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Energy: Renewables

Volume 710: debated on Wednesday 6 May 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to increase investment in the production of solar, tidal or wind power in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government support renewable energy investment through a comprehensive programme of technology development funding and revenue support. This summer we will be publishing our renewable energy strategy, containing a range of measures to meet our renewable energy target.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer but perhaps I may suggest to him that on this issue the Government are self-satisfied and that it is time they moved into reality from dreamland. Is it not ironic that on the day of the Budget last week, when the Chancellor announced the first of his three carbon Budgets, Vestas Blades UK, the only wind turbine manufacturing plant in Britain, closed because of a lack of orders and, as the chief executive said, a lack of political initiative? At the same time, both BP and Shell have heavily cut their commitment to solar and wind power. Therefore, how can the Government possibly reach their new forecast of a 34 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 unless they come forward with some new practical and far-seeing proposals?

My Lords, of course the Government are not complacent. The target that we have set for 2020 of 15 per cent renewable energy is very demanding. It is very difficult to comment on individual decisions by companies but it is worth making the point that the site on the Isle of Wight produced blades for the market in the US and not for the UK. In general, over the past few years we have seen a major improvement in the production of renewable energy sources. A considerable number of projects are in construction and have received planning consent. The renewable energy strategy will ensure that, where we need additional mechanisms to support renewable energy, those will be put in place. As I said, the strategy will be published in the summer.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in many EU countries, especially in Scandinavia, a lot of investment is going into ground source heating. What is this country doing to promote ground source heating?

My Lords, we have a consultation on it at the moment. We are also looking at community heating—district heating—and all the other potential contributors to renewable energy sources. In the legislation passed last autumn, feed-in tariffs were introduced for microgeneration and there is a host of developments and activities in the renewables sector. We are not at all complacent, but I am confident that we have got the momentum going to enable us to meet what, as I have said, is a very challenging target.

My Lords, when the Government are looking at renewable energy, will they also pay attention to hydropower, in particular the role of microhydropower, bearing in mind that we have a turbine manufacturer of hydropower in Kendal, which employs a great number of people?

Yes, my Lords. I pay tribute to the work of the Forestry Commission, too, in looking at the potential of hydro on its many forests throughout the UK. In fact, hydro is responsible at the moment for about 1.3 per cent of electricity generated and we see it as having an ability to contribute more in the future.

My Lords, the Government keep going on about all their wonderful schemes, but after 12 years of a Labour Government, we still only get 5 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources. It is absolutely shameful to see on the league tables of European nations exactly where we are. This is Britain, and where are we on this list of 24? We are 18th, coming behind Latvia, Slovenia and Slovakia, let alone Germany and France. Surely the Minister is not going to tell me that he is proud of that record.

My Lords, it is not at all shameful. This country, for many years, was completely self-sufficient in its supplies from the North Sea. Clearly, other countries were in different positions. Considering Germany’s natural resources, it is not surprising that it has developed electricity through hydro. The point is, since we decided that we needed to encourage renewable energy sources, we have seen great progress. The figure was 4.5 per cent the year before the one the noble Baroness quoted; it is now up to 5 per cent. It took 14 years to produce 1 gigawatt of energy from wind and another 30 months to produce 3 gigawatts, so we are seeing considerable progress.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of Sir John Houghton’s belief that more than 50 per cent of our electricity resources could come from tidal technology, and do Her Majesty’s Government have the political will to do anything about it?

My Lords, indeed we do. There is no question but that tidal may offer huge opportunities for this country. My understanding is that the Carbon Trust has estimated that by 2050, tidal and wave power could produce 30 gigawatts of energy. The UK is in the lead in terms of technology and we are seeing some very exciting developments, such as the work in relation to the Severn. It is very important that we take advantage of the technology lead and ensure that the output is not just increased renewable energy, but that there is considerable spin-off in the supply chain market, leading to more UK jobs.