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Tidal Energy

Volume 620: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2017

8. What assessment he has made of the potential contribution of power generated by tidal lagoons to UK energy provision. (908483)

The Hendry review published its report earlier this month. The Government are considering its recommendations and the issues that would arise from a broader lagoon programme, including the potential contribution of power generated by tidal lagoons. The Government will publish their response to the Hendry review in due course.

As an MP with a coastal constituency, I am a big fan of tidal power, and following the Hendry review it has been estimated that building some 10 tidal lagoon power stations by 2030 could generate 10% of our electricity requirements. So when considering the economics of the Swansea Bay scheme, will the Minister take into account the wider benefits for British manufacturing and technology of becoming a world leader in this clean technology?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise that the question must be considered in the round and not merely on the merits or no of the Swansea Bay scheme. It is the Government’s job to consider the advantages and disadvantages of tidal lagoons as a whole and to take a decision that includes not merely the financial elements, but also environmental elements, the capacity to generate power as part of a wider energy mix and ancillary elements.

The Minister surely knows that all kinds of alternative energy, including tidal power, need good recruits; they need trainees and, indeed, apprentices. Is he not hanging his head in shame this morning because of the report of the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies which says that this Government’s apprenticeship programme is a disaster and should be ripped up and started again? When is he going to get real?

But purely in relation to tidal lagoons; we are not talking about apprenticeships more widely or seeking to shoehorn a personal interest into a question to which it does not ordinarily apply. But the Minister is a philosopher and dextrous to a fault, so I am sure he will cope.

Heaven forfend, Mr Speaker, that I should entertain so unworthy a suspicion as to think the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) might have smuggled some entirely unrelated question into a question on tidal lagoons. May I simply reassure him that skills remain at the centre of the Government’s concerns, and that is why they feature so prominently in the industrial strategy?

The Minister is quite right to say that he will analyse this in the round, because while I think many of us will recognise the economic advantages, particularly over a long period such as 100 to 150 years, the environmental impact will be considerable. Can he perhaps amplify what sort of things he will be looking at, including how tidal lagoons affect fish life, marine life and bird life?

It is of course true that, as well as the economic case and value for money issues that that raises, there will be wider consideration of environmental impacts, but in relation not just to individual schemes as they can be understood now, but to the way in which they might concatenate across a programme of tidal lagoons.

The Government have been very good at supporting the tidal stream generator in Portaferry in Northern Ireland. Can we ensure that we make the most of what is learned from tidal power in devolved Governments and the rest of the UK—not the events in Northern Ireland, but what we generate?

One hesitates to remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a different matter and a different technology from tidal lagoons, but I think he can take it as read that officials and Ministers will be thinking carefully about all the relevant precedents that might bear on this decision.

The question was about the potential contribution of power generated by tidal lagoons to UK energy provision. My understanding is that a limited deployment of tidal lagoons in the Severn estuary alone would contribute about 8% or more of UK electricity demand. Can the Minister tell me if there is any other technology that can provide that sort of power in one location—as a clue, perhaps I can suggest to him that Hinkley C running full tilt without any outages is estimated to contribute about 7% to UK energy requirements?

I dare to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. It is not quite clear what he thinks of as the lagoons in the scheme he describes, but Hinkley Point will be a bigger generator than, certainly, the first round of lagoons, as well as being a higher load and more reliable.

9. What progress his Department is making on implementing the recommendations of the Hendry review on tidal energy. (908485)

The issues considered by the Hendry review are complex, and the Government will be demanding a period of time to assess the recommendations and determine what decision is in the best interests of UK energy consumers. I have already said that we will not be dragging our heels on this, and we will not do so.

There is huge potential for tidal energy not only in the Swansea scheme but along the south Wales coast and the Severn estuary and along the north Wales coast. However, I am hearing worrying things about the Department dragging its heels on this. Will the Minister assure me that there will be strong ministerial leadership to take the recommendations forward and to get on with the Swansea scheme and others?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman would say that, given that it was the Department’s expectation that the report might be published before Christmas and that it was in fact published only two or three weeks ago. There is no suggestion that the Department is dragging its heels, and nor will we do so, but we will, in the public interest, give the report proper, thorough consideration on value-for-money and other grounds.

In a previous answer, the Minister referred to advantages and disadvantages. Does he agree that the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would not only meet energy needs but provide huge levels of investment in jobs in my constituency and throughout the region? As the Hendry report implies, it could put Wales at the forefront of developing a world-first technology.

I salute my colleague’s proper concern for support and investment in his constituency; that is absolutely right. The wider implications are being considered by the Government, and I remind him that the Hendry review asked for the issues to be considered specifically in the context of power generation, so those things go alongside the wider consideration we are giving to the report.

The Hendry report refers to tidal energy. The Minister will know that the first large-scale tidal steam generator in Northern Ireland, in Strangford Lough, was four times more powerful than any other in the whole world at the time. What consideration will he give to ensuring that the energy being produced in Strangford Lough can be utilised for the benefit of the whole of Northern Ireland?

As I have indicated in a separate debate with the hon. Gentleman, that is a different, although related, technology. It was funded in part by the Government and has produced interesting results. This is a matter for close consideration by officials and we will continue to reflect on the matter. If he wishes to write to me further, I would be delighted to take a letter.

One of the core objectives of the draft industrial strategy is to rebalance the UK economy, with engineering, construction and manufacturing making a larger contribution to economic growth. Does the Minister agree that if we are to achieve that objective, we will need to invest in major infrastructure projects such as the tidal lagoon?

I absolutely share my right hon. Friend’s view that major infrastructure investment is an important part, although only a part, of the wider overall investment that can be made in this country as part of the industrial strategy. He is right to suggest that those wider considerations must be balanced by a tempered assessment of value for money, and that is what we will be giving them.

With all due respect to the Minister, may I tell him that his Department simply not dragging its heels is not good enough? The Hendry report recommends that Ministers

“secure the pathfinder project as swiftly as possible”.

I can promise that he will have the full support of the Members on this side of the House for doing that, although I am unsure that he would have the same support from those behind him. Will he therefore press the Chancellor for an agreement on the Swansea tidal lagoon, to be announced in the March Budget?

I admire the hon. Gentleman’s dexterity in turning three weeks into foot-dragging. Given his rabbinical scrutiny of the Hendry review, I shall simply remind him that it specifically asks the Government to give these issues careful consideration, and that is what we will be doing.