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Energy: Hydropower

Volume 739: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the cost per kilowatt-hour (before subsidy) of generating electricity by hydropower; and how many sites within the United Kingdom have been authorised for this purpose.

My Lords, government records indicate that around 625 sites are currently operating in the UK. For large-scale installations over 5 megawatt capacity, the central estimate for standard run-off river hydro plants is 12.8 pence per kilowatt-hour. There are currently no published cost estimates for smaller hydro plants under 5 megawatts, but we expect to publish generation costs later this year for a range of renewable technologies drawing on evidence used in the renewables obligation and feed-in tariff.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Environment Agency has authorised several thousand very small sites for the purposes of electrical generation to the dismay of the angling community—and, indeed, the fish?

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the angling community, and I agree with him that it is a very important and large community. When it raises concerns, we take them very seriously. But the trust is fully engaged in ongoing work to review the Environment Agency’s hydropower good practice guidelines.

Is the Minister aware that three years ago there was an ongoing working party composed of the Forestry Commission and the Department of Energy and Climate Change looking at the difficulties of generating hydropower on public land? Could she dust down that report and see whether we can progress a bit further and contribute more to producing green energy?

My Lords, I will have to dust down the report because I have not yet sighted it. I reassure the noble Lord that there will be opportunities coming up early in the new year as regards consultation and reviews of what we are carrying out. That would be a most appropriate time to raise concerns or issues.

Given that renewable energy delivers green economic growth and energy security, will the Minister outline how important hydropower is in delivering the Government’s renewable energy obligations?

My Lords, hydropower is an important part of the renewable energy mix and currently contributes around 15% of the renewable generation capacity in the UK. There is further potential for hydro schemes but it is limited by size. However, we still estimate that there is a potential to increase the number of small-scale projects to produce an additional capacity of around 1 gigawatt.

My Lords, what is the level of subsidy for hydropower compared with that for solar power and wind power?

My Lords, all the different technologies have different subsidy levels. I should like to write to the noble Countess on the different subsidy levels, if she will allow that.

My Lords, I extend a warm welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, in her new position as Minister. She has some very large and fine Wellington boots to fill but I am sure that she will do so very ably. My question relates to pumped-storage hydro, which, as I am sure the noble Baroness will know, is a very effective way of balancing demand and supply on our electricity grid. Will the forthcoming energy Bill contain something to support this very important technology, particularly in relation to the capacity mechanism therein?

I thank the noble Baroness and your Lordships’ House for their very warm welcome. The energy Bill will seek powers to implement a capacity market as part of the reforms to the electricity market to deliver secure, affordable, low-carbon electricity. We expect that pumped-storage hydro projects would be eligible to receive capacity payments under the capacity market. Further detail will be set out alongside the introduction of the energy Bill in autumn.

Has the noble Baroness had an opportunity to visit Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland to discuss with them how we can co-operate in this important area, particularly Scotland which is a third of the land area of the United Kingdom? If she has not yet had the opportunity to make such a visit, may I encourage her to do so? I know that she will be made very welcome indeed.

I thank the noble Lord for his invitation to go to Scotland. I have not yet had time to visit it but I very much take on board the importance of hydro energy in Scotland.

What is the current state of play on the Severn barrage and what is the cost of electricity generated by it estimated to be?

My Lords, at the moment I cannot give the noble Lord the detail that he requires. Therefore, if he will allow me to write to him on the Severn barrage, I would be most grateful.