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House of Commons Hansard
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14 July 2016
Volume 613
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7. What steps her Department is taking to reduce energy bills for (a) businesses and (b) households. [905855]

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8. What steps her Department is taking to reduce energy bills for (a) businesses and (b) households. [905856]

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The best way to deliver lower energy bills for businesses and households is to have a robust and competitive energy market. There are now over 40 energy suppliers in the domestic retail energy market, which is up from 13 in 2010, and independent suppliers have over 17% of the dual fuel market. Competition is improving, but we are not complacent, and we look forward to implementing the recommendations from the Competition and Markets Authority’s final report on the issue.

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As a method of controlling its energy costs, CEMEX, which operates a large cement plant in my constituency, has adopted an alternative fuel, called Climafuel, which is derived from household waste and has the benefit of making use of material that would otherwise go to landfill. That is a great example of the circular economy. What steps can my hon. Friend take to encourage other energy-intensive industries to consider the use of alternative fuels?

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I really welcome the initiative by CEMEX in my hon. Friend’s constituency. My Department is working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as with the energy-intensive industrial sectors, including the cement sector, on ways in which companies can reduce their emissions while maintaining their competitiveness, and the use of alternative fuels is an important part of that.

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What steps does the Minister plan to take to improve the effectiveness of the energy supply market to help small and large businesses to expand in Wiltshire and across the country?

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The CMA has said that the energy sector for larger businesses is competitive, but it has put forward some strong and sound remedies for microbusinesses to prevent automatic roll-overs without a business’s consent and to improve online quotations, competition and the service available to microbusinesses.

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The Government have guaranteed an electricity price of about three times the wholesale price to EDF so that it will build a nuclear white elephant at Hinkley Point C. How on earth will that help consumers—businesses or households—to reduce their energy bills?

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I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that we get about 16% of our electricity every day from nuclear. He will also know that our nuclear plants are all due to be retired by at least the end of the 2020s. Therefore, new nuclear forms a core part of how we replace our electricity supplies. Hinkley is a good deal for consumers. Of course, the mark-to-market costs change according to the wholesale prices, but the price of the electricity coming out of Hinkley by the mid-2020s is guaranteed, and that is very important so that we provide certainty. The Government do not take the view that we will just see what happens; we have to plan for the future. Why? Because electricity security is not negotiable.

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Northern Ireland households and businesses face the highest electricity bills in the whole United Kingdom. Businesses still face some of the highest energy costs in Europe. What discussions has the hon. Lady had with the Minister responsible for enterprise, trade and industry to ensure that everything is done to drive these costs down for Northern Ireland customers?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. My Department and others frequently consult Northern Ireland Ministers to ensure that all the benefits that can be passed on to Northern Ireland consumers are being passed on. I welcome his contribution to the debate.

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I call Mr Barry Gardiner.

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rose—

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The hon. Gentleman looks surprised. This could be a first—is this a question on which he does not wish to give the House the benefit of his views?

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I am always happy to abide by your ruling, Mr Speaker.

One year ago, DECC’s estimate for the total lifetime cost of the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C was £14 billion. Recently, that estimate was revised to £37 billion. Following the referendum vote, the Government’s expert adviser has said that Hinkley C is extremely unlikely to go ahead. Does this mean that the Minister now does not have to worry about justifying the extra £23 billion cost to the Treasury, or does she just feel that she does not need to explain about the additional burden on taxpayers?

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Splendid.

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Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. The cost of the project has not changed. The difference is because of wholesale prices. As there is a fixed price agreed for consumers, when forecasts and current wholesale prices change, so will the difference between the fixed price and the wholesale price. To be clear, the cost of the project has not changed. It remains a good deal for consumers—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is chuntering at me from a sedentary position, but let us be clear: we cannot just wait and see. We have to make investment decisions and stick by them. We cannot simply magic electricity out of thin air; we need to invest, make decisions, and be committed to them.