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Electricity Supply: Decarbonisation

Volume 762: debated on Monday 15 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to decarbonise the electricity supply system in the United Kingdom, with which targets and over what timetable.

My Lords, we are committed to doing our part to tackle climate change in line with the Climate Change Act. We want to do this as cost-effectively as possible to ensure that our energy is secure and affordable as well as lower-carbon.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am pleased to have my first encounter with him in his new position. However, I hope that he will ask his officials to give him slightly more detailed Answers. The Question refers to a timetable, and we need action on a number of fronts. By what date does he expect the coal-fired power stations to be phased out—that was a commitment of all three parties before the election—and when does he expect the Hinkley Point B power station to come on-stream to provide us with a new source of nuclear power?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that welcome; I am sure it will be the start of a beautiful friendship, to revisit “Casablanca”. We anticipate that by 2025, unabated coal will account for only 1% of total generation. In relation to Hinkley B, which he also mentioned, the answer is 2023.

My Lords, I echo the welcome from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, from this side of the House. In his reply the Minister referred to the Climate Change Act, which unilaterally imposes limits on carbon emissions for the United Kingdom. I am well aware that the Government wish to secure a legally binding global agreement on emission limitations at the United Nations Paris conference at the end of this year but, should that not prove possible, will he undertake to look seriously at abandoning or at least suspending our commitments? Unilateral masochism can make no sense whatever.

My Lords, there is no question of unilateral masochism on this issue. We are anticipating agreement in Paris; all the signs are very favourable. It is not just Paris, of course; we have to ensure that there is monitoring thereafter. There is no plan B for the United Kingdom or the rest of the world.

My Lords, is it not obvious to everyone who has been engaged in these debates for many years that we have no hope of meeting the onerous impositions regarding climate change—including commitments from previous Labour Governments—without significant development of civil nuclear power? Why are there such repeated delays in the development of civil nuclear power in our country? Is the Minister not also concerned about recent reports that the French themselves, who are involved in our recent project, have found manifest failings in their own latest civil nuclear reactor at Flamanville?

My Lords, civil nuclear is certainly an essential part of our energy mix—I welcome what the noble Lord said about the Labour Party—and that continues to be the case. We are confident that Hinkley C will be delivered by 2023, and there are several other nuclear power stations in the line after that. Obviously, we learn from the French and the Finnish experience with regard to delivery.

My Lords, from these Benches I welcome the Minister to his portfolio. Will he ensure that the momentum established by the previous Administration in this field continues, and indeed goes further? Will he commit that if energy proposals are brought forward, Parliament will consider them—they could include the de-coaling of our electricity supply by 2025 as part of an ambitious target to halve energy demand by 50% by 2030, so that we can meet the aim of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050—in order to maintain the momentum that has already been established?

I thank the noble Lord for his kind comments. The ambitions for, and commitment of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to, this agenda are undoubted, and we will continue the work of the last Government in that regard. The targets and aims are ambitious, and we will share those with both Houses so that we can gain the consensus and achieve the momentum to take this agenda forward.

My Lords, I, too, take this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord to his new post; I look forward to a fruitful relationship. I also take this opportunity to wish my noble friend Whitty a happy birthday. Can the Minister confirm whether the department has assessed the price implications of adopting a decarbonisation target for the electricity sector? That might well be a cheaper way of proceeding than the carbon price support mechanism we are currently using to try to phase out coal and make good on that pre-election pledge.

I thank the noble Baroness for her comments and belatedly offer birthday congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty; I have not had an invitation to drinks as yet, but no doubt that is in the post. On the noble Baroness’s comments on decarbonisation of the electricity sector, we are convinced that the best way forward is the path we are currently set on. We are delivering through a combination of environmental policies, the ageing coal fleet and support mechanisms for renewables, and that remains the case.

My Lords, what are the Minister’s views about the commercial viability of Hinkley Point? The increases in costs since the project was first envisaged have been very large indeed; might there not conceivably be cheaper ways of producing nuclear power on a smaller scale?

My Lords, as I have already said, it is vital that we deliver on the nuclear agenda, and Hinkley C is part of that agenda. We are convinced that the price mechanisms will deliver that, and thereafter the other reactors that are queued up, such as Sizewell. Obviously, we remain open to looking at other nuclear technology, but at the moment the aim is to ensure that we, together with EDF, deliver on Hinkley Point C.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that efficiency is equally important in order to meet the targets? What is happening with the European electricity grid and developing a strategy right across Europe to share electricity at a better price?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I had the opportunity to visit the national grid and see how the interconnectors work; in fact, they proved vital when we were there, as we noticed, so that is an important part of it. Further interconnectors are coming online to Norway and to France, and they are certainly part of the Government’s energy supply mix.