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Low-carbon Economy

Volume 623: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2017

Between 1990 and 2015 the UK’s emissions have fallen by over a third while our economy has grown by over 60%. Since 2010, Government policy has contributed to a trebling of renewable electricity capacity and encouraging the take-up of low-carbon heating and ultra-low emission vehicles.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Businesses in the Scottish renewables sector predict that one in six jobs is at risk over the next six months due to changes in UK Government support. Will the Minister take action now to reverse those changes, to make sure we grasp the opportunities that our fantastic national energy resources provide?

Few countries, certainly in Europe, have done more than we have to expand renewable energy electricity capacity since 2010, and the low-carbon economy sector now employs over 220,000 people. The hon. Lady questions our continued commitment to renewable energy; I refer her to the public commitment to forthcoming auctions to support the less mature renewable technologies.

A recent Chatham House report as well as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s own following study on North American woody biomass both concluded that the use of these pellets for energy production in the UK is high-carbon. Given that and that a review was promised of bio-energy policies in 2012, will the Government conduct an urgent review and impose a moratorium on new subsidies for biomass?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have reviewed and adjusted subsidies in relation to biomass, and we keep that under regular review.

Given that Scotland’s renewable energy will be cheaper than that produced at Hinkley by the time it is complete and that Brexit is already pushing up the build costs of these reactors in an environment where the UK Government have unilaterally decided to abandon the protection of Euratom, will you scrap the costly and inefficient nuclear obsession in favour of a low-carbon future?

Frankly, previous Governments neglected their responsibility to this country to invest in upgrading its power infrastructure, but this Government are grasping that challenge. As I have said, few countries have done more to make the transition to cleaner energy, with a trebling of capacity in renewable electricity, and the commitment to Hinkley offers us the potential for 7% of the country’s electricity—low-carbon based power.

Colleagues in both Houses have signed an offshore blade made by MHI Vestas on the Isle of Wight, which is also arranging a schools outreach programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that this sort of initiative raises awareness of how low-carbon renewable energy technology can ensure that the UK reaches its potential of exporting its first-class engineering and advanced manufacturing worldwide?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and wholly endorse what he says. The Secretary of State and I saw at first-hand when visiting the new Siemens offshore wind blade turbine factory in Hull just what this technology and engineering can do to inspire, in particular, young people in the area about opportunities for employment in this exciting sector.

Nuclear power is an important part of the transition to a low-carbon economy. Will the Minister update us on the small modular reactor competition?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election to the Select Committee, and she is absolutely right: energy innovation is critical to both our future ability to reduce the cost of decarbonisation and unlocking the industrial opportunities inside the low-carbon energy sector. We are reviewing our plans in relation to our energy innovation portfolio. The nuclear industry is a very important part of those plans, and I hope we will have something to say very shortly.

The Minister will be aware that we in the south-west do not share the Scottish National party’s negative view of the Hinkley Point power station project, but will he reassure me about what work the Government will do to ensure that young people have the skills to take the jobs that will become available in these industries?

I thank my hon. Friend for correcting the impression that investment in new jobs in the nuclear industry is somehow bad news, given the commitment that 65% of the content of Hinkley should be supplied from this country. Just as important is the contribution it makes to upgrading our power infrastructure and making sure this country has the ability to access reliable low-carbon energy in the future.

Last week, the Budget failed to stop the 800% rise in business rates for companies that have installed solar panels. This week, research published in the journal Nature Energy states that to achieve our targets set out in the Paris agreement we need to set out longer-term plans beyond 2050, yet the Government have now dithered for five years and still refuse to publish their own implementation plan, even up to 2030. How does the Minister propose to increase our low-carbon exports when he cannot even set out how we will achieve our medium-term climate targets?

The hon. Gentleman accuses us of dithering, but our performance on emissions during the last Parliament was one of the most successful since 1990. He talks about delaying the emissions plan but he will know that the fifth carbon budget was set only last July. This country, and this Government, have a proud record of proving that we can reduce emissions while growing our economy, and we will continue to build on that.

With more than 30 large wind turbines in the borough, Kettering is coming close to generating more green electricity than it consumes, but what incentives are there in the business rates and planning systems to reward housing developments and business start-ups that are low carbon?

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out how much progress we are making at the local level as well as nationally on the transition to green power. This has been facilitated by substantial investment through public subsidies and, as we look to encourage the deployment of renewable energy through competitive markets—preferably subsidy free—we are looking at what else we can do to facilitate that using the tools available to the Government.

Our concern on Hinkley is that the Government appear to be stacking the deck in favour of nuclear power over the much cheaper renewable energy. The strike price for Hinkley was £92.50 in 2012, compared with a much lower £82.50 for onshore wind in 2015, yet in the value-for-money assessment the Government assume a £90 strike price for onshore wind. Why are they inflating the price for renewables in comparison to Hinkley?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not want to give the wrong impression. He knows from his experience that one of the keys to a successful energy policy is diversity of supply. That is the key to energy security, which is the primary responsibility of every Government. Ensuring diversity of supply is absolutely evident in what we as a Government are trying to do.

The Minister has completely missed the point of my question, which was about comparisons. The Government commissioned Frontier Economics to look at the whole systems impact of electricity generation models, yet despite repeated parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests the report has not been published. If the Government have nothing to hide, why are they hiding things?

I am not aware of hiding anything. I am trying to make a point about diversity of energy supply. I would make a further point about prices, in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question. One of the most encouraging things is the progress we have made in our policy structure on driving greater competition, through contracts for difference, in order to get better prices for consumers and for the taxpayer from the public subsidies that are available. I hope that that will be evident very soon in the results of the forthcoming auctions.