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Electricity Supplies from Europe

Volume 812: debated on Tuesday 18 May 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proportion of electricity supply to the United Kingdom is provided from continental Europe.

From provisional data, net imports from continental Europe—the Netherlands, Belgium and France—provided 5.6% of UK electricity supply in 2020. Final data for 2020 will be published at the end of July.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Threats to provision of power to Jersey have highlighted the issue of UK reliance on overseas power supplies. Currently, I think we have four interconnectors and the number is going up by about 10 or even 12. Does the Minister agree that it is highly dangerous for our nation to be reliant on power sources beyond our shores, and contrary to government policy on resilience and sovereignty? Rapid completion of major new nuclear reactors, plus advanced modular reactors, would seem to be the answer to ensuring sufficient UK provision of zero-carbon electrical power.

Interconnectors form an important part of our energy mix, but most of the power consumed in this country is still domestically produced. The noble Lord will know that the White Paper mentioned an ambition to have 18 gigawatts of power through interconnection. In The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, reiterated in the energy White Paper, the Government confirmed their commitment to developing large, small and advanced nuclear projects, and an advanced nuclear fund of up to £385 million was proposed to invest in the next generation of nuclear.

My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Does my noble friend accept that these electricity connectors, to and from the continent, play a vital triple role, in smoothing and increasing the reliability of our electricity supply—which is mostly low-carbon sourced—through the connectors when the wind drops or stops, in cutting our inflated energy bills and in exporting our electricity surpluses overseas when wind and solar produce too much for our immediate needs? What are the plans for further expansion of these links, both with continental Europe and elsewhere? Is the North Sea-Norway link progressing, and what about the link, which will be the longest of its kind in the world, with Iceland?

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, who speaks with great authority on this matter. The Iceland link is, I think, no longer going ahead, but I can confirm, as I said in an earlier answer, that we have 18 gigawatts of interconnected power provided for within the energy White Paper. It does indeed play a vital role in supporting a flexible decarbonising system, by rapidly responding to changes in demand and supply. Interconnection supports the integration of low-carbon generation in the UK to meet our net-zero goal. It also provides competition in the energy sector that will reduce prices and lead to lower energy bills.

My Lords, reliability is of course an imperative. However, is the Minister able to give an assurance about Russia, which was deemed by the Government to be “the enemy” in their recent integrated policy review? Given that a major UK company is a funder of the Nord Stream 2 gas project, with the promoters emphasising that not just Germany but western Europe will be a beneficiary of the gas from Russia, it would be inextricable that the gas from the original source would find its way to our shores.

There can be no normalisation of our bilateral relationship until Russia stops its irresponsible and destabilising activity. The UK imported less than 3% of its gas in 2020. The Government remain concerned about the impact Nord Stream 2 will have on European energy security, and particularly on the interests of Ukraine.

Can the Minister update us on the interconnector application by AQUIND Ltd, owned by two Russian Tory party donors? One of them, Alexander Temerko, once said he owned enough Tory MPs to dislodge a UK Prime Minister? The two owners control less than 50%; who owns the rest? Can she confirm that everybody on Portsmouth City Council is totally opposed to the proposed cable route through the city, and that even now it is better for this decision to be made locally rather than by Ministers?

I am indeed aware of the issues surrounding the AQUIND interconnector, as the noble Lord outlined. AQUIND has made an application for development consent. All applications for development consent are dealt with by the department in line with government propriety guidelines. We do not comment on projects that are currently in the planning process.

Over the last year there have been significant issues with electricity supply, not least because a number of power stations have either been down or under repair, and we have not yet got the new generation online that has been long talked about. That makes the interconnectors particularly important, but in Northern Ireland, of course, they are fully integrated with the rest of the Irish electricity system. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement that governs all this will run out in 2026. Are the Government actively in discussion with European counterparts on its successor?

I can confirm that the Government are in discussions on its successor. We are in fact planning another interconnector between Ireland and the UK. As the noble Lord knows, the island of Ireland is counted as one electricity market, and I can update him on further discussions as and when they happen.

I follow up on the questioning from my noble friend Lord Rooker, as conflicts of interest have obviously been a large part of public debate recently. Can the Minister confirm which Minister will sign off the final decision on the AQUIND cable, that Ministers in the department have no involvement and that the Government will nominate who has any role in any stage of the adjudication process? Will the final sign-off be undertaken by Ofgem?

The application has been examined by the planning inspectorate; the examining authority is currently writing its report, which will contain its conclusions and recommendations to the Secretary of State. Once he has received this report, the Secretary of State will have three months in which to take his decision. No other Ministers are involved in this decision-making process.

My Lords, interconnectors play an important role in reducing costs, but Britain is not at risk of an energy embargo. We are close to self-sufficiency, we will be closer when hydrogen comes on tap and, in a real emergency, we are sitting on 300 years’ supply of coal. Will the Minister confirm, none the less, that threatening an embargo is not the act of a friend, but rather that of an antagonistic state, such as Putin’s Russia?

Undoubtedly, emotions ran high following the introduction of the new licensing regime in Jersey, but we believe that the measures that Jersey has put on its fishing licences are entirely consistent with implementing access under the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. Our strong and healthy reciprocal energy relationships with neighbouring countries have been based on good will for many years; it is in the mutual interest of all parties that we continue to uphold these positive relationships.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House the anticipated timescale for more interconnectors between Britain and Ireland? Does the UK have any plans to set up a domestic cable manufacturing capability?

We have a strong pipeline of interconnectors. We have 3.8 gigawatts in construction to Norway, Denmark and France, and the completion of these projects will result in 9.8 gigawatts of interconnector capacity for Great Britain by 2023. A further 6.1 gigawatts are in development to Ireland, France, Germany and Norway. We have no capacity in the UK at present to build HVDC cables, but we have the capacity to build the medium voltage cables that service the offshore wind farms.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to opine on this important issue. Can the Minister confirm that the French are in fact building one of our nuclear reactors? Has the recent dispute led the Government to review that situation?

The French are indeed building at Hinkley Point, and we are still in discussions with them on the project to build Sizewell C. I am not aware of any interruptions in those negotiations.

My Lords, what many Members want to hear is an assurance from the Government that reducing dependence on the import of French electricity will be a strategic priority for the Government in the face of the threats that we know they are likely to issue—they have a track record—when it comes to renewing and renegotiating the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. If my noble friend cannot give that assurance today, which I understand, will she at least promise to take it back to Ministers, so that we can have a clear policy that defends the national interest?

The UK has an extremely strong domestic energy supply—our homegrown mix of energy sources means there is no chance of the lights going out. The UK has a target to build 40 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and our ambition for at least 18 gigawatts of interconnection by the same date will support our energy requirements in this country. I will of course take my noble friend’s concerns back to the department.