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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 19 September 2023

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Contracts for Difference Scheme

1. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the contracts for difference scheme in supporting low-carbon electricity generation. (906448)

2. What assessment she has made of the potential implications of the outcome of the contracts for difference allocation round 5 on the future development of floating offshore wind. (906450)

Our contracts for difference scheme is a UK success story, having contracted more than 30 GW of capacity, including 20 GW of offshore wind, since 2014. AR5 delivered a record number of clean energy projects, enough to power the equivalent of 2 million homes, and the Government’s commitment to offshore wind remains unchanged, which is 50 GW by 2030.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place. The great advantage of the CfD scheme is that with forward planning it has the flexibility to adapt to changing economic conditions. Can she therefore confirm that the Government will be working collaboratively and straightaway with industry to ensure a successful round 6 so that offshore wind can get back on track, and UK consumers and the UK economy can benefit from low-cost, low-carbon energy?

I thank my hon. Friend for his long-standing support in this area and I can confirm that we are wasting no time in engaging the sector in advance of AR6. I personally spoke to offshore wind stakeholders following AR5 and confirmed our commitment. The Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero held a roundtable with the sector on 12 September. We are listening to the sector and annual auctions mean we can respond quickly.

I know that as chair of the all-party group on the Celtic sea my hon. Friend is a long-standing supporter of offshore wind. We have announced that AR6 will open in March 2024 and we have published an indicative timetable. We are supporting research and development in floating wind technology via the floating offshore wind demonstration programme, announcing up to £160 million in capital grant funding.

Can we work to the order, as it is a grouped question? The question should not be answered in that way. Selaine Saxby should be asking a direct question.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am keen to understand better what more can be done to assist floating offshore wind in AR6 following what happened in AR5.

I know my hon. Friend is a long-standing supporter of offshore wind. We have announced that AR6 will open in March 2024 and we have published that timetable. We are supporting floating wind technology through different programmes and manufacturing investment schemes too.

We also welcome the Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box. With many renewable projects built on the strength of contracts for difference, but with reports of many not invoking these contracts and instead benefiting from the higher energy prices, can the contracts in principle be invoked later, when prices fall, or could the Government enforce the invoking of the CfD contracts now, at the start of the generation of these projects, rather than their taking the high prices while they can?

The CfD programme has driven prices down over time to enormous effect, by 70% since they started, which is much more than people expected. I would be happy to take the hon. Gentleman’s particular point away but overall this is a successful programme, and our annual auction changes will also make a difference.

Given the unreliable and intermittent nature of both solar and wind-generated energy, we already have more of these projects than the grid can efficiently manage. Does the Secretary of State agree that what we really need is more reliable baseload capacity and that that can only be delivered via fossil fuels or nuclear?

We have a strong focus on energy security, and that means having a just transition to clean energy but also investing in nuclear. The hon. Gentleman may have seen that we have started the capital raise for Sizewell C, and we support the oil and gas industry as a just transition fuel.

I wish the Clerk of the House well in the future, and I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to her new role and congratulate her on her appointment to the Cabinet. I look forward to working together. Let us start with the truth. The offshore wind auction that she inherited was a totally avoidable disaster. It means another lost year for our country and another year of higher bills, and it is because Ministers obstinately refused to listen to warning after warning from industry. RenewableUK estimates that the auction failure will add £2 billion to bills. What is the Secretary of State’s estimate of the cost to families of this fiasco?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my place. I am delighted to serve opposite him and face him at the Dispatch Box.

There are a couple of things I will point out. If we had tried to do what the right hon. Gentleman suggested, we would have delayed the 3.7 GW of clean energy that we secured, which is able to power 2 million homes. If we want to look at what is going to hurt people and their bills, I would point to his disastrous policies, whether it is the ultra low emission zone, which is hitting people who can least afford it, or his borrowing spree, which will raise inflation.

I am afraid the Secretary of State is quite wrong about that, because Ireland adjusted the price and had 3 GW of offshore wind. Let us talk about the way that this Government are jeopardising our energy security. They have delivered—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Stuart, I know this is the last day before the recess and you are excited to get some freedom, but let’s save it.

This Government have delivered the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. There is a pattern here: they banned onshore wind and raised bills, they slashed energy efficiency and raised bills, and now they have trashed offshore wind, raising bills. That is why we are so exposed. I know that the right hon. Lady did not make those decisions, but now that she is the Secretary of State, she needs to tell us, after 13 years of failure, what is she going to do differently?

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman about the last 13 years. We have decarbonised faster than any G7 country, while also growing the economy. We have grown renewable energy from 7% of our electricity when Labour left power to 50% now. I am proud of what we have achieved over the last 13 years. We have a proud record when it comes to climate change and a proud record when it comes to renewable energy, and I am proud to defend it.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role. I wish I could have welcomed her to her new role on 5 September, when we had the remaining stages of the Energy Bill, but she was not here. I wish I could have welcomed her on 7 September for the urgent question on the auction round 5 strike price, but she was not here for that either, so what has the new Secretary of State been doing in the midst of the chronic energy crisis facing our constituents and allowing her Department to see shovel-ready offshore wind go into abeyance? What has she been doing?

I struggle to see how that was directly related to the question, but let me tell the hon. Gentleman what I have been doing. I was here for the Third Reading of the Energy Bill; perhaps he was not. During this time, I have been moving forward with all the Government’s priorities on energy security and ensuring that we can move to a just, clean transition.

Forgive me if that rendition is not immediately recognisable in offshore wind projects from auction round 5. I hope the Department has learnt some salutary lessons from this mess, but it will be consumers who pick up the bill. Can I ask the Secretary of State for her personal intervention in pumped storage to introduce a cap and floor mechanism, which industry has been clear is absolutely necessary to get this vital baseload energy source into position? Will she intervene personally and get that moving, because it is blowing in the breeze just now?

I am absolutely focused on getting investment into offshore wind. One of the first things I did after AR5 was speak to investors from across the board, to make sure I was listening to their concerns, and there are multiple things they care about. One is having certainty; there was lots of welcoming of the move to annual auctions. The other is connections to the grid. I will be looking at all those things and making sure we can get the investment the sector needs.

Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage

3. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of carbon capture, usage and storage technology on economic growth. (906451)

We have committed £20 billion to the early deployment of carbon, capture, utilisation and storage, which will deliver economic growth and decarbonisation of our industrial heartlands. Our analysis has shown that it could support up to 50,000 jobs in 2030 and add up to £5 billion to the economy by 2050.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. Following the commitment in “Powering Up Britain” to provide up to £20 billion of funding for early deployment of CCUS, how does she intend to finance that support? Does she recognise that CCUS funding needs to be matched by creating a competitive environment for private sector investment, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism to smooth the path to deployment, as recommended by the Commission for Carbon Competitiveness, of which I am a member?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s work as a member of the Commission for Carbon Competitiveness, and she makes an excellent point. The £20 billion will be funded through a variety of sources and will be allocated in due course, and early this year the Government consulted on a range on measures to support decarbonisation, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism. The Government will provide a response to that consultation in due course.

If the Secretary of State is looking for innovation that will make a real difference to economic growth, will she look at not only carbon capture and storage, but hydrogen? Many of the same universities and research establishments are looking at hydrogen as the new energiser for transport and so much else in our lives. Will she put some serious money into both hydrogen and CCS?

I am interested in innovation in all of those areas, because that is what will get us to the ambitious targets we have set out. I will be looking at hydrogen, carbon capture, and every single other area to see what more we can do.

Methane Leaks from Oil and Gas Production

The Government have ambitious plans to tackle methane emissions from oil and gas production. With support from Government and key regulators, industry is on track to end routine flaring and venting prior to 2030, in line with the World Bank’s initiative.

While I welcome the Government’s introduction of new oil and gas licences in the North sea as part of a just and graduated transition to more reliance on renewables, the Minister will be aware that methane is a far more warming gas than carbon dioxide. Given that much more can be done, will the Government look at how they can ensure that flaring, venting and leaks are fixed by the new licence holders as and when they occur and, in the context of the North sea transition plan, ensure that the new Affleck oil field is not allowed to flare until 2037, as set out in the permission granted to it? This is all part of how we can reach net zero without it costing my constituents the earth.

The North Sea Transition Authority already expects methane emissions to be as low as possible and all new developments to be developed on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting, and that they should be electrified or electrification-ready. Of course, what is required and will help facilitate that is new investment in the North sea facilitated by licences, without which we are unlikely to see the reduction in emissions that we have so successfully driven so far.

The Minister has not really given any reassurance to the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). As we know, methane is a whopping 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, so if the Minister is serious about tackling this issue, will he explain why the Government failed to use the Energy Bill to ban flaring and venting? Why did they whip their own MPs to vote against an amendment that would have outlawed it, and given that the practice has been illegal in Norway since the 1970s, will he finally recognise that this makes a mockery of Ministers’ claims about UK oil and gas being greener?

Unusually, the hon. Lady has got her facts wrong: I do not think that amendment was even selected for debate that day. According to the North Sea Transition Authority, flaring was reduced by more than 10% just last year, contributing to a reduction of nearly 50% between 2018 and 2022. As I have said, the North Sea Transition Authority estimates that methane emissions have fallen by more than 40% to fewer than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent—a record low. We have old existing infrastructure and are moving with a maximum of ambition to reduce emissions, and we have a successful track record to date.

Climate Change Committee: 2023 Progress Report

5. What assessment she has made of the implications for her Department’s policies of the Climate Change Committee’s 2023 Progress Report to Parliament, published in June 2023. (906456)

I am grateful for the work of the Climate Change Committee, and I pay tribute in particular to the commitment of its outgoing chair, Lord Deben. The Government will respond to the committee’s report in October.

The latest Climate Change Committee report found that, out of 50 key indicators of Government progress on tackling climate change, just nine were on track. According to Energy UK, even before the disastrous offshore wind auction, the UK was forecast to have the slowest growth in low-carbon electricity generation of the world’s eight largest economies up to 2030. Does the Minister recognise that the Government’s failure has cost every family £180 in higher bills?

Our climate leadership is measurable and real. We have reduced emissions by more than any other major economy since 1990. We were the first to legislate for net zero. We have eliminated coal, which as late as 2012 produced nearly 40% of our electricity supply—the legacy of the Labour party—and we have lifted renewables from 7% to 48%. We have cut emissions by more than others, transforming our energy system, and we are leading on this issue internationally and domestically. That is exactly what the Government rely on in fulfilling their aspiration to climate leadership.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one consequence of the Climate Change Committee report is to increase our country’s reliance on Chinese technology and raw materials?

China has even greater offshore wind capacity than ourselves—it has the largest wind and largest solar capacity in the world—and it has a significant level of production. We recognise that we will need technology from all over the world, including China, if we are to meet our net zero aspirations.

According to the Climate Change Committee,

“the private sector…is being held back…by weak policy signals, uncertainty, and barriers to investment,”

and perhaps we would not need to be so reliant on China if those issues were addressed. Just last month, UK investors representing £1.5 trillion in assets wrote to the Prime Minister, warning that that could mean the UK missing out on 1.7 million jobs. Will this zombie Government listen to investors and their own advisers, look at the game-changing interventions in the States and bring forward a UK version of the Inflation Reduction Act before it is too late to save British businesses and British jobs?

Yet another unfunded spending commitment from the Labour party—the party that left us with less than 7% of our electricity coming from renewables and that left us reliant on coal; a party that wants to nationalise the industry and drive out all those companies that have transformed the North Sea basin, led the world in cutting the cost of offshore wind, and made us the European leader in offshore wind and the global leader in cutting emissions. The Labour party is the biggest enemy of net zero and the biggest enemy of the private investment in this country that will help us get there.

Onshore Wind Industry

The Government recently announced changes to national planning policy, giving greater flexibility to local authorities to respond to suitable opportunities for onshore wind. The Government also want communities to benefit from hosting onshore wind and have consulted on improving the current system of community benefits for England.

The truth is that the Government have failed to properly lift the ban on onshore wind, while bending over backwards to support expensive new oilfields and even giving billions in tax breaks for those polluting projects. That ban has already added hundreds of pounds to people’s bills, undermining the investment we need in the cheapest form of energy, and cost thousands of good green jobs. Will the Minister not admit that the Government’s failure to properly lift the ban on onshore wind will continue to keep bills higher and makes us less energy-secure?

More than 15 GW of onshore wind are deployed in the UK. In our allocation round 5 just the other day, we secured 1.7 GW of onshore wind capacity; allocation round 4 secured 1.5 GW. It is extraordinary: an industry—domestic UK oil and gas—has lower emissions than the alternative from abroad and employs 200,000 people, every one of whose jobs is at risk if the Labour party ever gets into power. Labour Members are suggesting that there is a negative fiscal impact, when that industry is expected to contribute £50 billion over the next five years. The Labour party is an enemy of the transition to net zero and of British jobs and prosperity.

If the Minister will not accept the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) , will he at least listen to industry, which described the recent announcement on onshore wind as a “missed opportunity” to end the ban? RenewableUK said:

“The proposed changes don’t go far enough”

and would not make up for

“eight years of lost progress.”

When will the Minister listen to industry and lift the ban properly so that we can cut bills?

On 5 September, the Government announced changes to national planning policy for onshore wind in England, giving greater flexibility to allocate suitable areas and to address the planning impact of onshore wind. I agree with the hon. Lady; I am an enthusiast for more onshore wind where it goes with the grain of communities, and we will continue to pursue that to make sure that we can realise the benefits that come from it.

The Minister will know, although he unaccountably did not tell us, that there was precisely no new onshore wind in England in the recent AR5. The Minister claims that the latest compromised wording, which he alluded to, will lift the ban on onshore wind, but he knows really that that is not so and he knows what the industry has been saying about it and why it will not invest for the future. The result is no new onshore wind getting built in the medium-term, higher bills for families and less energy security for the country. Why will his Department not just face down his luddite Back Benchers, introduce fair planning regulations for onshore wind and get the industry restarted across England?

As I have just said, we announced changes as recently as 5 September. Like the hon. Gentleman, I look forward to a positive future for onshore wind in England, as well as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Uyghur Region: Solar Industry Sourcing

7. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the report by Sheffield Hallam University entitled “Over-exposed: Uyghur Region Exposure Assessment for Solar Industry Sourcing”, published in August 2023. (906458)

The Government are determined to ensure that our energy system is not dependent on forced labour at home or abroad. The supply chain and innovation sub-group of the solar taskforce is therefore considering this issue as a top priority.

I start by welcoming my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to her place.

What conversations has my hon. Friend the Minister had with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Business and Trade on eradicating forced labour from our supply chains? Does he agree that we must ban the worst offending companies from our shores? Will he therefore lead a cross-Government effort to take action on tackling slave labour in our supply chains, just as Germany, America and the EU already have done?

My hon. Friend knows that this issue is a top priority for the Government and for me. A range of tools can be used to tackle forced labour in global supply chains. The Government continue to keep our policy responses under close review, and we are working closely with our partners, including at the United Nations, to hold China to account for its egregious human rights violations in Xinjiang. We have already taken robust action, introduced new guidance on the risks of doing business in Xinjiang, enhanced export controls and introduced financial penalties under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, I commend the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on raising this matter. For me, freedom of religious belief in China is paramount and should be a priority for the Government—I think it is. To make it happen, we need clear legislation in this place and real power from this Government, and we need to be assured that no company that uses forced labour in China can have its products sold in this country. Again, I seek confirmation from the Minister that that serious strong will is there.

I concur very much with the hon. Gentleman’s view on this matter. The Government are determined to ensure that our energy system is not dependent on forced labour. As I said, we are continuing to work with international partners to do what we can to hold China to account for its egregious human rights violations, and to work with the solar industry to see what we can do to weed out forced labour and ensure that it is not part of that supply chain moving forward.

National Grid Funding: South-west England

Electricity networks’ funding is regulated by Ofgem through the network price control. In the current price control, National Grid Electricity Transmission will be investing approximately £700 million in the south-west. Ofgem has allowed £5.7 billion for the distribution network company covering the south-west, £1.2 billion of which is for the south-west region specifically.

May I declare an interest, as one of my brilliant little sisters works in the renewable energy sector? I want to see more renewable energy schemes get off the ground in the far south-west, but I am being told that schemes greater than 1 MW have to wait until 2027 at the earliest for a grid connection. This means that dozens of renewable energy schemes are gathering dust on paper, when they should be generating clean power. It is wrong and is setting back our net zero ambitions. What are Ministers doing to speed up grid connections for renewable energy schemes, allowing us to build the already approved clean energy schemes that we need, which will create green jobs, cut carbon and reduce soaring energy bills?

As the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) suggests from a sedentary position, we are doing lots and lots. Specifically, the Government are using strategic planning to support investment ahead of the need in the networks, including the south-west. The first example of that was last year’s holistic network design, which set out a blueprint for connecting new offshore wind projects to the grid by 2030. An update to the holistic network design follow-up exercise, HND 2, will be published early next year and provide recommendations for the connection of floating offshore wind specifically in the Celtic sea. For the first time, offshore wind developers participating in the Crown Estate’s leasing round 5 will receive clarity over their grid connection from the electricity system operator at the same time as a secure seabed lease.

Area-based Home Retrofit Schemes

9. What plans she has with Cabinet colleagues to help increase the capacity of local authorities to deliver area-based home retrofit schemes. (906460)

To support English local authorities, we fund an embedded technical assistance facility, providing access to experts, training and guidance to enhance their capability to deliver our domestic grant schemes.

Second time lucky. The Minister may be surprised—[Laughter]—to hear the following words leave my lips, and I know I am: I agree with the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), in her claim that low and middle-income households cannot afford to pay for the transition to net zero. Where we differ is that I do not believe that we should let the planet burn, as she does. Instead, the wealthy must pay for the green transition. Will the Minister commit to income and wealth redistribution and finally give households and local authorities the ability to transition successfully?

The Government provide a wide range of funding to support local authorities in reaching net zero through the core settlement, grant funding schemes and UK growth funding. The Government are enabling local authorities to tackle net zero goals.

One of the biggest challenges that we have in delivering home retrofit schemes in Cumbria is not with local authorities but with industry capacity and skills. What are the Government doing to try to send the right signals to industry so that we are getting the right skills into the supply chain to deliver some of these schemes, especially in areas such as Cumbria where we have skills deserts?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point on skills. In fact, we have invested £15 million in subsidised training over the past three years and have provided 16,800 training opportunities. We will continue to support this important industry.

Boiler Replacement Guidance

The Government have created an online advice service to help consumers in replacing fossil fuel heating systems, including oil boilers, with a heat pump. We are also providing funding through the boiler upgrade scheme.

Absolutely, Mr Speaker. There is a panic now in Germany as its premature ban on gas-fired boilers approaches. The Minister will want to avoid a similar panic as we approach our own premature ban on oil-fired boilers, won’t he?

As ever, I thank my right hon. Friend. We are listening. As the Prime Minister set out, we will reduce our emissions in line with our obligations but do so in a way that recognises the challenges that families face. Off-grid households will be supported through the transition, and we will respond to the consultation in due course.

During the summer recess, when I was touring villages, I found in my corner of Devon that some constituents are worried about whether they should replace their oil-fired boiler in the next couple of years with a heat pump or put their faith in hydro-treated vegetable oil. Some have been encouraged by the pilots of so-called HVO as an alternative source to heating oil. What assurances can the Minister offer that it will be a truly sustainable source of fuel and not made from palm oil, which encourages deforestation? Or should we put 100% of our efforts into heat pumps?

As the hon. Member doubtless knows, we have conducted a consultation on the use of HVO in heating, and we are determined to ensure that we decarbonise heat in homes, including off-grid homes, in a way that is practical and aligned with minimising any negative impacts on those families.

Energy-intensive Industries: Decarbonisation

The Government have committed £20 billion to support the early development of carbon capture and storage, and £500 million for the industrial energy transformation fund to help industry decarbonise, phase 3 of which is expected to open for applications in early 2024.

May I put on the record the thanks of Back Benchers to the Clerk of the House for his work?

Steel accounts for 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions and 50,000 jobs here in the UK. We have no viable alternative to steel, which is why the Government’s decision to go with an electric arc furnace only modelled for decarbonisation does not make any sense. Not only does it put at risk thousands of jobs but it makes the industry vulnerable to changes in steel prices, as the UK will have to import it. The Minister spoke about carbon capture, but can she explain why the Government have not gone for a combination of technologies such as carbon capture, or the retrofitting required for hydrogen-based steel production? That way, we would not only decarbonise the industry but protect those vital jobs and the industry in the UK for generations to come.

As the Business and Trade Secretary set out, the Government’s deal has provided long-term security for at least 5,000 steel jobs. The investment will grow UK domestic green steel production. I gently urge the hon. Lady to look at her party’s plans for industry, which have been described as impossible and decimating the working classes.

Energy-intensive industries come in many forms. Can my right hon. Friend provide any reassurance that the Government will review the classifications of what constitutes an energy-intensive industry? SB Joinery in my constituency contains a large sawmill and planing facility, but has been deemed ineligible for high levels of the energy bills discount scheme. Would my right hon. Friend be prepared to look at that case personally?

I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend and discuss that particular case. We keep looking at everything we can do to support business, as we have done this entire time.

For years people have been calling on the Government to have a proper plan to help our steel industry decarbonise. Instead, the industry has lurched from crisis to crisis, and now the Government are spending £500 million in a deal that will make thousands of Port Talbot steelworkers redundant. Is it not the simple truth that jobs and wealth will be lost because there is no comprehensive plan for steel, automotive or any industry that needs to decarbonise?

I refer the hon. Lady to my previous comments. The investment will provide long-term security for at least 5,000 steel jobs. We have had record investment of £4 billion in the auto industry this year. Again, I urge her to look at her own party’s plans. Its industry decarbonisation plans are disastrous, and will push jobs and investment out of this country.

Heat Networks

17. What assessment she has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of introducing a mandatory price cap on heat networks. (906471)

The Government are providing millions in support for remedial work through the heat networks efficiency scheme. We are supporting customers with their bills via the energy bills discount scheme. Through the Energy Bill we will appoint Ofgem as a heat network regulator, so that customers benefit from fairer prices.

I must declare that I live in a block with a heat network. Many heat networks will be quite expensive to change under the technical rules proposed by the Government for 2024. Given many blocks have also had cladding and other pressures on leaseholders, are the Government looking carefully to ensure that customers are not being overlayered with many more charges to remediate networks?

Through the heat network efficiency scheme, the Government are providing £32 million to upgrade existing heat networks and reduce energy costs. The scheme will upgrade old equipment and help consumers in more than 10,000 houses to reduce their energy use. We will shortly announce the first awards from the fund.

Residents living in New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge in my constituency have been plagued by a litany of problems since they were connected to the Sutton decentralised energy network, including an inability to change tariffs. Does my hon. Friend agree that residents have been let down by the mismanagement identified in an independent report on its poor running by Lib Dem-run Sutton Council? Will she commit to working with me to ensure that heat network customers, who have nowhere else to go for their energy, are protected by new measures in the Energy Bill?

I know how hard my hon. Friend works for his constituents and I thank him for bringing this scheme to my attention. We want all heat network customers to receive a high-quality service and fair pricing, which is why we are appointing Ofgem as a regulator through the Energy Bill and currently consulting on how it will operate. Of course I will meet my hon. Friend.

Many of my residents are locked into district heat network schemes. They have been paying up to 13 times more than the rest of the UK because they are not protected by the energy price cap. Do the Government not think it is time to implement a mandatory price cap straight away?

At this moment in time we do not think that a uniform price cap would benefit consumers, given the huge diversity in size and scale of providers in the market. However, through the Energy Bill, the Secretary of State will have powers to introduce a price cap, should one be beneficial in future.

Families in Fuel Poverty

In 2022, there were an estimated 3.26 million households in fuel poverty. The additional support we provided last year prevented 350,000 households from falling into fuel poverty in 2022. The established targeted support remains in place, while from July 2023 household energy bills have been falling.

Over 40,000 families in Bradford have been plunged into uncertainty as the Tory Government lurch from crisis to crisis. More than one in five of my constituents now live in fuel poverty, yet the Minister still comes here today with no real plans or solutions, and no real windfall tax on the booming profits of energy giants. Let me ask the Minister to put herself in the shoes of my constituents. What does she have to say to those who, frankly, have been abandoned and have to choose between a warm home, a full stomach and school uniforms for their children?

Having experienced fuel poverty myself when I was growing up, I do understand completely how the hon. Gentleman’s constituents feel. That is why the Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we support people. We have given unprecedented support. We have the warm home discount and the cost of living payment, among many other measures, to help constituents through the cost of living.

Renewable Energy Sector: High-skilled Jobs

16. What steps she is taking to help promote the creation of high-skilled jobs in the renewable energy sector. (906470)

This is a crucial area. There are already over 400,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector and that will rise steeply over time. We are investing billions in skills, including green skills and including 26,000 training opportunities in energy efficiency and low carbon heating.

May I urge the Government to give real priority to the creation of apprenticeships in the renewable energy and green sector? That way, we can use net zero to create great opportunities for young people and boost social mobility.

As a former Education Minister, I am absolutely passionate about this area. We have delivered almost 5.5 million apprenticeships since 2010. The Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) chairs the green jobs delivery group, which will publish a net zero and nature workforce action plan in the first of half of 2024.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her position. Although the UK has the second largest offshore wind capacity in the world after China, Denmark has three times as many jobs in the sector. Many British wind turbines are being built in Spain, Holland and Indonesia. Why are the Government so far behind the curve on the green jobs bonanza that is so possible for our country?

Thanks to Government policy and spending, we will support another 480,000 jobs in the green sector by 2030. As I said, we are leading the way in decarbonising faster than any other G7 country, with the jobs that come with that right across the country.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her place and remind her that we started in this place at the same time, four years ago. Will she highlight the job opportunities in the new renewable energy sector that AI presents for my constituents in Bolton?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point about the job opportunities presented by AI, which will undoubtedly have an effect across the country and a beneficial effect in this sector. I would be delighted to meet him to speak about this further, but we will be setting out more detail on our green jobs delivery group and our net zero and nature workforce action plan in the first half of 2024.

Would it not boost skills in renewable energy generation and installation, as well as encouraging more uptake, if all those installing solar energy schemes had to be certified under the microgeneration certification scheme so that the householder, farm or business concerned would be guaranteed payment for surplus energy fed into the grid?

The right hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question. We have explored his suggestion of legislating to make certification mandatory. We have no such plans at this time, as there is a mature approach to certification standards, and most UK domestic solar installations already take place within well-established schemes.

Domestic Nuclear Energy

18. What assessment she has made of the potential contribution of Great British Nuclear to domestic nuclear energy targets. (906472)

The British energy security strategy sets out our ambition for deploying up to 24 GW of civil nuclear by 2050. We launched Great British Nuclear to help deliver new nuclear projects, starting with a small modular reactor competition. The GBN offer to successful vendors will include funding to support technology development and support with accessing sites.

May I say “Croeso” and welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to her place?

Wylfa is recognised as the best site for new nuclear in the UK—if not in Europe—but a Welsh Affairs Committee report stated recently that ownership of the site is holding back progress. What are the Minister and Great British Nuclear doing to transfer its ownership from Hitachi to an active nuclear developer?

The terms “doughty champion” and “passionate” are regularly thrown about in this place, but when it is a case of championing Wylfa new nuclear, no one comes close to my hon. Friend. When launching the small modular reactor competition in July, the Secretary of State indicated that, as part of a comprehensive offer to industry, GBN would support access to sites for successful vendors, and Wylfa is one of a number of sites that could host civil nuclear projects. However, no siting decisions have been made so far.

Topical Questions

Since my appointment a fortnight ago, the Energy Bill—which will deliver cheaper, cleaner, more secure energy—was given a Third Reading in this House. We have funded a record 95 renewable energy projects, and I have visited our pioneering Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. I have also launched the £1 billion Great British insulation scheme. We have bolstered our energy collaborations with Ireland and Japan, we have made our biggest ever climate finance pledge, and just yesterday we invited partners to invest in Sizewell C, a major component of our nuclear revival.

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to her new role. She will be aware that the huge increase in offshore wind farms in the east of England has led to an unwelcome proposal from National Grid to put 100 miles of pylons across the area. We do not want that. We need an offshore solution. Will my right hon. Friend meet Members from the east of England to discuss this proposal?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue today. I understand that concerns have been raised by local communities about the National Grid electricity transmission plans for network reinforcement between Norwich and Tilbury. The Minister for Nuclear and Networks, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), has visited the area and will continue to engage with colleagues, but I am also happy to meet local MPs to discuss the matter further.

According to analysis by the Resolution Foundation, more than a third of British households face higher bills from the end of this month because of higher standing charges and the demise of the energy bills support scheme, and the people who use the least energy, and those in the poorest households, are disproportionately worse off. At the same time, the windfall tax has massive loopholes costing billions. Would not closing those loopholes and extending more help to people during the cost of living crisis be the right thing to do?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are raising a 75% energy profits levy, and he will also be aware that standing charges are a matter for Ofgem. Let me reiterate, however, that we are mindful of the cost of living crisis and have been providing support with the warm home discount, the £900 cost of living payment, and a raft of other measures to support people through this crisis.

T2. The launch last week of the Great British insulation scheme was very welcome. So as to build on this and to kickstart a mass retrofitting revolution, will my hon. Friend liaise with the Treasury to obtain its support for the introduction of such fiscal measures as an energy-saving stamp duty and an employee benefits scheme similar to the cycle to work scheme? (906474)

The Government set the aspiration in the clean growth strategy of upgrading as many homes as possible to energy performance certificate band C by 2035, where practical, cost-effective and affordable. We remain committed to that aspiration. Although tax policy sits with the Treasury, we are considering how to improve energy efficiency for owner-occupied homes and plan to consult by the end of 2023.

T7. Energy companies have accumulated hundreds of pounds, if not over £1,000, in consumer credit. When those companies go into administration, the company taking over does not honour that credit and people often with very little means have lost hundreds or thousands of pounds. How will the Minister ensure that they get compensation and get credited by the new company with the amount of money they have lost? (906480)

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are in constant conversations with Ofgem on such matters. Although this is a matter for Ofgem, I have a regular meeting to make sure that we are on top of this.

T3. Energy from waste requires burning waste and it is therefore not conducive to net zero. The expansion of the Beddington incinerator in my constituency is not needed to meet local demand, so can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Environment Agency will take that into account before making a decision on whether or not to license? (906475)

The Environment Agency’s recent consultation on varying the environmental permit for the Beddington energy recovery plant closed on 1 September. The Environment Agency will carefully consider all relevant responses and issue a final decision in due course.

In the Select Committee inquiry into preparations for this winter, one of the repeated calls that we have heard from expert witnesses is to support the vulnerable and fuel poor with a social tariff. Will the Minister do that?

Of course we are aware of the challenges that are facing consumers this coming winter, which is why we are keeping the price cap as a safety net. To give the hon. Gentleman reassurance, we will be monitoring the situation in case we need to look at this further.

T5.   Recent investment in electric vehicle charging and the EV supply chain shows the benefit of the Government setting clear targets so that the private sector has the confidence to invest. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we had similar policy consistency across the whole of the economy, we would see greater investment in green growth and in meeting decarbonisation by 2050? (906477)

The zero-emission vehicles mandate supports our commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans. By setting it many years in advance and giving clear notice to the market, it provides appropriate stimulus to industry in a way that the ultra low emission zone singularly fails to do, as my hon. Friend will have noted.

The Energy Minister got his facts wrong in his earlier response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), so he might want to correct the record. The Liberal Democrat amendment to the Energy Bill to tackle flaring, venting and leaking of methane was selected for a separate vote. It would have reduced methane emissions by 72 %. Why did his Government vote it down?

I stand corrected. On that issue, we have infrastructure, some of which dates from the 1970s, and we are moving at the maximum possible speed. It is technologically and economically challenging to make this change, and yet, as I set out earlier, we are already showing significant efforts, and of course we are champions of the methane pledge, which we plan to exceed. When I am at COP28, I will be urging other countries to follow us in agreeing and supporting that World Bank methane pledge.

T6. The hydrogen industry will, I am sure, welcome the introduction of the hydrogen production business model for green hydrogen, with a further business model planned for next year, but the storage and transportation business model for hydrogen is not due to be finalised until 2025. For customers of companies such as Luxfer Gas Cylinders of Colwick in my Gedling constituency, this is a potential barrier to some projects moving forward. Can my right hon. Friend give come clarity on the sequencing and whether there is scope to bring forward the storage and transportation business model so that the timing is joined up? (906478)

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the challenge of bringing all the pieces together to unlock opportunity. The Government will promote the whole hydrogen economy—production, demand, networks and storage—and stimulate private sector investment. In August, the Government published the low-carbon hydrogen agreement, setting out the hydrogen production business model’s terms. We will award contracts for that in quarter 4 of 2023. My colleagues and I are happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about making sure we get this absolutely right so that we maximise its benefits.

Biodiesel producers in my constituency are being undercut by cheap Chinese imports because of the Government’s decision to award them inward processing relief. This is making it difficult for us to support UK industry, so can we have an explanation for why that decision was made?

Writing for The Daily Telegraph last year, our now Prime Minister said:

“On my watch, we will not lose swathes of our best farmland to solar farms.”

Yet the industry has not heard that, and vast swathes of farmland in my constituency, totalling 16 square miles, are open to planning, engulfing whole villages and using the best and most versatile land. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how he and the Department can ensure that the Prime Minister keeps his very important promise?

I can assure my hon. Friend that planning policy and the associated guidance encourage large-scale solar projects to be located on previously developed or lower-value land. Where greenfield sites or high-grade land are used, developers are required to justify using such land and to design their projects to avoid, mitigate and, where necessary, compensate for any impacts. I hear my hon. Friend’s personal testimony, and I will be happy to meet her to discuss this further.

Almost 20% of the housing stock in my constituency dates from before 1919 and is therefore classified as historical. What plan does the Department have to improve skill levels in retrofitting historical residential buildings?

As I previously mentioned, retrofitting is one of our most important projects. Of course, skills are a real issue, which is why we are delighted that this will enable us to enhance our skill bases.

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to her new role. Given the vital role that oil and gas play in managing our energy security as demand continues, albeit declining, and the vital jobs, skills, technologies and expertise in that industry, 90% of which are thought to be immediately transferrable to the renewables sector, does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment at today’s reports of Humza Yousaf’s vow to end Scotland’s place as the oil and gas capital of Europe?

My hon. Friend is right. Last year we were dependent on fossil fuels for 77% of our energy. If we import more gas from abroad, it will be in the form of liquefied natural gas, which, according to a report from the North Sea Transition Authority two weeks ago, has four times the production emissions of domestic gas. The Scottish National party, ably supported by the Labour party, wants to threaten 200,000 jobs, £50 billion of tax revenue over the next five years, and the very subsea engineering and technological capability—not to mention the balance sheets—that we need to develop hydrogen, carbon capture, usage and storage, and the rest of the transition. It is madness, and it is the policy of the SNP.

Yes, we need increased electric arc capacity to reprocess more scrap steel in the UK, but Trostre tinplate packaging works in my constituency needs a grade of steel that can be produced only by the blast furnace process, until green production technologies are developed. With 23 such projects elsewhere in Europe, will the Secretary of State commit to investing in developing these technologies at Port Talbot, thus reducing emissions and keeping jobs in Port Talbot and Llanelli?

I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for keeping those jobs, which is why we are investing hundreds of millions of pounds to ensure that these industries can make that transition. I entirely agree with her on the importance of innovation and making sure it is embedded so that not only do we sustain those industries but so that, through innovation, we can strengthen them in the years ahead.

A decade ago, the onshore wind industry committed to a community benefit protocol to provide compensation of £5,000 per MW installed per annum to communities for the duration of a wind scheme. So far, solar developers have refused to do something similar, and surely that is not fair. Does my right hon. Friend agree that compensation schemes must be equal, whether wind or solar is involved?

It is perhaps typical of my hon. Friend that not only is she asking a question and championing this issue, but she has scheduled a meeting with me immediately afterwards. I look forward to discussing this with her and making sure that we have the most coherent position possible as to where we are set on rewarding communities that host transmission infrastructure and other parts of our transition. I look forward to having that conversation with her in the coming minutes.

My constituent Lee Haywood is on a communal heat network, and he and his neighbours saw their price per kWh double last winter. What protection can the Minister give as we come into the next winter, as residents in Dalmarnock are really worried that prices will again soar in this unregulated area?

We have put in place protection to ensure that prices are not going to go up; we have the energy price guarantee. In addition, let me point out that prices are coming down.

Do the Government think the UK is on track to meet the 2050 net zero target? Do the Government think the UK will meet that target? Do the Government even really care?

We have, of course, met all our carbon budgets to date. In the progress report, the Climate Change Committee said it had increased confidence in our meeting carbon budget 4 and, yes, this country will meet its net zero targets by 2050. It will do so in line with the advice that we are given, and I am proud of the fact—the hon. Gentleman could share this with his constituents, who may be concerned otherwise—that this country has cut its emissions by more than any other major economy on earth, thanks to the policies of this Government.

This morning, I received a text from one of the leadership team at one of our local hospices. It said that

“there has been no additional support for our energy costs. Costs have gone up while statutory support hasn’t changed... Hospices UK lobbied for additional support…to no avail… We operate 24/7 and have to keep the heating on—you know what the weather is like in Cumbria in the winter!”

When will the Minister come up with a bespoke support scheme for our vital hospices?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the meetings we have had, and I am mindful of the situation that hospices face. We have given support and I will make sure that I keep monitoring the situation.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the exchange about the amendment on flaring just now, I do not think I heard the Minister formally withdraw his accusation that I got my facts wrong, and I certainly did not hear him apologise. Given that he has now accepted that he got his facts wrong and my facts were right, I would love him to formally correct the record and perhaps even to apologise as well.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady is quite right to raise this in that way, and I am happy both to withdraw that and to apologise to her for getting my facts wrong on that occasion.