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Renewables (Jobs)

Volume 573: debated on Wednesday 8 January 2014

This Government’s recent announcements on strike prices aim to make the UK, including Wales, one of the most attractive places to invest in renewable technologies. Our reforms will ensure that more than 30% of our electricity comes from renewables by 2020, attracting £110 billion of investment and supporting up to a quarter of a million jobs.

May I associate myself with the kind remarks of the Secretary of State relating to both Paul Goggins and Lord Roberts, who was a true servant of north Wales and a lovely man?

On renewables, I am very disappointed that the Minister did not refer to Sharp solar in Wrexham, which as recently as 2011 was expanding and providing more jobs. I spoke to the chief executive of Sharp solar in Wrexham before Christmas, when he told me that this Government’s catastrophic and chaotic renewables policy had contributed to its decision not to continue manufacturing in Wrexham, with the loss of 600 jobs. Will the Minister break the Wales Office’s silence and apologise to the people who have lost their jobs as a result of incompetence?

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment for his constituents. The news about the Sharp job losses was a bitter blow just before Christmas. I have been in touch with Sharp, and we at the Wales Office have spoken to them. It is just not correct to associate the decision taken by Sharp with the changes to the feed-in tariff policy. If he speaks to industry experts who are knowledgeable about these issues, they will tell him that it is much more to do with the wave of cheap Chinese imports of solar panels that have come into Europe and flooded the European market, so making domestic production very challenging indeed.

Whether power is generated from renewable or non-renewable sources, there is an increasing problem in Wales and the rest of the country in getting new power sources connected to the grid because of the shortage of power engineers. Will my hon. Friend work with the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Welsh Assembly Government to see how this issue can be tackled in Wales?

As ever, my hon. Friend raises a very pertinent issue, of which both we in the Wales Office and, more importantly, the Welsh Government, who have devolved responsibility for skills, are aware. We are in discussions with the key players and stakeholders in Wales about how we can raise up a new generation of power engineers to take forward the changes that we are trying to effect.

The loss of the Sharp solar panel factory in Wrexham, which was the biggest solar panel factory in western Europe, was a devastating blow to the Welsh economy. What can the Minister do to mitigate the closure, in which his Government are complicit? Specifically, can he help to draw down UK research funding to the solar research institute in Optic Glyndwr in St Asaph?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am very aware of the important work being done at Glyndwr university, and we are in close touch with the university about its work. On what we can do to mitigate the job impact in Wrexham, I encourage both him and his hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) to give full-throated support to the £250 million that the Government are putting into Wrexham to create a new prison—something for which we have yet to hear full support from Opposition Members.

Labour has called consistently for the devolution of energy consents for projects of up to 100 MW. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for the amendment, which was not supported by the Government, that he tabled to the Energy Bill. Why are the Government opposed to the devolution of energy, which would allow the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales to make their own decisions on energy and renewable energy in particular?

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question, because there has been nothing consistent about Labour’s approach to energy policy either in government or in opposition.