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Geothermal Energy: Clackmannanshire

Volume 642: debated on Monday 4 June 2018

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Rebecca Harris.)

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for granting this Adjournment debate on geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about this potentially exciting, new, greener renewable technology in the energy sector and its ramifications for Clackmannanshire, Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Known as the wee county, Clackmannanshire is the smallest council area in Scotland, situated in the south-western corner of my constituency. It is tucked away beneath the Ochil hills, flanked by Stirling to the west, Kinross-shire to the east and the River Forth to the south. Despite being home to successful companies such as Diageo, United Glass, the William Brothers Brewing Company and innumerable small and medium-sized enterprises, Clacks is a former industrial and mining community and still has some of the most deprived areas in our country. Meanwhile, geothermal energy is a form of renewable energy in its relative infancy in the United Kingdom, with opportunities still being identified and explored, and it is struggling to enter the mainstream of energy provision in the United Kingdom.

While I am sure no one would suggest that Adjournment debates usually only cater to a limited audience, addressing the niche interests of Members, with limited implications for the wider country, on the surface this debate on a relatively minor energy source in one of the smallest council areas in the country may ungenerously be described as such. However, given the limited exploitation of geothermal energy in the United Kingdom and the potential for its use in Clackmannanshire, the implications of investment and development of geothermal for the wider industry sector and the country are enormous.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am here to support him and congratulate him on securing the debate. Does he agree that the impact of such projects on the local economy, and especially the long-term benefits, has to be a significant consideration for Government? Everybody in the United Kingdom could benefit from projects just like this.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I could not agree more. One reason why I applied for this debate is to espouse the long-term benefits of these projects and how that will align with the country’s industrial strategy.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to look at the broader industry and the place of geothermal within the industry. According to the House of Commons Library, the total energy sector in the UK was worth £24 billion in 2016. In the same year, the industry as a whole invested £11 billion—the equivalent of £1 in every £16 invested in the UK. It is an industry that directly employs 148,000 workers and supports a further 582,000 through the supply chain, consulting and other energy-related activities. That is a total of 730,000 jobs supported in the UK by the energy sector. Meanwhile, around 22,000 people in Scotland are employed in the energy sector, with the oil and gas sector being a major part of that. The energy sector therefore represents an important industry not just in terms of its contribution to the total GDP of the United Kingdom, but in terms of jobs, investment, research and development and supporting industries.

Energy is important. It heats our homes, cooks our meals and runs the appliances, amenities and communications devices without which our tablets, laptops and businesses could not function. In short, it impacts on every aspect of 21st-century life. The 19th and 20th-century sources of energy have long since ceased to be seen as the future. Renewable energy sources are an ever increasing part of the suite of energy sources, and Scotland has been at the forefront of such innovations, with wind and sea power particularly prevalent in its contribution. I wholeheartedly support those steps and hope that the UK will continue to be at the forefront of such renewable energy options—not just wind and sea but others too, such as geothermal.

You may ask, Mr Deputy Speaker, why geothermal energy? In simple terms, geothermal energy is valuable because it is generated and stored in the earth. It is heat extracted directly from the earth. It is generally available via shallow geothermal ground source heat pumps, which use the heat stored in the earth to generate electricity or provide heating. Geothermal is considered a renewable form of energy due to the vast amount of heat inside the earth and the continuous production of additional heat derived effectively from the earth’s core.

It is important to understand that geothermal energy is not the same as fracking, as some have tried to claim. For clarity, geothermal technology uses things such as mine water, closed boreholes and surface water, none of which has any similarity to fracking. Fracking is a process used to break up rock at great depths to release gas from ancient plant deposits. In the UK, this typically happens 2.5 km below the surface using a process involving large diameter boreholes and huge hydraulic pressures, and those are part of the concerns currently being debated. By contrast, with geothermal, the typical closed loop borehole, such as the one that would be used in Clackmannanshire, is no more than 200 metres deep, with a small diameter, and is installed in the same way and to the same standards as a water well.

We should consider the environmental impact, or relative lack thereof, of geothermal energy. It does not require combustion, unlike traditional energy plants, so it emits very low levels of greenhouse gases. It also eliminates the mining and transportation processes involved in fossil fuel energy generation. Finally, it takes up very little surface land, putting it among the smallest footprint per kilowatt of any power generation technology, including coal, nuclear and other renewables.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important and interesting debate. He is speaking specifically about the size of these developments, but, as he mentioned wind energy earlier, does he accept that there is concern in my Moray constituency, as well as in many parts of Scotland and, indeed, of the UK, that large-scale windfarms are scarring our communities? Indeed, Moray has reached saturation point for the number of wind turbines and windfarms we can have, and we should really be looking at smaller methods of renewable energy.

I would not dare to claim to know more than my hon. Friend about his constituency, but I would say that a key part of the industrial strategy is to have more regional facilities and smaller-scale projects, and I am hoping to advocate doing so tonight.

As I was saying, for comparison, the carbon footprint estimate for an oil boiler is 310 to 550g CO2eq/kWh or—for those who do not know—grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. For gas boilers, the figure is 210 to 380, for biomass boilers it is somewhere between 5 and 200, although typically they are below 100, while the carbon footprint range for a solar thermal system is 10 to 35 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. By comparison, the figure for geothermal is only 10. As a result, geothermal energy systems are becoming an increasingly popular low-carbon energy system of choice.

Yet geothermal energy is barely utilised in the United Kingdom. In a Westminster Hall debate on clean growth energy back in March, there was a great deal of enthusiastic support among the small number of Members present. Those who spoke in support of geothermal energy in that debate came from areas where it already exists, or at least where it is being planned. I do not consider it a coincidence that where geothermal energy has already been explored and exploited, there was support and enthusiasm for it. It evidently works, and indeed, we should take note of the enthusiasm expressed in that debate. It is a clean energy source, with the potential to bring jobs and investment to our constituencies, and given the UK’s long history of mining, I refuse to believe that only Clackmannanshire has the potential for geothermal energy to be developed. There was of course one person in that Westminster Hall debate who enthusiastically supported the development of geothermal energy in the United Kingdom—the Minister responding this evening.

The UK has a target that, by 2020, 15% of its energy will be met by renewables. In 2008, renewables constituted just 2.25% of energy sources in the UK. By 2014, this had risen to 7.1%, and 8.3% by 2015. I could not find any more recent figures, so I would be grateful to the Minister if she told us how the UK is performing in 2018, and how it expects to meet its target in 2020.

Although geothermal is still relatively new to the UK, this type of energy is not a particularly new technology. For example, geothermal heating is used in over 70 countries already, while 24 already use geothermal electrical production systems. Furthermore, five countries—Iceland, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Kenya and the Philippines—generate more than 15% of their electricity from geothermal sources. However, across the whole United Kingdom, I could find only nine geothermal energy projects that are in operation or are being planned. Four are in Cornwall, two are in north-east England, and one—the original—is in Southampton. There are two small mine-water geothermal schemes in operation in Scotland: Shettleston in Glasgow and Lumphinnans in Fife, as well as a forthcoming project in Kilmarnock. To put that in context, the fifth largest economy in the world is being outdone by the 106th, 101st, 76th, 68th, and 39th largest economies respectively in geothermal development and energy production.

We still have a way to go. Evidently, we can and should be doing more to invest and develop that clean energy source. In 2013, only 900 jobs in the UK were supported by geothermal energy—500 were directly supported, and 400 indirectly. Given the potential for the expansion of that technology in the UK, there is a great deal of potential for the jobs market, both directly and indirectly. High-quality, skilled jobs would be supported by the development of the sector.

Here is the crux of the debate—why Clackmannanshire? Development of geothermal in the UK, as I have said, has been relatively limited so far, largely due to the availability of cheap North sea oil and gas. Geothermal energy is plentiful beneath the United Kingdom but, admittedly, it is not readily accessible, except in specific locations. One such location is Clackmannanshire. Abandoned coal mines in Clackmannanshire could become a source of energy, as the water that has poured into the mines since they closed has been warmed up by the rock surrounding it. It is hot enough to be used for a low-temperature heating system through a heat exchanger, with more potential for it to be used for energy production.

My hon. Friend is speaking extremely well about this subject, and I bow to his knowledge in this area. On the notion of creating electricity from heat, would that extend to, for example, sewage? Would it be possible to create district heating systems in that way? Is it the same technology? Perhaps he can enlighten me.

On district heating systems, yes. On sewage systems, I am not sure. That is something that we should explore, but when we look at the broader uses of the technology, certainly in energy and electricity production, as we have seen in other countries around the world, absolutely that can be done. There are exciting, direct uses of geothermal energy in countries such as Kenya, ranging from hydroponic farming to powering small communities. There are a number of exciting projects in operation, which is why it is important to run a pilot and secure investment so that we can realise the true potential of the technology.

While it is not often that Clackmannanshire has a competitive advantage over other local communities, we have a relatively unique geographical opportunity. However, there are more reasons to invest in Clackmannanshire. It suffers from high levels of deprivation, and a significantly high level of fuel poverty. Local authority surveys have identified the fact that one in three households in Clackmannanshire suffers from fuel poverty, rising to 49% among pensioners. Heat accounts for nearly half of energy consumption in Clacks and a third of its carbon emissions. Roughly 80% of that is consumed in homes and other buildings.

The local economy is vulnerable. It has a higher than average unemployment rate, the third lowest job density in Scotland, below average earnings, and of all the local authorities in Scotland, Clackmannanshire has the lowest rating for skilled qualifications. That is not to talk Clackmannanshire down. It may be the known as the wee county, but as I said in my maiden speech,

“it is not size but what you do with it that counts.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 524.]

I want to highlight some of the challenges in Clackmannanshire, but also give an idea of what a significant investment in the area would help to overcome. I want to look at the difference that such an investment could make in Clackmannanshire. It goes without saying that investment would bring valuable, skilled jobs to the area, and that is important, but it is more than that. Investment would help to develop spin-off businesses that would support the industry both directly and along the supply chain. We have already seen that. I was lucky at the weekend to be interviewed by the BBC, and local companies and local champions of geothermal have come forward in the past few days, keen to work with the Government and public and private sector bodies on a project not just in the county but in the wider region.

Developing geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire could see the area become renowned in the UK, not just as a leading low-carbon energy provider but for its energy innovation.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making such a powerful case for this initiative in his constituency. I am sure that there are other parts of Scotland that could benefit from his insight. What opportunities can he see for this initiative being delivered as part of the UK Government’s industrial strategy? Does he recognise that many projects could be delivered in Scotland as part of that overall initiative?

I could not agree more; the industrial strategy is about having a stronger blueprint for the whole of Britain and it is important that the investment, especially in reserved areas such as energy, is spread throughout the United Kingdom in a fair manner to attract the true opportunities that are found in each individual area.

Developing geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire would make the county more attractive to investors, businesses and developers. By helping to establish a resilient, environmentally-friendly heating and energy system, it could provide affordable, low-carbon heating and energy to local households and businesses. Furthermore, by delivering estimated savings of 50% for the local authority, it would free up much needed additional funding to invest back into local services, which have faced substantial cuts.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has stated that we need to move away from having one energy network towards having smaller, more regional networks. That is precisely what we can do and what we hope to do in Clackmannanshire. By reducing energy bills, it will help us to create a more stable, affordable energy market in the area, which is central to improving and maintaining living standards in the community. In turn, it will help Clackmannanshire to become more self-sustaining, allowing it to support businesses, improve educational opportunities, and tackle social inequalities and the fuel poverty crisis.

Geothermal energy is not the solution to every single issue experienced in Clackmannanshire, despite what I have said tonight, but it would be a significant step in the right direction. One of my biggest frustrations since becoming an MP almost a year ago to the day has been the “devolve and forget” approach that has been allowed to permeate since devolution nearly 20 years ago. However, energy is not devolved. Devolution does not mean separate and it should not act as a wall. Devolution was just a means to bring powers closer to the people who need them in order to deliver things better. This is still the UK Parliament and Scotland is still part of the UK. To be clear, without Scotland there is no United Kingdom.

Scotland has the infrastructure and expertise in place to lead the United Kingdom in geothermal energy and contribute towards the UK’s clean growth strategy. That is why I urge the Minister to put Scotland at its heart when considering Government investment and to put geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire at the forefront of that investment. Scotland has been at the forefront of every major industrial development of the United Kingdom, from the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries to oil and gas in the 20th and 21st centuries. It has the infrastructure and expertise to lead the UK, and putting the investment in now could be transformational for the area and for the wider UK.

There is no law stopping the UK Government investing directly in Scottish local authorities, least of all the devolution settlement, the various Scotland Acts or the Smith commission, especially when the right opportunity arises. This is the right opportunity—an opportunity to invest in and improve our renewable energy sector; an opportunity to lower our carbon footprint; an opportunity to tackle fuel poverty; and an opportunity to bring jobs, prospects and prosperity to one of the most deprived areas of Scotland. I urge the UK Government to grasp this opportunity and to let the people of Clackmannanshire lead the rest of Scotland and the United Kingdom in growing geothermal energy.

I make no apologies for keeping Clackmannanshire firmly in the minds of the UK Government and the decision makers who lead it, as I want to maximise the investment coming to the wee county and to my wider constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire from Westminster. Developing geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire has the potential to combine heritage with new technology to bring investment to the county, turning a so called negative legacy into jobs, training and long-term opportunities for the county. This is what I believe Government is for—not to deliver every job, but to ensure that every part of our country can take advantage of the opportunities afforded to it. I hope that the Minister will help Clackmannanshire achieve its potential this evening.

What a very lively Adjournment debate. They rarely get as good as this: a seamless team effort from my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) and his colleagues focusing on a particularly fascinating new area of technology. It is a refreshing change to hear Members who are passionate about their Scottish constituencies, and who are prepared to stand up and work with the UK Government rather than just criticise and carp. That sense of working together to deliver this technology is very important.

I am delighted to be able to talk more about the Clackmannanshire geothermal energy project, which, as my hon. Friend rightly set out, looks to use a local resource from the legacy of decades of mining in a way that helps us to meet our renewable energy targets, and create jobs and innovation for the future. My hon. Friend made reference to our renewable energy successes. We are right, collectively across the UK, to be proud of them. Thanks to investment in innovation by UK taxpayers, working together north and south of the border, and east and west we are very much on target to achieve 30% energy supply from renewables by 2020. In fact, it looks as if we will go substantively beyond that. Scotland with its beauty—my hon. Friend alluded to it; his speech was a wonderful travel advert for his constituency—natural geographic advantages and engineering expertise has very much been in the forefront of that.

That brings me to the role of geothermal energy, which is a critical part of the renewable energy resource. It can be used in several ways, for example heat networks. The UK Government have set aside over £300 million to invest in district heat networks over the next few years. They are a really important way of bringing it forward. Deep geothermal power is another opportunity to create heat and generate power, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) discussed.

This is not about finding new resource. The mining legacy has created a lot of holes in the ground beneath our feet, which have filled up with water. The water has become heated and is now available without drilling deep wells. This is relatively easy to set up. I am proud to be working with the Coal Authority and others to consider how we might manage this mining legacy. Across the UK, it has recently been assessed that there are over 2 million GW hours of low-carbon energy stored in mine workings across the UK. I feel strongly that we should be looking at how to extract it.

As I said, there are several ways to use this very valuable resource. We can use it as heat to supply homes and businesses. It can help to deliver the clean growth aspects of our industrial strategy, because it can be used to provide heat to certain business sectors. It can also provide opportunities for energy through regeneration and storage. A lot of work is being done on storage capability. The problem with renewables is that they can be very intermittent. How do we store energy in a liquid state? Deep networks could be a way to help us to lead the world on this going forward. We are looking across the UK to see how we might exploit this great resource.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire eloquently and passionately set out, we have opportunities in Clackmannanshire to understand how we might use this local resource better. He set out the wider benefits from this potential source: not just lower cost lower carbon energy for his constituents, but creating businesses, creating innovation, creating jobs, reducing energy bills, reducing fuel poverty and reducing social inequalities. It could establish Clackmannanshire as a global authority on geothermal energy, attracting inward investment and innovation from other countries across the world. The Department and I are very keen to see more of such projects coming forward, because they deliver carbon savings, cost reductions and innovation.

We are working on heat networks. As my hon. Friend is well aware, there is a series of competences between the UK Government and the devolved Administration. Heat is a devolved matter, but energy is a reserved matter. There is, therefore, a huge area between the two parts of our government system where we have opportunities to work together on heat projects.

My hon. Friend and his constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, should be patting themselves on the back for securing a city region deal worth more than £90 million to the region. The UK Government are investing more than £45 million, the Scottish Government are investing, the local councils are investing—it is truly a good example of partnership working. [Interruption.] As I said, it is always better when we work together—a message sometimes lost on Scottish National party Members.

This ambitious and innovative deal will drive economic growth across the region, innovation and research with at its heart, and also focus on the area’s incredible natural heritage. I think that we could expand the definition to include the mine workings and geothermal possibilities. That is what the Clackmannanshire geothermal energy project seeks to do, and my Department will absolutely support it, exploring potential funding routes and sharing learning from other networks from across the UK.

We are committed to supporting the project. We see opportunities for high-quality, cost-effective heating, for the creation of renewable energy and for the provision of many other benefits to the area. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has once again raised this opportunity and demonstrated the passion and commitment with which he and his constituents support it. It was encouraging to hear that other local businesses are already coming forward wanting to be part of it.

I hope that this debate can be the start of the process. It has allowed us to look at how we might fit the scheme into the various funding streams available. I would love to think it could be one of the first of many projects across the UK that will tap back into that resource beneath our feet. It is a resource that was created by the blood, sweat and tears of many thousands of fine working men—generally men—in the past, and it would be wonderful to use that legacy to help us to meet the targets of our renewable and low-carbon future.

My hon. Friend says it is a wee county but that it is not size that matters but what you do with it. It is a little late for that kind of commentary, so I will finish simply by commending him for doing such a superb job of standing up for his constituents and presenting the best way of combining the legacy of that wonderful area with some of the low-carbon energy solutions of the future.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.