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Coal-Fired Power Stations

Volume 477: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1986

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2.51 p.m.

My Lords I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to order a coal-fired station power in the near future.

My Lords, the ordering of new power stations in England and Wales is a matter for the Central Electricity Generating Board, in Scotland for the Scottish electricity boards, and in Northern Ireland for the Northern Electricity Service. The boards will require the consent of my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Energy, for Scotland or for Northern Ireland, as appropriate, should they wish to proceed with such a station. There is no application for a coal-fired power station currently under consideration.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he not aware that in the three areas of the country where power station manufacturers are in the main situated—in the North-East, the North-West and the Midlands—there could be further serious unemployment problems if there is no increase in the ordering programme of the CEGB? May I ask the Minister whether he is aware that the CEGB itself has forecast that probably from 1989 onwards it could be ordering 2,500 megawatts a year? Would it not make sense, in view of the unemployment situation, for the Secretary of State to intervene to bring forward the ordering of some of these coal-fired power stations, bearing in mind that they have a very good export potential?

My Lords, the CEGB is considering the possibility of building new coal-fired power stations. It has included provision for a new coal-fired power station of an improved design in its 1986 capital investment memorandum, and work on a reference design for such a station on which the CEGB is co-operating with the manufacturers is proceeding and is expected to be completed by the end of 1986. The board is not seeking specific investment approval for the station at present. I do not think that it would be right for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to intervene at this stage. Perhaps he should wait to see whether the CEGB seeks approval.

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that the extension of the Drax coal-fired power station was accomplished with remarkable success and that there are other very efficient coal-fired power stations in this country which could be similarly extended? This would avoid the need for lengthy and costly procedures for consent. Are not these matters which should be very seriously considered in supplying the necessary resources for electricity generation in this country?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Drax is a very good example. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, I, too, think that there is need for new power stations; but much of this hinges on the results of the Sizewell Inquiry which we expect in the autumn.

My Lords, is it not a fact that with the reductions in coal prices recently negotiated between the CEGB and the National Coal Board the cost argument is now moving in favour of coal and against nuclear? Would it not be sensible in those circumstances for the Government and, indeed, the CEGB to review the programme and to do as my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick suggests, which is to bring forward replacement of coal-fired power stations with other coal-fired power stations?

My Lords, I am not sure that, even with the reduction negotiated between British Coal and the CEGB for the price of new coal, it even approaches the price of nuclear power. We also believe that nuclear power has a major role to play in meeting the country's energy needs. It has the potential to provide our cheapest power, provided that new stations can be built to time and cost, and it also provides an important component of diversity. We still depend upon fossil fuels for the vast proportion of our energy supplies, but your Lordships will not need reminding how disruptive such dependence can be to the economy. We therefore feel that to throw away the opportunity of an alternative source of energy would be foolish.

My Lords, before we move into the question of further coal-fired power stations or nuclear-fired power stations, ought not the Government to increase their investment in conservation? That would create both jobs and investment as the first stage before we have to make a choice between nuclear and coal-fired stations.

My Lords, the Government currently have an enormous programme of conservation of energy. The potential is very large indeed. Nevertheless, new power stations will still be needed before the end of the century.

My Lords, I should like to put a further question to the Minister. I made the point to him that if a programme is not brought forward, there could be serious consequences regarding further unemployment in the North-East, the North-West and parts of the Midlands. Will the Minister take this into account and use his best endeavours with the Secretary of State at least to consider bringing forward such a programme in the interests of the people in those areas of the country?

My Lords, I shall certainly pass on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, to my right honourable friend. That is really the best I can do at the moment.