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Energy: Tidal Generation

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 22 November 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to exploit further the United Kingdom’s natural resources of tidal power.

My Lords, it is important that we exploit our tidal resources to provide energy security, carbon reduction and economic growth. However, it must be done in a manner that constitutes value for money. The Government do not see a strategic economic case for public investment in a tidal barrage in the Severn at the present time, given its very large costs. Instead, our focus is on developing tidal stream and wave technologies. The UK is already a global leader in this emerging sector.

I hope I am allowed to say that I found that a very helpful Answer. Will my noble friend suggest to the Department of Energy that it should create something like a United Kingdom tidal energy enterprise that will manage the growth of tidal power? We have been slow to start and there are now a great many players in the field. Does she agree that it is essential to see that all the eventual profit goes not into the pockets of the large electricity companies but into ensuring that there is cheap, available electricity that will save costs for thousands of homes?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right about the importance of our tides and the opportunity that they provide in supplying renewable energy. I will of course take back his specific proposal to the department. Perhaps it is worth adding to my previous Answer. The department has not ruled out completely the possibility of a Severn barrage and will consider privately funded projects on their merits. Indeed, the department is currently reviewing a business case from a private consortium.

My Lords, I have another proposal for the Minister. The coasts of Britain have enormous potential to provide this reliable energy permanently. Will she give consideration to restoring the tide mill at Newhaven in Sussex which, under the Duke of Newcastle in the 19th century, was the largest mill in the country? It could be an educational example of how this power works.

I thank the noble Baroness for that recommendation. I am not familiar with the mill. The department is concentrating its efforts on new technologies associated with tidal stream and wave energy. Certainly in that area much is happening in the industry to progress the innovation that is happening already in this country—we are a global leader. I will consult the department on the idea that the noble Baroness put forward and come back to her as soon as I can.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on what is happening at Scapa Flow in Orkney? Things were definitely looking rather exciting about two years ago. Is there any progress?

I am not sure that that helps me very much. Certainly there is a lot happening in Orkney as part of the tidal stream and new technology. The example that the noble Lord has identified may be part of the new innovation that is taking place right there, but I am afraid that I do not have any specific details on that.

My Lords, the Government have a very modest target of 300 megawatts of capacity of tidal and wave power by 2020, but how are they going to make sure that there is a balance between the environmental effects of this tidal stream and the renewable energy targets? How are the Government making sure that we sing from the same hymn sheet with the Marine Management Organisation, particularly with the allocation of marine conservation zones? How are we going to stop that conflict and still meet the targets?

As part of the UK marine energy programme, the department is working with the Marine Management Organisation and Marine Scotland to establish a working group to consider the approach to planning and consenting for wave and tidal energy. I hope that that will address the concerns that my noble friend has raised.

My Lords, the Minister has been very helpful and thorough in her answers to questions today. One of the things that she said at the beginning is that there will be no public investment in tidal power. If we are to exploit this natural resource, private investors will need to have confidence in the Government’s commitment to renewables. Today in Westminster, hundreds of people, including investors, are lobbying and campaigning against the Government’s changes to feed-in tariffs on solar power which will decimate the solar industry. What action does the Minister think that the Government can now take to reassure investors that they are committed to renewable energy? Unless urgent action is taken, the Government will have failed in their promise to be the greenest Government ever.

This Government are absolutely committed to being the greenest Government ever. On the solar feed-in tariffs that the noble Baroness mentioned, the changes that the Government introduced are precisely to ensure that that industry is sustainable and exists into the future. As to tidal stream and what the department is doing to work with the industry, it has put forward innovation funding of £20 million and it is working closely through the UK marine energy programme, which is chaired by the Minister, Greg Barker, and includes representatives of the technology developers, the utilities, the large industrial organisations and financiers. The Government are committed to supporting this new and emerging industry.

My Lords, would it not be fairer for the consumers of electricity in this country if the costs of these schemes, including the solar power and tidal schemes, were clearly put on their bills so that people would know how much extra they were paying for them? They are subsidised by the consumers. Therefore, this is a subsidy for wealthy people from poor people who are struggling to pay for their energy costs.

I share my noble friend’s concerns about people subsidising others in the way that he has described. If the Government did nothing on the feed-in tariffs for solar power panels, the equivalent of around £9.50 would be added to the average domestic bill. By introducing the changes that we are proposing, that would be reduced by 2014 to around £2.50 or £3. As to his specific proposal of identifying these costs on bills, I will certainly explore that idea with noble friends at the Ministry.

There have been complaints from the industries affected by the Government's change of policy on solar power. How can this reassure private investors in tidal and wave power when the Government appear not to listen to the industry, having made commitments?

This Government are learning from the previous Government’s initiatives by making sure that what we introduce in terms of new subsidies will avoid the need to change the arrangements at a later date and will therefore provide the certainty that the industry looks for.