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Coal-fired Power Stations

Volume 605: debated on Thursday 11 February 2016

7. What representations she has received from her international counterparts on the proposed closure of the UK’s coal-fired power stations by 2025. (903590)

As the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, the UK owes a great debt to the coal industry for all it has done to keep the lights on and keep our economy moving. Both I and officials in my Department regularly discuss a range of energy and climate change issues with our international counterparts, and it is clear from these conversations that the UK remains respected internationally for our ability to reduce emissions while at the same time growing our economy.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the day after the UK announced the closure programme, Germany commissioned a brand-new lignite building unabated coal power station as yet another addition to its coal fleet. In Belgium, Holland and Spain, coal use increased in 2014. Much of that electricity will be imported to this country through interconnectors, yet in my constituency the closure of Fiddlers Ferry was announced last week. Many of the workers there ask me how these various factors can be part of a coherent European energy policy. What should I tell them?

I start by expressing my sympathies for all those workers in my hon. Friend’s constituency who have been impacted by the recent announcement of the closure of Fiddlers Ferry, as well as of Ferrybridge. On different countries in the EU making different choices about how to deliver their renewables targets, it is up to them to address how they reduce their emissions. Germany, for instance, is also having an enormous amount of solar. It has 52 GW of solar at an eye-watering cost of €10.5 billion.

The question is how we phase out coal use. Will the Secretary of State be taking new legislative measures to deliver on the Government’s commitment?

On coal—I think that was the subject of the hon. Gentleman’s question—we will be consulting and looking at the different methods we might or might not need. Those may be regulatory, or they may be legislative, but we have an open mind about how we achieve these things. That consultation will begin shortly.

12. My right hon. Friend will know about the recent announcement of the closure of Rugeley power station, which is half in my constituency and half in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling). The station was sited there in the first place because of a coalmine, which, like many others throughout western Europe, is long gone. However, the closure may mean that up to 150 people are made redundant, although ENGIE says it will try to redeploy them elsewhere. Will my right hon. Friend commit to speak to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about actively playing a role in making sure that those people can be re-employed somewhere else? (903600)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and we have, of course, spoken already this week about this matter. I have also spoken to his neighbour, whose constituency covers half the Rugeley power plant area. I will, of course, actively engage with my hon. Friend and his colleague to make sure that we do what we can for the people who have lost their jobs.

Given that the timetable for the closure of coalmines is linked to the construction and bringing online of new nuclear power, and given that the board of EDF—a cash-strapped company that is dripping with debt—has this month yet again postponed giving a green light to the construction of Hinkley C, will the Minister commit to meeting EDF’s board and reporting back urgently to the House as to what the project’s status actually is?

I would dispute with the hon. Gentleman the direct connection he has made. The closure of coal will be part of a consultation, but it is influenced by many different things, including the age of the fleet, the wholesale price that is being delivered and other matters. On his question about EDF, may I reassure him that I have regular conversations with the board and the chief executive? I am confident that we will have good news soon.

The Secretary of State, in her energy reset speech, said that taking “coal off the system” by 2025 will

“only proceed if we’re confident that the shift to new gas can be achieved within these timescales.”

Bearing in mind that no new large gas-fired power station has commenced building in the past six years, and that the last two capacity auctions have underwritten the building of only one power station, which will probably not be built, what plans does she have to procure the building of new gas-fired power stations to ensure that her pledge is actually met?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the plan is to move from coal to gas so that we can reduce our emissions and have secure investment going forward. I am delighted to say that the Carrington closed cycle gas turbine will commission next year, and we have 12 additional CCGTs commissioned. I have also stated that we will have the capacity market adapted to make sure that we can deliver gas. It is going to be an essential part of the low-carbon mix, and it is this Government who are making the plans and securing energy sources for the future.