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Energy Supply

Volume 593: debated on Wednesday 25 February 2015

1. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the supply of energy in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (907627)

I have regular discussions with colleagues on issues affecting the energy sector in Scotland, including with the Scottish Government on energy supply issues.

People in north Yorkshire have noted with great interest that the Scottish Government have banned fracking for the moment. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress towards a debate on energy supply not only for Scotland, but for the whole of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend’s key words were “for the moment”. The Scottish Government have come forward with a moratorium, and I am sure that we shall all watch the debate with keen interest. I remind her and the House that we removed the Scottish provisions from the Infrastructure Bill, and that the power to license onshore exploration for oil and gas will be devolved under the Scotland Act that will come after the next election.

When the Secretary of State meets the First Minister, will he get information—this is not in the public arena—on how much compensation is being paid to wind farms in Scotland from his and my electricity bills as a consequence of the fact that they are, in my view, inefficient?

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman seeks that information from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it will be forthcoming.

I am sure that the Secretary of State, as a highlands and islands MP, will share the sense of anger and injustice at SSE’s 2p surcharge on electricity costs, given that it made a profit of £1.5 billion last year. Will he do everything possible at the UK level to ameliorate this state of affairs, not least by endorsing the excellent campaign by The Press and Journal?

I rarely have any difficulty in endorsing a campaign run by The Press and Journal. The question of the price being paid by electricity consumers across the highlands and islands is complex, but I know that we all benefit from being part of the wider UK energy market.

Scottish generators, including Longannet, provide 12% of the electricity going into the British network, but pay 35% of the transmission charges. The Secretary of State has been in government for five years. What has he done to end that discrimination?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that transmission charging is the responsibility of Ofgem, the energy market regulator. He will also be aware of the work that Ofgem has been doing with other parts of the energy industry in relation to Project TransmiT.

Last week, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister about this very subject, asking

“the UK Government to initiate a dedicated capacity assessment for Scotland, informed by stakeholder views, and take steps to transfer to the Scottish Parliament the authority to set our own national reliability standard for electricity.”

Having failed to end the discriminatory transmission charges, will the UK Government agree to those reasonable suggestions?

The hon. Gentleman and the First Minister must both be aware that National Grid has a constant process of reviewing energy supply. The system operators in Scotland have stress-tested 140 scenarios in which Longannet and other Scottish fossil fuel generators were closed, and National Grid has the tools to keep the lights on in every one of those scenarios, including by being resilient against one-in-600-year risks. Those are the facts, and they are preferable to the sort of scaremongering that we hear from the nationalists.

But is the Secretary of State satisfied that the capacity of the electricity interconnector between Scotland and England is sufficient and will not act as a brake on competition in the supply and generating markets?

I have raised many times the devastation caused by abandoned coal mines in my constituency. The Secretary of State will be aware of the proposal for an exemption from carbon price support, which would greatly help their restoration and create 1,000 jobs. Can we expect good news on this in the Budget, and does he agree that the Scottish Government should step up to the plate with some of their £500 million surplus to help the restoration?

First, I am happy to pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has been a doughty fighter for her constituents’ interests in this regard. As for what will be in the Budget, I am afraid that, like the rest of us, she will have to wait and see, although I can assure her that my Department remains engaged on this issue. We continue to work closely with the Scottish Government on their joint taskforce, which will next meet in March. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will represent the UK Government on that occasion.