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Energy Security

Volume 587: debated on Thursday 6 November 2014

Today we published our annual energy statement, which shows the action we have taken to deliver a secure supply of energy while reducing bills and carbon emissions, meeting the needs of households and businesses.

Given the approaching winter and the increasing uncertainty in our international relations, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps he is taking to secure energy supplies in the face of possible extreme weather and other external threats?

Of course, secure energy supplies are the most critical part of our responsibilities in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We have taken steps to ensure that the market operates better, through the electricity market reform programme. We have also taken steps to ensure that there has been £45 billion of investment in energy infrastructure since 2010. This winter, we have worked with the National Grid Company to make sure there is additional capacity so that energy needs are covered no matter what the winter throws at us.

There has been much scaremongering in the newspapers and other media recently about lights being turned off and energy being switched off. The relevance of today’s annual statement to my constituents and those of Members across the House lies in the Minister’s assurance that the lights will be kept on and heating will continue to be supplied to constituents.

Indeed, and over the summer we also had some impact on our energy generation, both in nuclear and hydrocarbon generation. The fact that we got 15% renewable generation last year—double what we had in 2010—of course adds to energy security, but, crucially, we have to make sure that this and every winter we take the action necessary to have the energy supply that is demanded by consumers, be they households or businesses.

I would love to be able to praise the Secretary of State today, but I cannot because I have to ask him whether he can confirm that, under this Government, construction has begun on just one new gas-fired power station, and even that will not come online until after the next election. That compares with the 10 GW of new gas capacity built under the last Labour Government. I am very sorry that I cannot heap praise on him. I had to give him some bad news.

Well, the good news is that the rate of investment in energy infrastructure has doubled under this Government; there has been £45 billion of investment so far, but we have a £100 billion programme because of the massive underinvestment that occurred in the previous decade. It is regrettable that the previous Government did not take the action that was needed, but we have done so.

The Minister will be aware of the many developments on the Humber estuary, onshore and offshore, that will boost energy security. In particular, the Joint Committee recently approved the Able UK development of the south Humber energy park. I urge the Minister to visit the area and meet Able and other developers to see what a boost it is to the local economy.

I would be absolutely delighted to visit Cleethorpes and the Humber estuary, which is increasingly a crucial cluster for our energy supplies and energy security. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his activity, and for his promotion of Cleethorpes and the whole of Humberside, specifically with regard to the role that they play in our energy generation.

What role does the Minister see for the British deep-mine coal industry in future energy supply and future energy security in the UK?

I have been working hard with UK Coal to ensure that we can refinance it. The Government have put in a £4 million loan on a commercial basis, so we are working incredibly hard in that regard. The hon. Gentleman should also take up this matter with his own Front-Bench team who voted to accelerate the closure of coal-fired power stations, which would of course to help to undermine the coal mining industry.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), last week the Minister stated in this House with his characteristic humility and good grace that he had

“secured the future of the existing pits.”—[Official Report, 28 October 2014; Vol. 587, c. 247.]

He knows of course that, welcome as it may be, the commercial loan from the Government is in reality a short-term measure. Hundreds of jobs have been lost at both Thoresby and Kellingley. UK Coal told me this week that, with the help of the Minister’s officials, it will submit an application for state aid clearance to his office by the end of next month. Given how pressing this situation is, will the Minister now give the House an absolute and clear commitment that he will ensure that his Department will reflect and decide on the merits of that application, and on whether to submit it to the European Commission for approval before the dissolution of Parliament?

Of course I will consider that submission, not least because we and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills put in a huge amount of effort to bring that about. We worked hard to secure a commercial loan to get us over the short-term cash-flow issues and to look at longer-term options. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming this work and for his support. It is good to know that there is support on both sides of the House.