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Energy: Sustainability

Volume 713: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the recent report by Ofgem on Britain’s energy supplies, how they will ensure that future investment in energy will provide energy security and sustainability.

My Lords, the Government have put in place a regulatory framework that sets the strategic direction and allows the necessary investment in energy infrastructure for both energy security and sustainability to come forward. There are explicit incentives in this framework for delivering secure supplies and for sustainability, such as our support for renewable energy.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Can he give an assurance that all the national policy statements relating to energy will be carbon assessed and will contribute to the growth of a low-carbon economy?

My Lords, the national policy statements on energy will set out the Government’s policy on energy, which will provide the context in which the new Infrastructure Planning Commission will take its decisions on planning projects of major national significance. Clearly, those national policy statements on energy, which I hope will be published in draft form very shortly, will embrace the Government’s energy policies. Our aim to reduce carbon emissions in this country and to negotiate internationally to reduce carbon emissions worldwide will be fully included in that.

My Lords, will the Minister reply to the right reverend Prelate and say specifically—yes or no—whether there will be a carbon footprint assessment? He did not actually say that.

My Lords, I set the context in which the national policy statements on energy will be put forward. We have not yet published the national policy statements. I will not anticipate what is in those statements but clearly it will be consistent with the Government’s energy policy.

My Lords, two of the key messages of the Ofgem report concerned gas: first, that imports will increase substantially under any of the scenarios; and, secondly, that the biggest risk to energy dislocation is gas supplies in winter. What figure or percentage do the Government consider to be the maximum for imported gas that is compatible with energy security in this country?

My Lords, I certainly do not wish to give such a figure as I do not think that is an appropriate way to look at the gas needs of this country. As the reservoir of gas in the North Sea starts to decline, as it is doing at the moment, it is very important that we diversify our supply.

The noble Lord will know that there has been a large increase in import facilities. We work very closely in Europe for a greater liberalisation of the European market to increase those diverse supplies. We are active in relation to the southern corridor to bring gas from the Caspian through to Europe. We think that the best approach is to ensure as liberal a market as possible to ensure that we continue to see diversity in supply; but we should never forget the continuing importance of the North Sea as a strategic reserve.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the report of the Committee on Climate Change, of which I am a member. The report, which was laid before Parliament yesterday, showed the need for a step change in government policy if the Government are to meet their carbon emissions reduction targets in the Climate Change Act. Can he confirm, therefore, that the Government will make a step change to achieve the requirements set out in the climate change committee’s report—for example, by 2020 introducing 8,000 new wind turbines, three nuclear power stations and, by 2016, four carbon capture and storage demonstration plants?

My Lords, the report of the Committee on Climate Change is very important. It was published yesterday, and the Government will consider it very carefully and respond in due course. I believe that the policies that we have set out and are embarking upon do, indeed, represent a step change. The very fact that we have set a target that renewable energy should be responsible for 30 per cent of our electricity needs by 2020 is a visible indication of that step change.

My Lords, the Minister is struggling manfully to cover the Government’s rising panic that, because of their dithering—as we all know now from their own scientists that they put in at DECC—the lights most certainly will go out. Is he aware that in less than nine months, he will be out of his misery, because a Conservative Government, who do have a plan, will be responsible for it all?

In your dreams, my Lords. The Government believe that we have the right energy policy. On the question of generation in the future, the fact is that more than 10 gigawatts is under construction, and a further 10 gigawatts has already received planning consent. I am confident that we will have the energy security and supply we need. As for dithering, what about the policy of the party opposite in relation to nuclear power and the ambiguity—to put it at its kindest—of the remarks of the leader of the Opposition?

Can my noble friend advise the House on what progress the Government are making in establishing an economically viable pricing structure for feed-in tariffs? Without any such meaningful structure, the Government’s ambitions for low-scale generation are likely to be stillborn.

My Lords, we set forward a tariff in a consultative paper, we have received a lot of comments, and we will consider those and publish the finalised tariff in due course. Of course we want to make a success of feed-in tariffs. We believe that microgeneration, which is available to householders, schools and small businesses, is a fantastic way to show the way forward in relation to renewable energy. The kind of financial structure that we have put forward does, we believe, provide the answer in terms of providing the right incentives and is very much in parallel to schemes that are in operation in continental Europe.