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Clean Energy Infrastructure

Volume 552: debated on Thursday 1 November 2012

The electricity market reform White Paper, published in July 2011—I have a copy here for those who have not brought theirs with them—stated that up to £110 billion in investment in the power sector is likely to be required by 2020, of which approximately £60 billion relates to investment in clean energy capacity.

I thank the Minister for that reply and apologise for pre-empting it. When he addressed 400 industry delegates at the renewable energy UK conference the other day, he spoke of the need for clarity and certainty in renewable energy policy to provide the right framework for investment. He then told the media that enough is enough when it comes to wind power. Which of those mixed messages represents the Government’s policy and what will he do to retrieve the situation, which has caused such uncertainty in the industry?

The commitment to renewable technology is an essential part of delivering the energy mix that I mentioned earlier. It is absolutely right that we should have renewables as part of that mix. That builds sustainability and resilience and helps us to meet our emissions targets. It is also good for consumers, because that mix guarantees our energy security.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Drax provides both clean and renewable energy? Will he see fit to increase the level of investment in and Government support for biomass, which is helping to feed renewable energy into Drax and helping growers in Thirsk, Malton and Filey at the same time?

The principle of using biomass as a feed of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests will have had a boost since, as Minister, I have cut the red tape and made it more straightforward. I share her view. I did it very quickly, because I like to do things quickly when it is in the public interest so to do.

Clean energy infrastructure also includes carbon capture and storage, which is widely supported on both sides of the House. The coalition agreement, lauded by all members of the ministerial team and, I am sure, everyone sitting behind them this morning, made a commitment to fund four commercial scale CCS projects in the UK. Does that commitment still stand?

The competition to which the hon. Gentleman refers will allow a record level of investment in carbon capture and storage, in which Britain is a world leader. It is critical that in dealing with emissions we recognise what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said and what the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, which is that carbon capture and storage can be a vital part of those ambitions.

I am sure the industry, which has expressed some concern over the past couple of days, will have heard the failure of the Minister to confirm whether those four projects will still be funded. Is he not concerned that without any firm commitment on funding by the UK Government, the prospects of securing the European Commission funding under the NER300 funding stream, which the UK did so much to put in place, are limited? Does he not understand the anxiety of those seeking to develop CCS that his failure to give a clear signal to the Commission could jeopardise access to up to €600 million, which could make the difference, as he says, in ensuring that our lead in CCS is realised?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the process was competitive. It was described by the spokesman from that sector as “very good news”. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took a personal interest in this matter because of its significance and he used his usual endeavour and diligence to ensure that we got it right. He personifies that approach in running this Department.

Does the Minister share my support for the recent and very high level of investment in clean offshore energy off the coast of Lincolnshire, Norfolk and the Wash? Does he agree that it makes no sense for communities in those coastal counties to have controversial onshore wind farms forced on them unless there is overwhelming public support?

My hon. Friend will know that, since I became the Minister, we have called for evidence on both the community benefit and cost of onshore wind. It is critical that communities see that benefit and feel a sense of ownership over developments that affect them. During the process we will of course allow the normal expressions of interest by both proponents and opponents of onshore wind and will then consider them, as the Prime Minister said yesterday. When we have met our current targets, we will have to consider what to do. I suggest, as the Prime Minister has done, that all parties need to have that discussion.