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Energy Market: Diversity Supply

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

My right hon. Friend is quite right that we have a diverse energy supply and we must continue to maintain that, guided by the principles of lowest cost, lowest carbon and the maximum exploration of overseas trade opportunities. As the Secretary of State set out in his recent speech, we should continue to use market mechanisms wherever we can to maintain this diversity of supply.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, can she reassure the House, and many of our constituents, that the move from the existing feed-in tariff to the smart export guarantee will not jeopardise the viability of solar energy anaerobic digester producers and that they will continue to be paid for exporting energy to the grid?

My right hon. Friend is quite right. As I said earlier, we are very keen to ensure, through the smart export guarantee, that we move to the lower-subsidy or subsidy-free future that we know we can get to, but that we continue to see the sorts of viable projects that he references. I would urge him to make sure that the views of his constituents are reflected in the consultation that closes on 5 March.

Has the Minister had recent conversations with the power distribution networks? They are very powerful, they transmit all the electricity, and they are owned by very strange people, in my view. Warren Buffett owns all the power distribution in the north through Berkshire Hathaway. The Chinese own it all in London and the south-east through the Cheung Kong and Li Ka Shing enterprises. Are they efficient? Are they effective? Do they work in the national interest, or in somebody else’s national interest?

The hon. Gentleman, I am sure, shares my view that we should have the most efficient and well-invested energy system going forward that keeps costs down for consumers. He will also know that since privatisation—[Interruption.] Well, if he wants an answer perhaps he could stop shouting at me and listen. We have seen a large reduction in power outages and an increase in energy security. We have to make sure that the system is fit for the future because, as he knows, much of what happens in the future will not be creation of energy on the old coalfield sites and distribution down the transmission lines—there will be far more decentralised energy, and we continue to look forward to that development. [Interruption.]

The capacity or otherwise of a particular Minister to speak fluent Chinese is, at best, a secondary consideration in respect of this question, I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who is chuntering endlessly from a sedentary position.

I very much agree with diversity of energy supply, but will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be no diminution in the controls over the fracking industry, which has agreed to the regulations and has to stand by them?

I thank my right hon. Friend for asking a very topical question. The situation is this. We have set out very clearly our need to explore soberly and scientifically this potentially important resource. We rejected the companies’ request during the process of extraction from the first well to change the regime, on the basis that it was fit for purpose. I have been very well aware of all the scientific suggestions that somehow this regime should be reviewed. Of course, we now have an independent regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority, and it is within its remit, should it wish, to look at the science. For me, it is a scientist-led decision—it is nothing to do with politicians.

Will the Minister outline any recent findings regarding the harnessing of tidal power and any project the Department is pursuing or overseeing?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we continue to look actively at this sector. Indeed, we have invested over £50 million in innovation in the sector over the past few years. However, it was right to reject the most expensive power station ever proposed in the form of the Swansea tidal lagoon. It is very pleasing to see that that project has now been brought forward in a form that does not require any Government subsidy. That is clearly a vote of confidence in this sector and this technology going forward. Our door is open for innovative proposals in this area. I was pleased, as I said, to meet the Marine Energy Council to see what more we can do.