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Energy: Carbon Capture and Storage

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 28 July 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the advice from the Committee on Climate Change to extend the carbon capture and storage competition to include gas demonstration projects.

My Lords, we have previously stated that the Government will continue public sector investment in carbon capture and storage technology for four coal-fired power stations. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that we give serious consideration to funding at least one gas CCS project as part of this programme. We are carefully evaluating whether a demonstration project on gas would prove beneficial and add value to the programme.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that response. Does he agree that given our indigenous reserves of coal and the fact that coal will be a prime energy product for many decades to come globally, and given the export potential of UK-led technology on CCS, in considering the Committee on Climate Change’s report and gas CCS, will he none the less ensure that there will continue to be a strong place for clean coal in this country?

The noble Lord is quite right. Coal is a very important producer of power in this country. That is why our priority on CCS must be coal, because it is a very dirty material—more dirty than gas. I can assure the noble Lord that that will be our primary focus, despite the thoughts of the Committee on Climate Change.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that trees are nature’s way of capturing carbon? Is he aware that a 4 per cent increase in tree planting in the UK would allow us to capture 10 per cent of our total greenhouse emissions? What plans do the Government have to increase tree planting? I declare an interest as former chair of the Forestry Commission.

I am sure the noble Lord will understand that tree planting is not part of my brief, but he is absolutely right that trees are important in reducing carbon. We should of course always encourage that sort of thing.

My Lords, there were two significant omissions from the Energy Bill which went through both Houses before the end of the previous Session—the piping of collected carbon and the depositing of it in the North Sea aquifers. What discussions has my noble friend had with the gas and oil industry to ensure that depleted reserves in the North Sea can be got through carbon capture and storage? Have there been any discussions to make sure that those aquifers are available for storing the carbon once it has been collected?

My noble friend asks a very important question, but I should point out that the North Sea Basin Task Force has been established to develop a project jointly between ourselves and Norway to look at what can be stored in the North Sea basin and under the sea bed.

My Lords, will the Government encourage the new coal stations that are being built to operate a dual-fuel policy—coal and biofuels—such as that being carried out at the Drax power station?

Is the Minister aware that Doosan Babcock, the British-based company that is most involved in CCS work, estimates that it will be 2022 at the earliest before commercially available products will be on the market? What is the Government’s thinking on this, because at the moment there is a very long lead time before we are likely to see any carbon capture equipment put onto any coal-fired power station?

The noble Lord is absolutely right and that is why it is important that we accelerate the process and why we are making our first awards at the end of this year.

Does the Minister have any idea of the costs of liquefying CO2 and pumping it into former oil fields in the North Sea?

I do not have the costs of that to hand, but it is of course something which needs to be evaluated. In all energy production, particularly with renewables, we have to look at the costs very carefully. It is a fundamental part of our decision making and we shall consider it.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while gas will eventually need to engage with carbon capture and storage, the priority for the next few years is to relate it to the coal industry, because coal-fired power generation plants will be coming to the end of their life in the next few years? Does he further agree that the important matter now is to press ahead with the four working industrial-based schemes so that we can see whether it works, because in the end coal will be generating power throughout the world and the UK could secure export opportunities as well as environmental benefits?

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer. It is fundamental that we develop these technologies and push ahead with them. We are working closely with the Chinese in the China-UK CCS project for near-zero emissions from coal. There is no doubt that, in considering the view of the Committee on Climate Change that one test case should be made for gas, we must not ignore the priority of making coal cleaner.

My Lords, in his Statement yesterday, the Minister referred rightly to the race in Europe for low-carbon initiatives. Does that include CCS? Will he have further discussions with the Commission and the Council of Energy Ministers to pursue that on a European-wide basis as well?

It is up to our Government to show true leadership in this area. We are the second country in the world when it comes to CCS development. We must put as much pressure as we can on the European Union to follow our example and to develop this technology as quickly as possible.