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Renewable Energy Investment

Volume 585: debated on Thursday 4 September 2014

Since 2010, an average of £7 billion has been invested each year in renewable electricity, compared with £3 billion a year in the previous Parliament.

May I take this opportunity to welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role? There has been a recent proposal for a tidal gateway across the Ribble estuary that could provide enough electricity for 18,000 homes. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the project and ensure that environmental considerations will be at the forefront of the proposal?

The project is proceeding and I would be very happy to hear more detail about my hon. Friend’s position and support for it. Ensuring that we get renewable investment of all kinds is an important part of our plan to deal with climate change and increase energy security, and that is something on which we are working hard.

The Minister has just heard an exchange about the question of state aid that specifically referred to him. We met the miners from the three deep-mine pits that are left, Kellingley, Thoresby and Hatfield, which are in peril. I am talking about energy supply, something for which the Minister is responsible. This Government took £700 million out of the miners’ pension fund last February and all we want is £70 million of state aid for those three coal pits to exhaust their reserves. Treat us like you do the oil companies when you give them tax breaks in the North sea and let us exploit the reserves in the three remaining pits.

I have much to learn from the hon. Gentleman, but that question was not really about renewable energy. Since taking up this post, I have been working hard for a solution to the issues around UK Coal. The Secretary of State set out some of the downsides to a state aid solution. I am prepared to look at all options, but we should be clear that the EU Commission is absolute that it would require a closure of those mines were we to put in place a state aid solution. I come from Nottinghamshire mining stock and I will not take any nonsense from the hon. Gentleman.

Later this month, I shall be attending a meeting in north Wales to discuss the construction of a tidal lagoon at Colwyn bay—one of several that are planned for the coast of Wales and the north of England. Does my right hon. Friend agree that tidal lagoons have the potential to make an enormous contribution to the energy security of this country, and what is he doing to encourage their development?

Yes, tidal has enormous potential. Only last month, at Pentland firth, we saw the roll-out of the biggest tidal array yet. I look forward to working very closely with my right hon. Friend.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post. I hope he is as energetic in it as he was as Minister for Skills and Enterprise. May I press him on the sustainability issue? Is he aware that the Trillion Fund is a new way of raising money for sustainable energy projects, both in this country and worldwide? It is a very exciting new venture. Vivienne Westwood has just invested £1 million in it. Will the Minister get behind that crowdfunding initiative and give it some support?

The hon. Gentleman is very kind; I am grateful for his compliments. I look forward to the opportunity of working positively with Vivienne Westwood on improving our energy supplies and security. We need improvement across the board, and that includes ensuring that we make the most of our indigenous gas supplies. Improving renewables in our country is, of course, about finance as well as technology on the ground. There is a big opportunity, especially as the cost of renewables falls—the cost of solar is pre-eminent in that fall—and we must seize it with both hands.

Skills, as well as nuclear, are important to pushing forward the renewable energy cause, so does the Minister agree that, as part of the long-term economic plan, the investment by the growth fund in Berkeley for a skills and training centre in green and other energy sources is an excellent way forward?

Yes; I know something about that proposal from my previous job. I am of course a great fan of the skills agenda and I am convinced of the need to drive up the quality and quantity of skills in this area. I am also a big fan of the long-term economic plan, so my hon. Friend’s question just about hit the nail on the head.

Onshore wind developments are being held up by huge delays in the planning system. Since 2009, onshore wind projects have taken, on average, an additional four months to receive planning approval. In total, developments are taking more than four years from the point of application to generating electricity—an increase of over a year since 2009. Can the Minister explain why?

The easiest way is to say that local people’s views are now being taken into account, and I am very glad that they are. It is funny to get such a question from the Labour Front Bench, given that the amount of investment in renewables has doubled in this Parliament—compared with the previous Parliament. At the same time, though, we have strengthened planning rules to allow more control by local people, because the worst way to try to improve the roll-out of renewables, which is important for energy security as well as for climate change, is to ignore the position and the views of local people. That was what happened under the previous Administration and we have changed that.

That was not an answer to my question, and I have to say that most of the developments started under a Labour Government. The figures reveal shocking delays to vital new energy infrastructure. Delays to onshore wind and the use of recoveries and call-ins, not local people, mean that projects are left languishing for years before they receive an answer. Those delays cost jobs and threaten our energy security. What urgent steps is the Minister taking, and what discussions has he had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to sort out this mess?

I have discussions with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ensure that local people’s views are taken into account. The hon. Lady says that the extra investments are due to decisions taken under the previous Government, but that is not true. There is an increase in renewables roll-out, but we have to do it taking local people’s views into account, because to save the global environment and tackle climate change, we cannot sacrifice our local environment, particularly in beautiful places. Getting that balance right is very important. It was not right before and we have put it right.