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Renewable Energy

Volume 652: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2019

All of us in this House should celebrate the UK’s global leadership in decarbonising our economy: we have had the fastest rate of decarbonisation in the G20 since 1990, and part of that leadership has been through very substantial investment in renewable technology, including subsidies totalling £52 billion since 2010 and auction design and research and development investment. It is paying off: in the third quarter of last year we generated over a third of our energy from renewables, and our support is continuing with over half a billion pounds committed to the contracts for difference process and almost £200 million for cost-reducing innovations.

Scottish businesses such as the innovative Artemis in my constituency have developed world-leading tidal and wave energy technologies, but requiring these early-stage businesses to compete with the more mature offshore wind industry for CfD subsidies means there is often no viable route to market for emergent technologies. Will the Minister consider having a three-pot auction for new technologies, including wave and tidal, so there is no direct competition with more established technologies?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. We want to continue to invest in technologies that have the potential both to decarbonise and drive global exports, and that is certainly an area that could contribute, although not at any price: we will not rerun the debate over Swansea, which would have been the most expensive power station the country had ever built and created just 30 jobs. There are potentially better, more valuable projects and I am always happy to look at innovative proposals coming forward to see how we might support this technology.

As well as the obvious, 31 March sees the end of the export tariff on electricity exported into the grid by solar photovoltaic systems. After that, big firms will end up receiving free electricity from all new solar PV installations, which are mainly small businesses and individual households, so they will effectively be subsidising the giants. Will the Government consider a net metering scheme, whereby the difference between electricity consumed and exported into the grid only is paid for, to rectify this burning injustice?

I admire the hon. Lady’s passion. I feel I am rather front-running my answer to Question 9, which I know the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) is teed up to ask, but I will publish today the consultation on the Government’s proposals for a smart export guarantee to bring forward this valuable source of energy at a price so that people are not providing it to the grid for free, and to support its development in what we want to call our smart systems plan going forward.

While supporting new energy technologies is of course important, so too is supporting technologies that make our energy production more efficient, and many of these technologies are low carbon so they help us meet our climate change targets and cut consumers’ household bills. Can the Minister update us on progress made in this area and on the call for evidence I have asked for on this subject?

My hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner on this issue and will know that we have contributed almost £20 million to the industrial strategy heat recovery fund, and the low-carbon heating technology innovation fund is also receiving funds of up to £10 million. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s principle. I am not convinced that a further consultation is required, but I am always happy to discuss it with her.

Is it fair to continue to subsidise solar panels by charging higher prices to other customers who could not possibly afford that investment?

No, and that is why the intention to close the feed-in tariff scheme was signalled many years ago: it has cost to date over £5 billion and we have a legacy cost of over £1.5 billion to fund that scheme going forward at a time when the price of solar is tumbling. We know that many companies are bringing forward large-scale solar installations without needing subsidy.

22. The Minister will be aware that the whole point of supporting new renewable energy technologies is to allow them to enter the marketplace and, hopefully, get to the point where they will become subsidy-free. Onshore wind is almost at that point, and it is also the cheapest form of electricity generation at the moment. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Scotland about developing onshore wind in Scotland? (908449)

I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary regarding all the support we are providing for the BEIS Scottish energy sector. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in celebrating the fact that we have opened up the CfD mechanism to the offshore wind provision that is coming for remote island projects—[Interruption.] He used to think that that was a very good thing. We should also never forget that it is UK bill payers collectively who have invested in the success of UK renewable energy. We will continue to review the potential for onshore wind, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the Scottish Secretary and I were both elected on a manifesto that said that further subsidy for large-scale onshore wind was not required or necessary.

I very much support renewable energy, but many of my constituents in the Scottish borders feel that we now have our fair share of onshore wind, so can the Minister assure me that nothing in Government policy will promote onshore wind farm developments over other forms of renewable energy sources?

That is exactly the point about technology neutrality. I refer my hon. Friend to the Scottish Government’s own onshore wind policy statement, which suggests that the number of onshore wind applications is expected to increase by more than 70% on the basis of current planning applications. The current system is clearly working to bring forward onshore wind in the windiest parts of the United Kingdom.

Given how vital offshore wind is to Britain’s future electricity supply, and how it is increasingly providing good value for money, how can the Minister justify allocating just £60 million to next spring’s CfD auction?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for recognising the incredible contribution that offshore wind can make, and I hope he will join me in wishing great success to our negotiating teams in bringing forward the vital sector deal. The point is, given that the price has tumbled since he was one of the people who designed the excellent auction structure, that we should be able to bring forward the amount of capacity we have said we need—1 GW to 2 GW—with that amount of subsidy. The system is working to get us to subsidy-free provision of this extremely important offshore wind energy.

The Minister will be aware that the recent EU Court judgment, which effectively freezes the capacity market in the UK, turned substantially on the lack of level playing field access to capacity market support for new low-carbon energy technologies such as demand-side response. Does she intend to respond positively to the judgment by recasting the capacity market to reflect remedies for this lack of equal access, or is she perhaps hoping that, after a decent interval—and a lot of damage to existing participants in the capacity market—normal service will be resumed?

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. We have been working on this issue closely with the industry for several months since the judgment came forward, and it is absolutely right that we reassure the industry and investors of our commitment to holding auctions in the near future to ensure electricity supply for next winter, and that we do all that we can to ensure that this market is put back on a legal and orderly basis. It does work—it is the envy of many countries around the world—and we are working closely with Ofgem and the industry to ensure that we can take that market capacity structure forward.