Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 19 September 2023

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.