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Green Energy in the North-west

Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 23 June 2021

I remind hon. Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of a debate and remain for the entire debate. Members participating virtually must leave their camera on for the duration of a debate, so that they are visible at all times both to one another and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, please email the Westminster Hall Clerks; the email address is westminsterhallclerks

Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall. Members attending physically who are in the latter stages of the call list should sit in the Public Gallery if they cannot find a seat in the horseshoe. Members may speak only from the horseshoe where there are microphones. Members not on the call list may intervene from the horseshoe but should not take the place of someone on the call list, as they have priority. After Mick Whitley has made his speech, I will impose a four-and-a-half minute time limit on speeches.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered green energy in the North West.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am immensely grateful to hon. Members for participating in this important debate. I thank the Minister for joining us and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). I am aware of his decades-long interest in this issue, and warmly welcome the depth of knowledge and experience that he brings to the debate.

I secured this debate because I believe that by pioneering a just transition away from fossil fuels, we have the potential not only to curb the very worst excesses of climate meltdown but to breathe new life into left-behind towns such as my constituency. Massive investment in renewable energies, low-carbon hydrogen and the retrofitting of homes has the power to create hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide. That will bring badly needed investment to communities that have been ignored by Westminster for far too long. That could restore hope to young people with the offer of all-energy apprenticeships, a range of vocational training opportunities and, above all, dignified and well-paid jobs.

The north-west is perfectly placed to lead the transition to a renewable and low-carbon energy source. After all, our region was the cradle of the first industrial revolution. Our factories, foundries and shipyards gave birth to the industrialised world and, with it, today’s climate crisis. To paraphrase the Mayor of Greater Manchester, it is fitting that the north-west should once again be in the vanguard of a new industrial revolution—this time, a clean one. We already have all the key building blocks needed for this historic transition, from a highly developed renewables sector to world-leading carbon capture and storage capacities, our fantastic knowledge and economy and, most importantly, communities and leaders committed to tackling the climate emergency head-on.

My worry is that the Government’s decarbonisation strategy lacks the ambition and vision to deliver climate or economic justice for the people of the north-west. Analysis from Carbon Brief suggests that that 10-point plan unveiled last year would deliver just 80% of the cuts to carbon emissions required to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. The Industrial Strategy Council has described the plan as

“not yet a…roadmap for delivering Net Zero.”

I am concerned that the Government’s sequential approach to creating low-carbon clusters risks leaving the north-west behind. We desperately need a coherent national strategy for green investment that could benefit all the UK’s regions and nations. We must be far more ambitious, not just in the speed and scale of decarbonisation but by recognising the huge potential for creating jobs. The needs of communities such as Birkenhead must sit at the heart of our decarbonisation plans. That is not to say that I disagree with the Government’s proposals in their entirety. The plan is right to recognise the vital role that blue and green hydrogen can play in helping to meet net zero goals, especially in the hard-to-reach sectors of the economy such as steel, international shipping and aviation.

Low-carbon hydrogen does not just have a role to play in delivering a greener, cleaner economy for future generations. It also has the potential to create up to 75,000 jobs within the next 15 years, as well as contributing £18 billion to the British economy. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult centre estimates that the UK could earn up to £48 billion a year from hydrogen exports to Europe by 2050. That means that the green industrial revolution and the post-pandemic economic recovery are partners, not enemies.

The Government’s stated ambition of achieving 5 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 is welcome, but as a nation we must go further and faster. Last year, Germany pledged €9 billion to the development of low-carbon hydrogen, while France committed €7.2 billion. The UK risks falling far behind our neighbours in Europe.

Already, Merseyside is beginning to benefit from the development of a low-carbon hydrogen economy. Thanks to the hard work of the metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, and the head of low carbon, Mark Knowles, Liverpool has become the first city in the north of England to trial hydrogen buses, with the St Helens BOC plant acting as a new refuelling facility. Meanwhile, INEOS Runcorn is helping to make the north-west a centre of green hydrogen production. It is a member of both the North West Hydrogen Alliance and Net Zero North West.

Low-carbon hydrogen can help to decarbonise our homes and offices. That is why I am a strong supporter of HyNet North West, which is attempting to develop a low-carbon hydrogen network stretching from north Wales across the Dee to Liverpool, Greater Manchester and Lancashire. HyNet estimates that it will be able to deliver 35% of the UK’s gigawatt hydrogen target by 2025 and will deliver enough carbon capture and storage capacity for 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030. It is estimated that that project could create 6,000 permanent jobs and contribute about £17 billion of gross value added to the regional economy by 2050.

The Government should be doing more to encourage hydrogen as a domestic heating source. That begins by encouraging demand by phasing out the sale of natural gas boilers in much the same way as they are ending the sale of ICE—internal combustion engine—vehicles, and it means giving low and middle-income homeowners the financial support that they need to buy low-carbon alternatives such as heat pumps or hydrogen-ready boilers. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the proposals that HyNet submitted to the green recovery challenge fund, to accelerate mains replacement in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. With an additional £250 million of funding, HyNet could deliver a hydrogen-ready network about five years ahead of the current programme.

The advent of green hydrogen and electric vehicles will double UK electricity consumption by 2050. The question of how we meet that increased demand is pivotal. In recent years, offshore wind has undoubtedly been renewable energy’s greatest success story, producing more and more clean electricity every year. In the north-west, a gigawatt of capacity has already been installed. That is enough to meet the needs of more than 1 million households. The Burbo Bank wind farm in Liverpool bay alone produces enough electricity to power 80,000 homes, and its continued expansion is likely to bring increased work and investment to towns such as mine.

We should celebrate the amazing advances in offshore wind capabilities, but we should be careful that the industry’s successes are not allowed to blow away other forms of renewable energy, which may be essential to meeting the soaring demand for clean electricity in the coming decades. I am concerned that the lion’s share of contract for difference funding is going to offshore wind, with other industries missing out.

The Government are doing too little to cultivate the development of wave and tidal power. It is estimated that half of Europe’s wave and tidal power resources are in the UK. With the potential to meet a fifth of UK electricity demand and create 16,000 British jobs, and with 80% of the specialist supply chain located in the UK, investments in tidal power have the potential to create jobs across the engineering and manufacturing sectors. In Merseyside, the proposed Mersey tidal project could generate four times more electricity than the entire offshore wind capacity in Liverpool bay. That is enough to power 1 million homes, as well as creating work on both sides of the river.

Despite that enormous potential, there is not a single mention of tidal power in the 10-point plan. The 2020 energy White Paper stated merely that the Government would consider the role of tidal power in helping us meet the net zero objectives. That is simply not good enough.

I appreciate that the up-front costs of such a project are immense, but they are well worth it. I also recognise that we must give serious consideration to the ecological impact of such developments. We need to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises in tandem—clean energy cannot come at the expense of vulnerable natural habitats—but I agree with the Environmental Audit Committee that many benefits of tidal power, including its predictable and reliable energy output, more than justify the initial expense.

As someone who spent 27 on the shop floor of a Vauxhall car plant, it would be remiss of me not to mention the car industry. The electric vehicle revolution has the potential to revitalise an industry that has been devastated by the pandemic, but only with the unequivocal backing of Westminster. The Government must be far more ambitious in their vision for British car making, beginning with a commitment to the construction of three more gigafactories, to be in operation by 2025. I am sure my hon. Friends from Merseyside and Cheshire will join me in saying that the first of those should be in Ellesmere Port.

I look forward to the contributions of all hon. Members. I am aware that time is short, so I will conclude my remarks. The scale of the crisis we face demands a total transformation of our energy system. That will have profound implications for every part of our lives, from how we heat our homes to how we travel and power our economy. I am sure that that will be reflected in a diversity of contributions. Although I believe we should be honest about the scale of the challenge we face, we should equally embrace the enormous opportunities that a just transition to green energy affords us and our communities.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on bringing forward this very important debate.

I believe that the growing green-energy sector in the north-west and north Wales is integral to the success of our region. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Mersey Dee North Wales, I am committed to supporting it in any way that I can. I am also pleased to be holding a local COP26 summit in my constituency this coming Friday.

Green energy infrastructure will increasingly provide direct and indirect employment, help establish the region as a centre for technological development and contribute to the UK-wide goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. My comments today will be almost entirely positive, but I want to put on the record my concern that significant work has yet to take place to begin to decarbonise the region’s transport. Travel in the area predominantly takes place by car, but there is currently a distinct lack of electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. Although many of the elements in the Government’s 10-point plan provide our region with an outstanding set of opportunities, it is important that we are not left behind on that issue.

There is also particular work to be done to achieve a modal shift from road to rail, and achieving that will require investment in rail infrastructure, as per the Growth Track 360 plan, and the decarbonisation of the existing network. The Irish sea is home to a number of offshore windfarms, including North Hoyle, Rhyl Flats, Burbo Bank and Gwynt y Môr, for which an extension, Awel y Môr, is currently being sought. Round 4 of the Crown Estate’s leasing programme proposes the development of three new areas of seabed between north Wales and the Isle of Man, possibly with new floating turbine technology. The region is also home to a significant nuclear sector cluster, known as the north west nuclear arc. It remains extremely important that attempts are made to deliver a Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on Anglesey.

I am extremely pleased that the north-west is one of the Government’s industrial super-places. Critical to that is the work of HyNet, which aims to be the world’s first low-carbon industrial cluster, serving north-west England and north-east Wales. HyNet will convert natural gas to hydrogen at Stanlow, with carbon dioxide being successfully captured and stored in the former hydrocarbon fields in Liverpool bay, just off my constituency. I have engaged positively with HyNet representatives about their work, and I very much hope that when my right hon. Friend the Minister is discussing the Government’s cluster sequencing decision before 25 October, she looks favourably on HyNet North West.

Our region is also blessed with a lengthy coastline. The Morlais project in Anglesey is a tidal-flow demonstration zone, while tidal-range projects are increasingly of interest. One tidal lagoon has been proposed between Colwyn bay and Prestatyn, while another would be located in the Dee estuary at Mostyn. I know that there is huge interest also in the Mersey.

Tidal range has the potential to offer plentiful and reliable energy over the course of an exceptional operating life, while providing a valuable coastal flood-defence function in many cases. The UK’s world-leading tidal resource and expertise across finance, engineering and construction offer a significant opportunity for this alternative renewable energy source to help to reach our requirements while creating jobs and growth in priority regions such as ours.

The Tidal Range Alliance on behalf of the whole industry recently submitted a request for £20 million of grant funding to undertake pre-feasibility assessments of the most promising tidal-range projects and key staging technologies and constraints. In addition to my ask on HyNet, I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister would look favourably on the proposed tidal-range assessment fund, as I believe it could pay dividends. Our region will be critical in leading the way on green energy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this really important debate for us in the north-west of England.

My remarks are about how a UK invention made in the north-west has exciting potential to reduce carbon emissions across the world, create green energy and generate thousands of skilled jobs and apprenticeships here at home. I am referring to a cutting-edge piece of geothermal technology called the geo-engine, based in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The creators of the geo-engine have been meeting with north-west MPs to try to secure support for their technology. By supporting them in bringing this world-leading technology to market the Government could show the world that the UK’s words are matched by its actions when it comes to helping the world to meet its emissions targets. It would be a clear example on which the COP26 President, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), could draw as the UK hosts the conference in November.

I am pleased that the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), is in her place and I look forward to her response. She might recall that in a written answer to me on 7 June, she said:

“The geo-engine could help achieve the ambitious decarbonisation targets set in the North Sea Transition Deal for offshore gas published by BEIS in March.”

I was expecting her to see the wider benefits of the technology. I hope that she will be able to acknowledge the benefits that the geo-engine has to offer when she winds up the debate, and perhaps meet my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, the inventors of the geo-engine and me so that we can look at how it can be rolled out globally from the home of the north-west of England.

Let me explain the technology and its wider applications. The environment is harmed by the process of carbon dioxide flaring, which is used to burn off natural gas in CO2-contaminated natural gas fields around the world. It accounts for around 300 million tonnes of CO2 annually. That figure continues to rise as uncontaminated gas reserves dwindle. The geo-engine, however, is able to eliminate CO2 flaring by powering carbon capture and storage and creating surplus power that can be fed into the grid as net zero energy or used to create blue or green hydrogen.

With gas fields located around the world, there is a huge opportunity for the export and adoption of this UK technology. The UK could also benefit, so the investors believe, from the use of geo-engines in abandoned oil fields by recirculating the geothermal power sourced from hydrogen for hydrogen production. That could assist the UK significantly in its net zero energy future. The University of Liverpool and the geo-engine inventors are currently investigating that possibility further.

I have explained how, by supporting the geo-engine, the Government can help to meet carbon targets not only in the UK but in countries across the world. In the little time I have left, I will make clear the benefits for the UK beyond meeting its emission targets. If the Government are serious about building back better, there is no better way to do so than by supporting a home-grown invention with global importance and the potential to boost UK exports. The creators of geo-engine want to create thousands of skilled jobs in the north of England in the direct manufacture of the geo-engine and its specialist supply chain. It is a no-brainer, so let us make the north-west the real hub for green technology. I urge the Minister to please look seriously at backing the geo-engine.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this really important debate.

The Government have taken a global leadership role in setting an ambitious trajectory to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. My constituency has seen the closure of the Fiddlers Ferry coal-fired power station, which has been a physical landmark in the north-west of England over the past 12 months as the UK has shifted its focus from coal-fired power stations to more sustainable forms. However, that has had an impact on experienced, secure jobs in my part of the north-west.

We in the north-west are in a prime position to support the green industrial revolution, with local and regional industry acting as a springboard for low-carbon growth. With a diverse range of low-carbon projects already happening on the ground, I am optimistic that the north-west is destined to make a significant contribution to the UK’s net zero carbon emissions target. This is a legacy that we need to build on over the next few decades as we head towards our 2050 net zero target, from offshore wind and hydrogen to carbon capture and electric vehicles. Warrington in particular is a regional centre of excellence in the nuclear sector. These specialisms are conceived in northern minds and built by northern hands, and while it is right that our clean energy plans should be ambitious, much like the first industrial revolution, they must come with a positive return for local people.

I mentioned the jobs we have lost. We need skills change. We need more employment, and most importantly for the economic growth of our region, we need this to come quickly. I am really excited, therefore, by the prospect of HyNet, to which the Government have already committed £33 million and which is currently being developed by Cadent. As the Minister knows, HyNet will involve the development of new hydrogen pipelines across Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire and the creation of the UK’s first carbon capture and storage infrastructure.

HyNet has the potential to create £17 billion of added economic value for the north-west region and could create up to 5,000 jobs in the region by 2025. It will also deliver more than a million tonnes of CO2 savings per annum—the equivalent of taking more than 600,000 cars off the road every year—and will have a decarbonising effect against other sectors such as transport, industry and home heating. In short, it really is a game changer for the north-west. I am keen to ask the Minister, given the likely readiness of HyNet, whether she will look carefully at this project being given priority—track 1 —as one of the first projects to be moved forward in 2025.

In the time I have left, I will also mention some of the smaller projects, which can fuel and heat our homes deep within local communities. I was really pleased to learn that Lymm Community Energy, in my constituency, has secured funding from the rural community energy fund to assess the feasibility of constructing a 5 MW solar farm. The project has the potential to supply local residents, businesses and community facilities with electricity, and is investigating whether it could accommodate battery storage too. The proposed solar farm would support 1,500 homes and would save around 1,130 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. As well as that, any financial surplus generated will be put back into a community benefit fund that would support local projects and organisations. The combination of the large-scale HyNet project and the smaller Lymm energy project will fuel our homes, businesses and transport in the future. I look forward to seeing these projects achieve net zero and level up the country.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for calling today’s important debate. We both share a passion for new job creation and investment in infrastructure across Merseyside and our north-west region.

As my hon. Friend said, the north-west of England was the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The history of our region, the ingenuity of our people, our culture and our belief in the dignity of work as the tide that lifts all boats, mean we are well placed to lead on the coming industrial revolution—to innovate, to build and ultimately tackle the climate crisis head on.

Although we look back at our history, we do not dwell on it. Rather, it acts as a catalyst to ensure that we meet the demands of the 21st century, to create good jobs, to use the climate emergency as an economic opportunity for a just transition that takes manufacturing workers and communities on a journey that leaves no sector behind, especially the jewel in our crown—the automotive sector.

A new generation of leaders is taking up the fight to realise those demands. The Government talk a big game on levelling up. All I hope is that the substance behind the slogans matches the scale of the ambition that our metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has for Merseyside. The Liverpool city region was the first region to declare a climate emergency in June 2019, and the metro Mayor has committed to reaching net zero carbon by 2040, a decade ahead of the UK target.

The tidal range of the Mersey estuary provides us with a unique opportunity to create a low-carbon electricity generation project that has the potential to create up to 5,000 jobs. Highly skilled, green manufacturing jobs should power our economic recovery beyond the pandemic. It is calculated that the Mersey tidal power project has the potential to generate up to four times the energy of all the wind turbines in Liverpool bay: enough energy to power 1 million homes.

Sadly, we do not have much time this afternoon, but I want to use the time I have to champion the Mersey tidal power project. The Government have the levers at their disposal to make that happen, so give us the tools to get on with the job, not least through the north-west energy hub. In the year of COP26, we need bold affirmations in our devolved Administrations to assist in the UK-wide strategy to address the climate emergency.

As Mayor Rotheram’s manifesto states,

“The River Mersey has been the lifeblood of our fortunes for centuries.”

He is right. Let us make it so for the next century.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this very important debate. We are facing a climate emergency and I pay tribute to the innovative work being done by scientists, engineers and architects across the north-west to address the challenge. Work like that of architect—[Interruption.]

Order. Margaret Greenwood, I am sorry to interrupt. A Division bell is ringing in Westminster Hall at the moment, which means we are not hearing you at all. I understand that everyone here is proxied, so no one needs to leave. If you want to wait a moment until this stops, and start a little bit back, we can pick up your speech—because you are not getting a fair deal here.

Right, Ms Greenwood; I am terribly sorry about that. I sometimes forget how much I love this place. If you would like to go a few sentences back and pick up, I think that would be the fairest way to proceed.

Thank you very much, McCabe. The architect Colin Usher, who has built himself an award-winning home in West Kirby, said that it uses heat pumps, solar panels and exceptional insulation. As a result, it cost him and his wife just £15 a year for heating, lighting, cooking and hot water when the house was completed around six years ago.

The Energy Saving Trust has said that, for the UK to reach its net zero targets, we need to roll out heat pumps at pace and scale, yet the Government scrapped the green homes grant just over six months after its launch. More than 20 organisations, representing builders and construction businesses, energy companies and civil society groups, have called for households on low incomes to be supplied with free heat pumps in order to kickstart the market for low-carbon heating equipment and meet the UK’s climate targets, in a proposal that addresses both the climate emergency and the issue of fuel poverty. Can the Minister set out her response to that proposal?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) has recently called for an electric vehicle revolution in every part of the country, in order to boost the car manufacturing industry and create jobs. Here in the north-west, that strategy is urgently needed. The electrification of the automotive industry is of great importance, as the north-west is home to many key automotive factories—including the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, where a number of my constituents work. For them, it has been an uncertain time, with the chief executive of Stellantis saying earlier this year that it was

“considering the closure of its Ellesmere Port factory unless the UK government offers financial support after extended negotiations.”

Last month, however, it was reported that recent discussions between Stellantis and the Government have been extremely positive and productive. Can the Minister give us an update on those discussions? Will she back Labour’s call to kickstart in this Parliament the development of three additional giga-factories to produce the batteries for electric vehicles? Will she accelerate the creation of charging points, particularly in north-west England, and will she pledge to make electric vehicle ownership affordable for people on lower incomes?

I pay tribute to the metro Mayor of the Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, for the work he is doing to address the challenges of climate change. The Mersey Tidal Commission has been established to look into ways of harnessing the power of the River Mersey as a source of clean, renewable and predictable energy for generations to come. It is estimated that a tidal barrage on the Mersey could generate enough electricity to power up to 1 million homes across the region, creating thousands of local jobs.

In March this year, the Environmental Audit Committee wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to say that there is “substantial potential” for the tidal sector to make a “significant and distinct contribution” to the UK’s future mix of energy generated from renewable sources. It is therefore disappointing that the Government’s support for tidal energy has been only lukewarm up to now. Will the Minister personally take up this issue and give Liverpool city region the support that it needs?

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this really important debate on an issue that matters not only to all of us here, but to our constituents. I want to draw to the Minister’s attention a few points that are especially relevant to Cumbria, and I hope she can answer some of my questions.

In rural communities such as mine, the growth in the provision of ground source heat pumps in buildings around Cumbria, but particularly in the more rural areas, is hugely encouraging. I would be really grateful if the Minister spent some time looking at the problem whereby small businesses—very often farms—end up being charged ludicrous sums of money to get connected to the grid for the ground source heat pump to work. I have spoken to Electricity North West, which acknowledges that that is not great, but the company is allowed to do it, so it does so. The cost is sometimes about £7,000 or £8,000 per connection, which is massively debilitating for dairy farms and other small businesses in rural communities. That is the first thing I would love the Minister to look at.

Secondly, would the Minister look again at building regulations and insist that the provision of renewable energy is integral to all new builds, particularly solar panels? I understand why there is resistance to this: it adds cost to the bill, and green bills can sometimes be more expensive. However, that could be offset—more than offset—if the Government revised the Land Compensation Act 1961 to reduce the price of land at the same time. That would massively reduce the cost of building, meaning that it would be entirely affordable to insist on solar panels in every new building. Let us remember that retrofitting properties is far more expensive than doing the right thing in the first place when they are built.

Thirdly, could the Minister acknowledge that the Government’s ending of the feed-in tariff schemes for hydro energy and electricity has been massively damaging to that sector? A wonderful hydro-energy company in my constituency, Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon, has had to let go of almost 20% of its workforce indirectly as a consequence. Will the Minister announce now, or soon, ways in which the Government can provide incentives for hydroelectricity and ensure that the likes of Gilkes can expand in the future? It seems most peculiar in a county such as Cumbria, which I admit is occasionally damp and contains England’s fastest flowing waterways, that we are making such limited use of that water. Companies of great heritage, such as Gilkes, could be making sure not only that we employ more people in great jobs locally, but that we make use of the natural energy that is so abundant in the lakes and the dales.

Finally, I draw the Minister’s attention to something that MP colleagues in Cumbria and I have written to the Government about: the exciting prospect of tidal energy across Morecombe bay. This is an opportunity to connect the Furness Peninsula—or, as we say, “Lancashire over the sands”—with mainland Lancashire and, more importantly, to generate energy from that source. This Government need to take the blame, as do previous ones, for the fact that despite the United Kingdom having the largest tidal range on planet Earth after Canada, we tap nearly none of it. Morecombe bay is an opportunity to do just that.

I set these things in front of you, Mr McCabe, and the Minister, and I eagerly await her response. I suggest that all these proposals, and the many others put forward by hon. Members sat around the table and on the internet, could make Cumbria a—if not the—leading green energy provider in the UK, creating thousands of good, long-term jobs, contrasting beautifully with the somewhat less progressive proposal for a coalmine in west Cumbria, which I hope the Minister will agree to scrap.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this debate and for the excellent points in his introductory comments. As he said, he has a long, proud association with Ellesmere Port through his time at Vauxhall Motors; that company, with many others, is synonymous with my town. It is vital for their future prosperity that we get this right. They all impact the local economy and they also use huge amounts of energy, contributing about 5% of total energy usage in the UK. Faced with that fact, companies are not oblivious to the need to change and have been working together on a whole series of projects that will contribute to reaching net zero and enhance our local economy at the same time. [Interruption.]

Order. The Division bell is ringing again. I think we will do the same thing as before and stop until it finishes.

Several Members have talked already about the HyNet North West project, which is vital for the future of industry, not just in my constituency but in the whole sub-region, if it is to meet the challenges of decarbonisation and increased energy costs.

In our area, we are fortunate enough to have an unbeatable combination of industry and geology, which means we can transition to a hydrogen-based economy faster than anyone else. Our current infrastructure can be easily converted to operate with hydrogen. HyNet believes that, as a result, it can capture up to 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. As we have heard from various Members already, there is cross-party and indeed cross-border support for HyNet; I refer not just to the border between England and Scotland, but to the equally important border between Cheshire and Merseyside.

It is vital that we get this transition right. Let me give one example of what that can mean. In my constituency, CF Fertilisers employs hundreds of people and supplies about 40% of the UK fertiliser market. It is also the front end of key supply chains for the production of products such as building insulation, Perspex products for car manufacturing, and key bathroom products such as sinks and baths, as well as respiratory medications, so moving to hydrogen will play a huge role in greening large parts of other sectors, too. There is a brighter future down the road, but to get to that point gas prices and emission costs need to remain affordable for companies such as CF Fertilisers over the next five years. They need as much certainty as can be offered by Government. We do not want winners and losers in different parts of the country to be played off against one another. We need to recognise the particular challenges that ammonia producers have. If the Minister needs further details, I am happy to provide them after the debate.

To reiterate a point made by several Members, it is critical to our part of the world that we get the green light to go ahead in phase 1. CF Fertilisers is just one of many businesses where lots of jobs are at risk if we do not get a sustained and consistent approach from Government. There is no doubt that the ambition in my area is there. The question is: will it be matched by Government? Germany is investing 10 times the amount that we are in its quest to deliver the same amount of hydrogen by 2030 that we hope to produce, so we really cannot afford to effect this transition by half-measures. For people’s livelihoods, for the thousands of jobs that it would create and for the future of the planet, we need this transition to be full steam ahead, if colleagues will pardon the pun.

The concept of a just transition is not only realistic but essential if we are to achieve the aims that I think we all want to achieve. When I walk around my constituency in 10 years’ time, I want to see people going about their daily business in electric vehicles that have been manufactured in Ellesmere Port, powered by batteries that have been made locally, driving into secure, well-paid jobs that they can raise a family on in a manufacturing industry that is enjoying a renaissance thanks to the advances we have made in carbon capture and hydrogen. I want us to be living in a time when emissions have gone down but wealth has gone up. That is the future I want. I hope that the Government share our vision and will work with us to make it a reality.

We are indeed in strange times: those of us who have been in the House for quite a long time have a Pavlovian reaction every time the bell goes off—we jump up and run down the corridor. To resist doing that, and to resist saying anything in the meantime, is a new skill that we need to get used to.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on having secured this afternoon’s debate. It is a really important debate that sheds light on two things in particular, and he is to be commended for the excellent way he presented the case for renewable energy in the north-west.

First, we must recognise what an important part of the country the north-west is, in terms of both its renewable resources and their utilisation for the benefit of the country as a whole. Some of those resources have been mentioned in the time permitted to us this afternoon. A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), spoke about the tremendous tidal resource in the north-west. Not many people know that the tidal range in the Mersey estuary is the second highest in the UK, closely followed by the Morecambe Bay tidal range. Parts of the north-west should be in the driving seat when it comes to utilising tidal energy for the future benefit of the UK. Of course, we already have substantial penetration of offshore wind in the Irish sea and a number of installations close to the north-west coastline, but anyone who has seen the offshore wind projects timeline charts put out by RenewableUK will know that, despite the tremendous offshore wind resource in the north-west, development of offshore wind has essentially stalled in that area. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) mentioned that some new leases are under way, particularly for floating wind, but performance at the moment is, frankly, very poor when it comes to developing this tremendous asset that the north-west has.

We have also heard from hon. Members not just about the north-west’s physical assets, but its human assets, including the assets of ingenuity and thought that have gone into the HyNet project. I unequivocally commend that scheme to this House for its proactive imagination, its importance, and its ability to bring jobs and skill chains to the north-west, which will benefit the north-west and the country as a whole. It combines carbon capture and storage and hydrogen and brings forward industrial processes, and the developers of that project are to be applauded—[Interruption.]

Order. I am conscious that I cannot alter the finishing time, which is still 5.50. I am really sorry about this, Dr Whitehead.

I will shout my way through it, Mr McCabe. I am trying to draw our attention this afternoon to the north-west’s rich renewable resources that the north-west has, and how imperative it is that those resources be exploited for the benefit of the whole country as soon as possible. Hon. Members have underlined why that is so important.

The second important point to discuss is what the Government are doing about exploiting the resources and supporting the people, local councils and industries of the north-west in getting those schemes under way. The marks are pretty low here. I mentioned the lack of development of offshore wind, and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wirral West said Government support for tidal power was lukewarm. That was extremely kind of her, because as far as I am concerned, Government support has been stone cold. That needs to be urgently reversed, in order to bring the resources for secure, stable, low carbon energy forward in the way we know is possible, in Morecambe, the Mersey and other sites in the north-west, to the benefit of the whole country.

It is important to put the two parts of the debate together—what the potential is, and what the Government are doing about it. Those two things need to be in close harness. If the result of this debate is better Government support for renewables in the north-west, that would be a very good achievement indeed.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this important debate. I assure the House that this Government are ensuring that we have an energy system that delivers a cleaner and greener future. We are determined that every place, every community and every industry in the UK, including of course the north-west, has the support it needs to successfully transitioned to green energy.

We only need to look at what happened with coal and wind in the last few decades and the political consensus that has formed around reducing our emissions to see that the nation is embracing a move to green energy. Members have shared their passion and commitment to a just transition to net zero in this debate. The energy White Paper, which we published in December last year, set out plans for the historic transformation of the UK’s energy system for a cleaner future, including fully decarbonising our electricity generation by 2050. We have shown that rapid progress on decarbonisation is possible, alongside a thriving economy.

We recognise, of course, the need to ensure that industries move to clean energy in a sustainable way, which is why we have announced in recent years the industry strategy challenge fund, the industrial energy transformation fund and the clean steel fund. Those funds support the meeting of green energy goals in key industrial regional clusters and sectors. In addition to those funds, the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution set out how we will work with industry to help deliver our net zero targets in a way that creates employment opportunities in green energies as they emerge. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) raised some important north-west leadership points in relation to nuclear, which were very interesting to hear, as it is a key low carbon part of our future energy mix.

In the 10-point plan, there is a commitment to deploy carbon capture usage and storage in at least two industrial clusters by the mid-2020s and a further two clusters by 2030, with an ambition to capture 10 megatonnes of CO2 per year by 2030. In May this year, we launched the first phase of the CCUS cluster sequencing process. On the concerns about other technologies of the hon. Member for Birkenhead and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker), they will be pleased to know that allocation round 4 of the contracts for difference later this year will include less established technologies, including floating offshore wind, advanced conversion technologies and tidal stream. The delivery of at least two CCUS clusters is not the extent of the ambition, with a commitment to support four by 2030 at the latest. The Government are also clear that, in order to reach net zero, all industrial clusters will need to decarbonise and CCUS is going to play a key role in enabling that.

The industrial decarbonisation strategy and the forthcoming heat in buildings and net zero strategies will set out how targeted investment, underpinned by support for technology innovation, will help enable a more sustainable long-term path, while protecting jobs and supporting levelling up across the UK. I hope that will give my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) reassurance on many of the transportation issues that were raised.

This debate gives us an opportunity to recognise the significant contribution the north-west has already made and plans to make to investing in green energy. I will take a moment to recognise a couple of those excellent contributions. Winnington in Cheshire will be home to the UK’s first industrial carbon capture and utilisation plant. The £15.7 million project will be funded by Tata Chemicals Europe, with the support of a £4.2 million grant from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy through our carbon capture and utilisation demonstration programme. The plant is near completion and due to commence carbon dioxide capture operations this year.

The hydrogen energy and carbon capture and utilisation storage project, HyNet North West, which many colleagues mentioned, is an innovative low carbon and hydrogen energy project that will unlock a low carbon economy for the whole of the north-west and north Wales, and put the region at the forefront of the UK’s drive to net zero. The project will receive almost £33 million of funding from the industrial decarbonisation challenge, and will be important for our efforts to decarbonise industry in support of the Government’s wider net zero ambition. I am really looking forward to my visit to HyNet North West later in the summer. I would be happy to meet the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) to learn more about the geo-engine technology, when my diary allows.

Finally, since 2015, Electricity North West has spent £33 million on innovation projects which have already delivered £46 million of benefit to consumers across the north-west. I am sure hon. Members agree that these kinds of bold and innovative investments, such as those happening in the north-west, will be vital to positioning the UK as global leader in the future energy industry. This Government are absolutely committed to working closely with communities and industry to enable that transition to green energy.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) will be pleased to read the heat and buildings strategy when it is published soon, as it will answer some of his questions. I am sorry, Mr McCabe, but I am still quite excited that I brought carbon budget 6 into law yesterday and signed the legislation this afternoon, which means that we are genuinely world-leading in the challenge that we have set ourselves. When we publish the first net zero strategy of any country in the world in the autumn, we will be genuinely demonstrating our world-leading effort to get to net zero by 2050. That will be achieved through creating green jobs, targeting investment and supporting the innovative technologies that we are seeing across the north-west and across the UK, which will help us to achieve a cleaner and greener future for us all.

I thank you for serving as chair today, Mr McCabe, and all hon. Members for contributing to the debate, which has benefitted greatly from their enthusiasm and expertise, and I am not forgetting the Division bells either.

I welcome the comments made by the hon. Members for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter) on the HyNet North West project, and I am glad to see these proposals attracting support from across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) put me to shame by highlighting the important work that a company based in my constituency is doing to combat the effects of climate change, while also driving economic growth across our region. He is right to highlight the enormous potential of the geo-engine, and I echo the important comments he made about the necessity of the Government’s report.

My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) and for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) rightly expanded on the many ways that Merseyside can play its role in combating climate breakdown, from harnessing the immense power of the Mersey tidal range to greening our transport. I have no doubt that these are issues upon which we will campaign together in the future. I also thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for his insightful contribution on the issues facing rural communities as we decarbonise our energy system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) rightly described the profound impact the transition to a low-carbon economy could have on his constituents in particular, and the region more widely. I agree with every word he said. As I said in my opening remarks, the shadow Minister’s interest in this issue is long-standing and his passion was clear for all to see.

Finally, I thank the Minister for her thoughtful response to the points I and others raised.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered green energy in the North West.

Sitting adjourned.