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Low-carbon Energy (Employment)

Volume 533: debated on Thursday 20 October 2011

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on steps to increase employment in the low-carbon energy sector. (75589)

I shall try to ensure that I give the right answer this time.

The UK low-carbon and environmental sector is growing strongly despite the disappointing recovery. It employs about 910,000 people. We believe that this could reach more than 1 million by 2015, not least because of policies such as the green deal—which is in the Energy Act 2011, which has just received Royal Assent—which could see the number of people employed in the insulation industry rising from an estimated 27,000 today to around 100,000 by 2015.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. My constituency of Hereford and South Herefordshire is home to the first house refurbished to international PassivHaus standards and is blazing a trail internationally in the quality of environmental design and construction. What advice can my right hon. Friend give to firms in Herefordshire to ensure that they are well placed to benefit from the green deal?

The green deal is a major opportunity for businesses of all sizes, in all parts of the country, because our homes are in all parts of the country. Therefore, the scheme will help to revitalise the market for energy-efficiency products in every part of our nation. The green deal and the eco-consultation will be published shortly and will set out the requirements for businesses to help them to gear up for autumn 2012, I hope in a clear way.

The Secretary of State rightly criticised the previous Government for pulling out of the Peterhead project, losing us world leadership and potential jobs. Is he not doing exactly the same thing with his disgraceful decision on the Longannet project?

No, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. It was regrettable that we did not proceed with Peterhead in 2007, and one thing that we can hold out real hope for is the fact that we have had considerable expressions of interest from Scottish and Southern, and other potential consortium members, for a Peterhead project, which should be able to proceed within budget and on time.

I welcome today’s announcement on the renewables obligation certificates review, particularly in respect of marine renewables and the wave hub project off the north coast of Cornwall. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that the UK leads the world in marine renewables from now on?

One of the features of the renewables obligation review that my hon. Friend will have noticed is that we have increased our support for marine technologies to five renewables obligations certificates. In our view, that will bring forward the necessary innovation and testing to ensure that we have a world lead in this sector.

One such opportunity to increase employment in the low-carbon energy sector was scuppered yesterday by the Government’s announcement that they were pulling out of the carbon capture and storage demonstrator at Longannet. Will the Secretary of State now confirm to the House that there will be no backsliding by the Treasury, and that the £1 billion funding will definitely be in place and will be used to get four CCS demonstration projects in place for the future?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box and to his new role on the Front Bench speaking for the Opposition. I can certainly confirm that there is absolutely no backsliding on the money available for carbon capture and storage. The Treasury will confirm that there is £1 billion available to support CCS, and we are looking to do that in the most effective way possible so that we can ensure that the industry is rolled out, that we can have a lead in that industry, and that we are able to meet our strategic objectives in making CCS available.

I am grateful for that response, and I hope that we will see that come to fruition, even perhaps after the Secretary of State is no longer responsible for these issues. Does he also understand the urgency involved if we are to get the employment benefits as well as the emissions benefits from CCS? Will he undertake to have urgent discussions with Infrastructure UK, to ensure that the energy hubs needed to go alongside the CCS projects are put in place, so that we get the jobs and investment benefits as well as the environmental benefits?

I have to say that I find it somewhat ironic to be lectured by the Opposition about the importance of speed in this area, given that it was the Labour Government who cancelled the Peterhead project in 2007. The reality is that we are attempting to proceed with this as quickly as we can. We have learned an awful lot from the negotiations and from the engineering studies at Longannet, and we hope that we can proceed and deliver on time and within budget.