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EU: Energy Policy

Volume 691: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether adequate progress is being made in the creation of a common energy policy for the European Union.

My Lords, since our 2005 presidency, the EU has made great progress in developing a common energy policy. Following the Commission's January strategic energy review, the European Council recently adopted an ambitious set of measures to address our common energy and climate change challenges.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. He will recall that this specific common policy was requested strongly by member Governments. The Commission, too, is understandably preoccupied with common imperatives such as secure energy supplies, common technologies and new sources. However, will the Government also specifically suggest to the Commission that it should now start developing the ideal European-wide eco-dwelling as a target project for builders and estate developers throughout the single market, including in Germany, which was a pioneer, and in Britain?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the ideal passive eco-model can be produced to consume only 15 kilowatt hours per square metre per annum, against the staggering 200 kilowatt hours per square metre per annum of the classic conventional dwellings?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. He is very knowledgeable on European affairs, as he has displayed again this afternoon. He will be aware that the European Council came to the decision that the EU should reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 unilaterally and up to 30 per cent if developed countries act together internationally. Eco-dwelling is an interesting idea, but the noble Lord will know that the UK Government are committed to having carbon-free dwellings by 2016 in the UK.

My Lords, should the Government’s priority not be in respect of our domestic energy policy and the requirement to ensure security of supply? Does that not mean committing to building nuclear power stations now on existing sites before the lights go off—because when the lights go off Governments get thrown out?

My Lords, some noble Lords have said that the party opposite knows that full well. The Government are very aware of the issues that the noble Lord mentioned. The White Paper that we are producing on energy has two drivers: first, the issue of security of supply and, secondly, tackling climate change. He will be aware that the Government are producing the White Paper in May, which will contain the Government’s proposals and views on nuclear, subject to further consultation.

My Lords, could the Minister say that as part of the harmonisation process of energy with Europe, daylight saving is on the books, as that would save energy and lives on the road? If the Government are not thinking about this, could he go on record as saying that he is not for daylight saving in any form or kind?

My Lords, I would be very happy to answer that question but perhaps at another time, as I think that we are straying quite widely from the Question.

My Lords, the Government at the European Council last month agreed a binding commitment with other EU member states of renewable energy becoming 20 per cent of total energy use by 2020. Given that at the moment the UK’s renewable percentage is 1.5 per cent, making us 26th equal out of 27 member states, how are we going to meet whatever our target becomes?

My Lords, clearly the 20 per cent target for renewable energy was stretching and visionary, but it is important because it will give a huge boost to the deployment of renewables, not only in the UK but throughout the European Union. Under this Government we have seen a doubling of renewable energy, with something like 100,000 microgeneration installations in the UK. We have invested something like £500 million in renewables between 2002 and 2008, and the renewables obligation will be worth something like £1 billion to the renewables industry by 2010. We are taking a lot of measures in this area and we will have to work with the Commission and other member states to ensure that the targets are met appropriately.

My Lords, given the very great difficulty that the Common Market has had in agreeing pricing arrangements for emissions trading across Europe, which is at least an attempt to arrive at an agreement, and given the widely differing national circumstances with regard to energy supply, does the Minister really think it very likely that in the foreseeable future there is any chance of an agreement on a common energy policy?

My Lords, that is exactly what the spring European Council agreed on—a common energy policy and an action plan for that policy. Of course, there is a lot of work to be done and the UK Government support the position of the European Commission that the Emissions Trading Scheme that the noble Lord mentioned should be strengthened, particularly in its third phase.

My Lords, what progress has been made in altering building regulations to encourage the maximum use of proper insulation, installation of solar power and so on?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the Department for Communities and Local Government recently announced a consultation particularly on microgeneration, to ensure that those people who apply to install, for example, wind turbines or solar energy panels on their homes do not in all circumstances need to apply for planning permission. That will greatly encourage microgeneration installation in people’s homes. Individual homes are responsible for some 25 per cent of CO2 emissions in the UK. We anticipate up to 1.3 million of those types of microgeneration installations in coming years.

My Lords, I had the privilege of attending a House of Lords delegation to Russia and Siberia, from which I have just returned, where I looked at the security of energy supply that we can expect from Russia. I come back absolutely determined that we should try to sort it out in Europe. What discussions has the Minister had with his European counterparts about the essential liberalising and unbundling of the European market?

My Lords, we discussed the unbundling of the EU internal market at the previous Energy Council. This will be further discussed at the coming European Council. The Commission will bring forward proposals on unbundling this year. The UK Government firmly support its position on unbundling.