate Change agree that it will cost £100 billion in subsidies to 2030, which is equivalent to more than £200 a household a year, to support renewables.
We know, fortunately, that the Government do not really believe they will bring down costs or that renewables costs will rise less rapidly than those of hydrocarbons. If they did believe that, there would be no need for subsidies. They would not be forecasting £100 billion of subsidies if higher hydrocarbon costs or reduced costs of renewables would make the latter economic without subsidy. Sadly, the Secretary of State does not live by the logic of his own position but instead puts forward rhetoric that is neither defensible nor supportable. I wait to hear in his winding-up speech whether the Minister can explain how we can get lower costs from higher-cost energy.
Several hon. Members
Order. We are running out of time, so brevity is important. If hon. Members have already spoken, I think it is quite wrong for them to try to intervene, as there is a very limited time for the debate.
I am very happy to follow the earlier speeches of the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and, perhaps less surprisingly, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). I only wish that the latter and his colleagues were in a position to vote according to how they have spoken if there is a vote later this evening. Time is very short, and I wish to make just three points. One is about the overall targets in the national policy statements, one is about energy from waste, and I will finally say a few words about nuclear.
When I intervened on the Minister earlier about the overall emission reduction targets set out in the fourth carbon budget, I sensed a certain irritation that I kept standing up to make the point that although the targets were ambitious compared with other countries—I certainly give the Government that—they were not ambitious enough. I am sorry if that makes me a bit of a Cassandra in the House, but the Tyndall Centre, one of the foremost institutes on climate change in this country, states that the targets set out in the fourth carbon budget set us on course for having only a 60% likelihood of avoiding the 2° C temperature rise threshold. If I were to say to anybody in the House, “If you step on this aeroplane, it’s got only a 60% chance of reaching its destination safely”, the chances are they might just think twice before getting on the plane. It seems extraordinary. If any other area of Government policy was knowingly designed with such a low chance of success, we would be up in arms, so why are we not when it comes to the very survival of the planet?
Let us not forget that the 2° C threshold is not the distinction between acceptable climate change on the one hand and dangerous climate change on the other. It is the difference between dangerous climate change and very dangerous climate change. That is the lens through which I would like us to look at the national policy statements tonight.
I wish to make a brief point in support of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), who rightly questioned the Government’s classification of incineration or energy from waste as a renewable energy source. Given that a significant amount of the material that goes into incinerators is not made from renewables, and that they can often emit at least a third more carbon dioxide than a modern gas-fired power station, it is hard to see quite why they are considered a renewable source.
Furthermore, massive new incinerators such as the one at Newhaven, near my constituency, lock local authorities into providing huge quantities of waste for very many years. The contracts last many years and, under them, a minimum amount of waste is required to feed the incinerators. We are therefore locked into the process, which inevitably discourages waste reduction, reuse and recycling efforts.
The final point that I wish to make is about nuclear. Nuclear power is unsafe, uneconomic and, more than anything else, simply unnecessary. We do not need it. Of the Government’s 17 possible pathways to delivering 80% CO2 reductions by 2050, four include no energy from nuclear or coal by 2035. A recent report by WWF and others concluded that by 2050, it would be perfectly possible to generate 95% of global energy supplies from renewable sources alone. There would of course be a need for up-front investments to make the transition, in the order of 1% to 2% of global gross domestic product, but the report also found that that investment would turn into a positive cash flow after 2035, leading to a positive annual result of 2% of global GDP in 2050. In place of nuclear, renewables are quicker to deliver, can meet our energy demands and have a huge potential to boost the UK’s economy. There are far more green jobs in renewables than there ever are in fossil fuels.
It is not those of us who advocate renewables who are living in the dark ages. To the contrary, it is Members such as the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), who seems not to know about such things as storing energy, European super-grids or the fact that we are talking not about one single energy source but about a whole range of renewable sources that, together, can provide the energy that we need if the political commitment and will is there. Nuclear energy is incredibly unsafe, as Fukushima has shown us, and massively expensive. More than ever, it simply is not needed. I call on hon. Members to consider that carefully when we hopefully come to vote on it later tonight.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on these important statements. I will try to keep my remarks brief, because I am very conscious that other hon. Members want to speak. I entirely endorse the Minister’s comments that we need a clear planning regime for major infrastructure in this country. That is what these statements are about—facilitating the planning process.
I wish to talk about national policy statement 3, the inclusion of energy from waste, and in particular incineration. I am not against incineration per se, but I am in favour of it being a last resort, which is why it is important to tie this in with the waste review and the waste hierarchy. However, I am most against not listening to people. I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson), who is not in the Chamber. He said that people who live near nuclear power stations did not seem to mind them, whereas people who live near incinerators very much mind them. That is absolutely the case, and I shall explain in a moment why I have a local interest in that respect.
I also want to focus on the planning system, localism—an important tenet of this Government—and the waste review. Localism will mean nothing if local communities are not sufficiently empowered to tackle potentially damaging developments in their area. In my constituency, there is a proposal to site an incinerator near Newhurst quarry, Shepshed. Many of my constituents feel that their voices have not been heard, either in the Environment Agency process for the granting of the environmental permit, or in the planning process. I am delighted to say that the county council has so far resisted giving planning permission to that incinerator, but we are about to go round the houses again with a new planning application and an appeal against the original refusal.
I speak for many constituents when I say that the planning system continues to disfranchise local communities, and often seems to favour large developers, who are able to ride roughshod over the views and concerns of local people. The views of local people are not taken into account in the planning process, and it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify in his winding-up speech or another time whether the statements could define the role and position of local communities in relation to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. At the moment, that seems to be very much a national planning infrastructure body, and the voice of local communities could easily be forgotten or ignored.
The statements explicitly state that the IPC should
“consider how the accumulation of, and interrelationship between, effects might affect the environment, economy or community as a whole, even though they may be acceptable when considered on an individual basis with mitigation measures in place”.
That is an important point to bear in mind, because all to often, planning decisions seem to be made by considering many individual factors rather than the impact that a development might have on an area as a whole. Incinerators will often have a cumulative negative impact on the character of a local area.
I do not have time to say much about two other aspects of the planning system—visual amenity and the impact of incinerators on historical environments—but it seems that incinerators, which often need large stacks to make them work, cannot possibly be seen not to have an impact on the visual amenity of an area.
People are very concerned about the health issues in respect of applications for building incinerators. I wrote to the Health Protection Agency on 29 June and received a response at the end of last week. Although it reiterated its usual position—that the health effects of modern municipal waste incinerators are not harmful—it also acknowledged public concerns and it confirmed that it is in discussions with researchers at Imperial college, London, about a potential study into birth outcomes around municipal waste incinerators. It is currently in the process of drawing up a detailed proposal.
That is where I come back to my original point: we must not forget the views of local communities. As I said in my intervention on the Minister, if we want this country to follow a low-carbon future, we must take people with us.
I think I have made my point on the role of incinerators —it must fit in with Government waste policy—and an Opposition Member has already mentioned the parliamentary answer he received on 17 January about the carbon that is produced by incinerators. Therefore, in conclusion, I must admit that I was tempted by the amendments, but I take what the Minister has said—that energy from waste means something broader than just incinerators—and on that basis, I shall not back them. However, it would be helpful to have a clear understanding of the place of incinerators in the waste hierarchy—I welcome the Minister saying that they are low down in that. The voice of local communities must not be forgotten.
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall try to be briefer than the five minutes allowed. There is a lot of detail in the documents, and it is a shame that we are not able to have a longer debate on some of those issues.
In his opening remarks, the Minister talked about the need for certainty in the marketplace, as he has a number of times. I am sure that he is as concerned as I am at the quarterly Ernst and Young survey, which shows that energy infrastructure investment has fallen in the past year. I mentioned carbon capture and storage, skills and export potential in an intervention, so I shall not repeat that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson), who is no longer in the Chamber, made a point about nuclear in Scotland. I wanted to place on record the deep irony of the position. The separatist Administration in Scotland, with their anti-nuclear policy, seem quite content, effectively, for the base load to be imported from what will be, in their wishes and by that time, a foreign country, to keep the lights on in Scotland.
However, I wanted to make a couple of specific points in relation to the documents, particularly in relation to EN-3 and the impact on commercial fisheries. The document refers to discussions with representatives of the fishing industry about the safety zones that might restrict or exclude activity around offshore wind turbine developments, which has been raised with me by fishing representatives—it is not a direct constituency interest, but it is an interest for a number of people in Scotland. Will the Minister explain further—if he cannot do so in his summing-up, he could do so by writing later—what mitigation will be in place for those industries and communities that are reliant on fisheries? Perhaps that also relates to the Crown Estate, which is also referred to in that policy statement. Will he say whether we can look at the community benefit when Crown Estate revenues are derived from offshore wind developments? When we talk about community benefit, for example in Scotland, it does not mean that the benefit should go to Edinburgh: it means that it should go to the communities that will be adversely affected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) referred to creaking grid infrastructure, which is a crucial point to marry up with these policy statements. So too is the transmission charging regime, and the Minister will have heard me make this point on several occasions. The way in which the transmission charging regime works at the moment has been portrayed in some forums as anti-Scottish discrimination. I would not put it in those terms—it has probably been done for political purposes—but we are encumbered by a regime that is designed for a pre-renewable age, and we need to ensure that it is fit for purpose, alongside the infrastructure that is needed in the national grid for renewable energy. It is important to look at geographical signals and how they have changed in relation to where electricity will be generated in the future. That is why I welcome the Ofgem TransmiT review and I hope that Ministers will respond to any recommendations quickly and concisely so that they, these statements and the electricity market reform proposals earlier in the week will work together to give us the best chance of a balanced, sustainable and secure energy future.
This is an important debate on the energy future of our country. I boasted a little last week in Prime Minister’s questions about how Suffolk has ambitions to be the greenest county. However, I wish to make it clear today that I fully welcome all the national policy statements, in particular that referring to Sizewell as a potential new nuclear site. That is welcomed locally, although about eight constituents have written to me with their concerns about nuclear power. However, I am more than convinced by the Weightman nuclear review, and given that I see the dome of Sizewell B every time I go home, I can assure my constituents and the House that I live in close proximity to a nuclear power station and feel perfectly safe.
Coastal erosion is also relevant to my part of the world, and I am comforted by the fact that the Environment Agency has provided general support, although it recognises that detailed coastal erosion mitigation plans are needed. I also wish to raise the issue of the Minsmere sluice, which is especially important to some of my constituents. I highlight that so that the agency is fully aware of the concerns that people have.
I have to cut my remarks short, so all I would say to the Minister and the Secretary of State—it is a shame that he is not in his place, especially to hear the contribution by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) earlier—is that I am fully behind these national policy statements. Speed is of the essence and certainty is needed to engender investor confidence. I have worked with my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), on this issue and we are ambitious to bring energy to our coast—and inland—where appropriate, but we need support in bridging the skills gap and capturing job opportunities. I support the motions.
There are two minutes left.
Perhaps I should send the Minister a copy of what I would have said and ask him to respond to it.
I wish to draw attention to the need to get right the future capacity. The documents—EN-1 in particular—conclude that we will require 133 GW of installed capacity by the early 2020s. The figure appears to have come from nowhere and is not supported by the accompanying updated energy provision documents. Indeed, recent pronouncements by the National Grid appear to suggest that that is a considerable overestimate of the likely capacity required to enable us to keep the lights on.
EN-1 is an over-arching policy document, so that conclusion spreads throughout the rest of the documents before us. They determine what energy mix we will have, including not whether we should have any further nuclear power but whether the new nuclear programme should be extensive. Even the UEP figures on enhanced capacity suggest that we will not have the amount of nuclear power that the Government suggest we want.
We need to get the capacity figures right. The National Grid Company’s projection that we will need about 100 GW of installed capacity by the early 2020s to balance the system along with a little additional interconnection and a little work on energy demand—but not an enormous amount—is in stark contrast to what appears to be the guesswork in these overarching documents. My plea to the Minister is that, irrespective of whether we pass these documents tonight, we should have an early review of how much capacity we will need over the next few years, bearing in mind all the various things that are under way. We do not need these finger-in-the-air suggestions—people saying that we need an enormous amount of extra power and coming to a figure that seems about right but not on the basis of entirely standing by our own projections. I hope that the Minister will undertake that work and come back with different projections to inform future documents.
I think that we would all agree that we have heard some excellent contributions this evening on issues that could not be more important to our country: first, the framework needed for Britain’s future energy needs; and, secondly, our transition to a low-carbon economy. It is vital that the national policy statements create an effective framework to deliver on this issue and on the fourth carbon budget’s emissions reductions targets. As we have heard from the manner in which most Labour Members’ speeches have been delivered, the official Opposition want to play a constructive role.
I want to comment on the Minister’s opening remarks. He talked with great enthusiasm about how the NPSs will unlock investment in the UK. I agree that that is an important impact. It is a shame, however, that Government policy elsewhere is working against much of that investment. He said that wave and tidal power will play an important part in reaching our targets, but there has been no investment in tidal by Governments for five years. That delay was introduced by this Government. We also heard from him that the NPSs will deliver growth and jobs. I wish that they could on their own, but try telling that to the solar and other renewables sectors in which Government policy is so far having the opposite effect. Although we welcome the NPSs, the Government’s record so far is not good. We have seen the shelving of investment in tidal power and under-investment in marine technology—both are areas in which the UK should and could be leading the way to create green jobs and investment up and down the country.
The green investment bank, which we support, has been delayed and unfortunately will not be investing until after the next general election. Furthermore, there is as yet no green economy road map. It is good that we have the renewables road map, but on its own it is not enough. The Energy Bill, which is much vaunted by the Secretary of State as the great solution to green job creation, has fallen off the end of the parliamentary agenda. It is not even appearing before the House in the first week of September when we return. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) said, under this Government, our country has gone from fifth to 13th in the Pew environment group’s report on investment in environmental technologies.
I do not doubt the Minister’s personal commitment to this issue, but the prioritisation of green investment issues is out of the hands of Ministers. Not only does the Secretary of State not have clout in Whitehall, but when we hear his Liberal Democrat colleagues speak in the House we see the true dilemma he faces and why he is dancing like a cat on a hot tin roof. At every turn, the Treasury has grabbed green money for the Exchequer coffers and broken the deal with companies that have gone greener in order to take that money for the Treasury.
We have seen delays and a lack of joined-up thinking on the green economy. That has been demonstrated again tonight by the fact that so little time has been granted to debate these issues. I do not lay responsibility for that at the door of Ministers tonight; I blame the general attitude to these issues across the Government. Yes, other statements are important, but to reduce this important debate on five national policy statements to two hours is frankly a joke.
In addition to the Minister, we heard from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), who spoke up for his constituents, and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who delivered an extraordinary anti-nuclear rant—on behalf, one can only assume, of his Secretary of State, along with the entire Liberal Democrat party, as he said. Now we know the truth about where the Secretary of State stands, because the hon. Gentleman rather blew the lid on his repeated attempts to deny the use of subsidies in nuclear. It is good that the truth is out at last. Then we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson), who spoke with knowledge and a realism that were unfortunately lacking in the previous speech.
The hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) also spoke, with my hon. Friend highlighting his area’s commitment to renewable sources. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) joined in the criticism of the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) also criticised the Secretary of State, but from a rather different perspective, while the hon. Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), and my hon. Friends the Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) all made thoughtful contributions too.
We want to help Ministers. We want to offer positive guidance and advice, and to support them where they are right. For example, we would welcome the publication of the Government’s cross-departmental green economy road map. Businesses need to know what the Government’s long-term strategy for tackling climate change is. They need to make investment and research decisions free from doubt about the Government letting them down. I tabled a question about that earlier this month, and was told that we would have the green economy road map before the end of July. However, with two more sitting days of Parliament, we are getting close to the wire. Indeed, perhaps that is why Parliament is sitting on Wednesday—so that we can see that document before the end of July. Frankly, the Minister had better hurry up if we are to meet that deadline. However, more important than what this House receives is that businesses up and down the country know what is coming, because further delay will cost orders and jobs. Up and down the country, people tell me on the doorstep that they want jobs, and green jobs are a real opportunity, so will the Minister give the House an assurance this evening that this important document—the green economy road map—will see the light of day? Will he commit himself to a date?
The national policy statements do not adequately address the energy market, the price of energy and the price hikes that our constituents face this summer. We on the Opposition Benches want to see an independent energy advisory committee, akin to the Committee on Climate Change, to advise Ministers on everything from the carbon floor price to energy auctions. We are talking about a body to advise Ministers along the lines of the Committee on Climate Change, but we look forward to the Government perhaps coming up with proposals based on our suggestion, because people have lost faith in Ministers standing up to the big six energy companies. Six energy companies control 99.9% of the consumer market, so how does the Minister intend to protect consumers and tackle fuel poverty?
This is increasingly a Government losing control, distracted by events and unable to deliver their programme. There may be good intent, but there is a lack of clout across Whitehall and a lack of ability to bring other Departments to the green energy and future green jobs table. As someone who is committed to this issue, I fear that we are in danger of seeing wasted years in the battle against climate change, which future generations will not forgive or forget.
This has been an excellent debate. I am sorry that we have not had more time, but we have managed to cover an extraordinary amount, and I will do my best to deal with the interventions and speeches we have heard.
Investment in new energy infrastructure is crucial to secure a clean, green, affordable and reliable energy supply for both British business and British consumers in the challenging decades ahead, but we are asking a lot of this transformation. It must drive growth, not hamper it; it must underpin the industrial competitiveness of the UK, not threaten it; it must drive technological change, competition and consumer choice; it must incentivise the private sector, but also deliver value for money to the hard-pressed consumer; and wherever possible, it must work with, not against, the grain of local opinion and communities, as has come through loud and clear in various interventions this evening. For the first time, these national policy statements set out clearly and transparently how the coalition’s energy policies will inform decisions on applications for development consent for major energy infrastructure projects.
The hon. Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) treated us to their usual music hall turn and their usual party politics. I appreciate the broad consensus that exists on the substance of the NPS.
Will the Minister give way?
I will in just a moment.
It would be easy to dwell on the divisions that exist. If the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch will forgive me, I intend to skip past the cheap party political points. Instead, I look forward, after nine months, to hearing her first speech on any substantive policy initiatives that she might have. We expect the green economy road map to be published before the end of July, so she will no doubt be able to get her press release out welcoming its publication before she goes away for some sunshine.
Will the Minister give way?
I am not going to give way; the hon. Gentleman has not spoken in the debate, and in the time I have left I want to deal with the contributions that have been made.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) criticised the delays in bringing forward the national policy statements. He is absolutely right to say that there have been delays, but they occurred under the Labour Government because the original NPSs, which were signed off by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—hon. Members might recognise his picture in the document here—were riddled with inaccuracies and errors and had to be worked on again. I am glad, however, that we have now produced the NPSs, that broad consensus exists on them, and that we can now plough ahead. That sends an important signal for investment.
Will the Minister give way?
I want to press on. If I can give way a little later, I will, but there have been a lot of contributions and I want to try to respond to them.
The hon. Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) were among those who raised their significant concerns about the potential for an expansion of incineration. I understand the gut instinct against energy from waste, but we must recognise that it has moved on significantly over the past decade and now involves a wide range of different technologies. The important thing to remember about any form of energy-from-waste technologies is that they sit at the very bottom of the waste hierarchy. Before we reach that point, we must first ensure that there is waste prevention and reduction, as well as reuse and recycling. We must prepare for recycling and recovery and, ultimately, if there is no other use for the waste, we can turn to the responsible creation of energy from waste.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough pointed out, however, we must take account of local opinion. This NPS is only a framework. Were there no framework for energy from waste in it, a free-for-all could be created. The NPS creates a framework in which these decisions can be made; it does not necessarily mean that there will be an automatic presumption in favour of energy from waste.
Will the Minister give way?
I am going to take interventions towards the end of my speech if I have time.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) made some important points about fishing, and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) will be happy to meet him to discuss his concerns. The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of transmission charging. We recognise that a new structure will be required for a whole host of new generation technologies, which will be in different locations from before. In creating that structure, we will need new grid connections and a fair and progressive charging regime that will enable investment.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) raised his concern about wind farms. He made an important point, but I cannot comment on individual schemes. It is a requirement of the planning regime, however, that cumulative impacts such as we see in locations in the north-east are considered in total. We would expect the local planning authority to set out important local issues in its local impact report, just as we also want host communities for these installations to reap the benefits of taking these assets into their communities.
Let me deal now with the issue of nuclear. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has spoken with great passion on this subject over many years; I do not expect that I am going to sway him tonight, but I do greatly respect his sincerity on this issue. He gave a rousing speech and some of his concerns were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley). I do not know whether he is a new convert, but I also recognise his sincerity and I share his passion for a more decentralised energy economy and for the need to push forward with renewables, which have so much to offer the UK.
Will the Minister give way?
In just a moment. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion also spoke about nuclear.
Strategy and policy—wonderful stuff. The relationship between incineration, the planning process and energy generation is clearly a matter of debate within the Government. We need an understanding of their way of describing it. Will Ministers thus agree to meet a cross-party delegation of people who have concerns about, or information on, this policy area so that we could inform the discussion and debate as it happens?
Of course I will. My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy will also be delighted to meet such a delegation. We recognise the strongly held opinions in this area and the fact that profound local impacts are at stake, so it is absolutely right to listen to a range of parliamentary opinion on the subject.
Returning to the nuclear issue, as the cheapest large-scale, low-carbon source of generation, nuclear should be part of the mix—so long as it is without public subsidy. The NPS deals only with direct planning issues; all the other issues—decommissioning, waste, insurance, safety—are outside the NPS framework. They fall to other frameworks, but I can give the assurance that robust regimes are in place for all those issues.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) was deeply sceptical about the whole renewables agenda. I respect his sincerity, but no one in this House—not even the most zealous climate change zealot!—would suggest that we could run the whole UK energy economy on wind power alone. Wind can be part only of a much bigger mix of renewables and other forms of generation, and there is no one single form of generation on which we want to be dependent. That includes nuclear. I remind my right hon. Friend that, last year, Sizewell B was out of operation for seven months, during which time wind powered about 500,000 homes. The important thing is to have a properly balanced energy sector and to get ourselves progressively off the oil and gas hook so that we do not see the constant ratcheting up of fuel bills, which we have seen recently with wholesale gas prices up 40% last year.
We heard an extremely thoughtful contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey)—a great champion not just for nuclear, but of the whole green coast.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) about his sustained campaign against offshore wind. I appreciate how strongly he feels on this issue, but I point out that the NPS framework is not responsible; the problem lies really with the Welsh Assembly, which has zoned areas for wind farm development—technical advice note 8 areas—focusing developers’ interests in areas such as Montgomeryshire. It is at the Welsh Assembly that my hon. Friend’s ire should be directed, but we of course listen clearly to the messages he sends.
The national policy statements are another example of the coalition gripping the modern energy agenda. They constitute a major step towards reversal of decades of neglect and delay.
The Deputy Speaker put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, 11 July).
That this House takes note of and approves the Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1), which was laid before this House on 23 June.
National Policy Statements (Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure)
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure (EN-2), which was laid before this House on 23 June.— (Mr Hendry.)
National Policy Statements (Renewable Energy Infrastructure)
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3), which was laid before this House on 23 June.—(Mr Hendry.)
National Policy Statements (Gas Supply Infrastructure And Gas And Oil Pipelines)
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Gas Supply Infrastructure and Gas and Oil Pipelines (EN-4), which was laid before this House on 23 June.— (Mr Hendry.)
National Policy Statements (Electricity Networks Infrastructure)
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5), which was laid before this House on 23 June.—(Mr Hendry.)
National Policy Statements (Nuclear Power Generation)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6), which was laid before this House on 23 June.—(Mr Hendry.)
The House proceeded to a Division.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.
18 July 2011
The House having divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That this House takes note of and approves the National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6), which was laid before this House on 23 June.