Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 16 April 2024

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Floating Offshore Wind

1. What steps her Department is taking to support floating offshore wind projects in the Celtic sea. (902273)

Britain is a pioneer of floating offshore wind. We are working with the Crown Estate to lease 4.5 GW of seabed capacity for floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, and we are supporting emerging technologies with a separate funding pot in allocation round 6.

The White Cross project in the Celtic sea has a cable due to come ashore in my constituency, and it advises me that it is unable to agree compensation to businesses disrupted by these works due to a lack of Government guidance. Will my right hon. Friend meet me—and, ideally, come to see where the project is due to make landfall—to find an alternative cable route, and if not, will she ensure that White Cross is in a position to fully compensate the businesses that will be hugely impacted if the planned cable route proceeds?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a doughty campaigner for floating offshore wind. I am unable to comment on any specific concerns about a particular planning decision, but I am sure the relevant Minister will be happy to meet her to discuss how the Government can provide better guidance on compensation. People whose land is acquired compulsorily should not be left worse off financially, and compensation should be offered in line with the statutory compensation code.

I thank my right hon. Friend for a typically pithy question. We are doing an enormous amount to support the landscape for investments in this country that rely on equity, whether that is through full capital expensing, or, in my area of responsibility, the green industries growth accelerator.

I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that much of Britain’s energy needs could be met, and generated, offshore. Alongside floating wind power, we also have the opportunity to take advantage of tidal and marine power. Does she recognise that Britain has the second largest tidal range in the world after Canada, yet we use so little of it? To put that right, will she agree to meet me, other colleagues in this House and the northern tidal power gateway to look at how we can gain green, renewable, secure British energy from Morecambe bay?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have been following tidal power for many years, and he is right to point out that the UK has both a strong record in renewables and an interesting geological landscape for new renewable technologies. We have dedicated £105 million—our biggest ever budget—to the flow of emerging technologies through AR6, but I would be delighted to meet him to discuss his work further.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. There is always a competition. As I represent Strangford, the fishing sector is very important to me. It is important that we have floating offshore wind projects, but also to ensure that fishing can be sustainable. In these discussions, can she confirm that the interests of the fishing industry and representation from the fishing industry are given appropriate weight, taking into consideration the need for sustainable fishing to continue? Without fishing my people will lose jobs.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. We are passionate supporters of the fishing industry. We continue to have conversations with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we share our marine bed in an equitable way, not only getting the most out of it for our clean energy needs but protecting the fishing industry.

I am sure the Secretary of State does not want a repeat on her watch of the failure of allocation round 5, when her Department managed to crash the offshore wind market. However, the industry is already warning that the parameters set for floating wind in the next round, AR6, could mean that only one sub-gigawatt project succeeds in getting contract for difference support: way off the Government’s recently trumpeted target of 5 GW of floating offshore by 2030. What steps is she taking to ensure that we do not see another failure and lose the global race for this emerging technology?

If people want to ensure that we win the global race for renewable technology, they should, frankly, vote Conservative. Under the Conservatives, world-leading mechanisms have been introduced. The only country that has built more offshore wind capacity than the UK is China. We have an enormous and very successful track record, and continue to work with industry to ensure that AR6 will be a success.

I am not sure that answer gives much reassurance to industry or this House. The truth is that uprating our port infrastructure is critical for deploying floating offshore wind and for reaching a zero carbon power system, but Government support is so inadequate that they are funding only two ports, dropping viable projects on the way, when, according to the floating offshore wind taskforce, to reach floating offshore wind ambitions we need infrastructure upgraded in at least 11 ports. Is this not another example of the Government failing to invest for the future and failing to back British industry?

The only failure on renewable energy is the record Labour left when they were in power, when 7% of our electricity was generated from renewables whereas now that figure is 50%. On ports, not only have we got our world-leading freeport agenda but we have put forward projects such as FLOWMIS—the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme—which is also helping to build our port infrastructure.

With 17 GW of floating offshore wind planned to be anchored within 100 nautical miles of Aberdeen, what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that technological and engineering knowledge and wherewithal and supply chain investment are also anchored within 100 miles of the north-east of Scotland?

We are doing an enormous amount of work on supply chains. We have put forward our £1 billion green industries growth accelerator fund to support British supply chains, and we are also taking steps to attract investment into this country to build British business. All of that will be positive for the Scottish offshore wind sector.

Fuel Poverty: Winter 2023-24

2. What estimate she has made of the number of households that were in fuel poverty in winter 2023-24. (902274)

24. What estimate she has made of the number of households that were in fuel poverty in winter 2023-24. (902297)

As previously stated, fuel poverty is devolved. Statistics for England estimate that there were 3.17 million households in fuel poverty in 2023, over 1.5 million fewer than in 2010.

April’s new price cap will see 6 million households across the UK in fuel poverty and National Energy Action estimates this figure will include 8,800 households in North Tyneside alone. The Government promised their household upgrading scheme would help 100,000 households but in nine months it has helped fewer than 5,000 and only 15 in my constituency. Can the Minister account for the abysmal failure of the flagship policy?

I stand by the Government’s record of support on fuel poverty: we have helped with affordability and with insulation and energy efficiency. We have given unprecedented support to 350,000 households, who were kept out of fuel poverty at the energy peak in 2022.

Electricity standing charges for people in the north-east are 71.2p per day while those in the south pay 40.79p per day. Can the Minister explain why the people in the north-east, the area experiencing the highest levels of fuel poverty in the country, are paying 75% more than those in other regions simply for the privilege of being connected to the grid?

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point on standing charges, which is one reason why we have urged Ofgem to gather information on them. We have had over 30,000 responses and will be looking at this in due course.

In the Office for National Statistics and House of Commons data, fuel poverty in England was 13.5% back in 1996. It rose to 22% by 2010 and, as has already been mentioned, it fell back to 13% in 2023. Does the Minister agree that that shows that Conservatives deliver energy policy with environmental and economic good sense and have done a lot better than the last Labour Government?

As I said, we are incredibly proud of our record on heading towards net zero and ensuring energy security so that never to have to go through the cost of living crisis that we have recently gone through.

Large Solar Farms: National Grid

3. If she will make an assessment of the ability of the National Grid to connect to large solar farms in (a) 2024 and (b) 2029. (902275)

Network companies are expected to deliver connections by the date stipulated in customer connection agreements. Reforms to accelerate the connection process and build times for transmission infrastructure will help to ensure that expectation is met.

May I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities and urge him to focus on this particular issue? According to a recent report by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, 44% of investors in solar power say there are problems getting interconnections with the grid. We know there are issues in the distribution network, which means that the transmission network is probably the only place that large-scale utility solar farms can connect, and people are worried that only particular parts of that network accept contracts. Will the Minister look at that in detail, because there are major concerns in my constituency that there will be connections at Eaton Socon power station, which is one of the few places where contracts are being offered?

That is absolutely understood. As set out in the spring Budget, the Government are working with Ofgem and network companies to release more network capacity and to prevent speculative projects from obtaining and retaining network capacity. That, alongside faster network infrastructure delivery, should result in more capacity across the country and help to reduce any clustering of generation projects.

National grid infrastructure is critical to the delivery and connection of these solar farms, as it is for onshore and offshore wind. The importance and urgency of that was stressed by the Winser review of August last year. The Government have got until 2030 to deliver this policy. Will the Minister update us on the transmission acceleration action plan?

The hon. Member is spot on. We are proud to have gone from 7% renewable energy to 47%. To go further, we must hit those ambitious targets by unlocking additional investment. For example, through the accelerating strategic transmission investment process, we anticipate unlocking a further £198 billion of investment by 2030. Alongside the changes I have already set out, that will be key to getting that extra power generated through solar.

Surely it is not an adequate justification for building solar farms on 10,000 acres within a six-mile radius that Gainsborough is close to the national grid serving the old power stations. Is that not gross overdevelopment on good arable land, and should the inspector not take account of this overdevelopment?

I understand my right hon. Friend’s raising this point. That is why it is clear in planning policy and guidance that solar projects should be directed to previously developed or non-greenfield land. That was the message we reinforced in the January national planning statement to ensure that we reduce unnecessary clustering.

May I also welcome the Minister to his new role? According to National Grid, £58 billion of investment is needed to meet our 2035 decarbonising target. British electricity demand is expected to rise by 64% in the next 10 years, and the current system is still designed around electricity sources of the past, such as coal. New cables need to be built to bring electricity from renewable energy sources, as we have already heard. What assessment has the Department made of the impact this problem is having on green investment?

I thank the hon. Member for her kind words. I enjoyed working with her on many occasions in my former roles. The Government have continued to work with the public and business to unlock additional investment. For example, through the connections action plan, we expect an additional 40 GW of accelerated collection dates to be released, which will particularly help in the area of solar. We are also looking at the £85 billion of investment we have unlocked since the autumn statement through the transmission acceleration action plan. Those are all vital components to hit our ambitious targets.

Net Zero Targets: Business and Investors

4. What recent discussions she has had with businesses and investors on the Government’s net zero targets. (902276)

12. What recent discussions she has had with businesses and investors on the Government’s net zero targets. (902285)

As a Department, our ministerial team meet regularly with industry: for example, through the hydrogen investor forum, the Offshore Wind Industry Council, the solar taskforce, the Green Jobs Delivery Group and the cross-cutting Net Zero Council, which is shortly celebrating its first anniversary.

Car makers warned what would happen before the Government delayed the end date for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. Sure enough, sales of new electric cars are down by 19% in the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Switching to electric driving is cheaper over the lifetime of the vehicle. Why did the Government not listen to the warnings from business? Do they not want people to benefit from cheaper travel?

I proudly drive an electric vehicle myself, and I celebrated the fact that 48,388 electric vehicles were registered in March 2024 alone.

Eight in 10 of the large energy companies recently surveyed by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association agreed that the UK is falling behind in the race to become the most investable market for low-carbon technologies. What steps will the Minister take to reassure the clean energy industry that the UK is serious about the transition to net zero, which must include moving away from a commitment to max out oil and gas production?

I very much welcome the hon. Member’s highlighting the importance of this area. I am sure that he will join me in celebrating the fact that we secured £60 billion of investment in low-carbon technology in 2023, up a staggering 71% on the previous year. We are heading in the right direction to meet our ambitious target.

Does the Minister agree that it is economic madness to pursue our current ruthless net zero agenda, outsourcing carbon production to the likes of China and forcing us to pay more to heat our homes and power our economy? We must put the British taxpayer first.

It is crucial that we work with the public and businesses, not against them. In “Powering up Britain” we set out our plan to secure our energy system by ensuring a resilient and reliable supply, increasing our energy efficiency and, crucially—my hon. Friend will welcome this—bringing down bills.

The Zero Carbon Humber projects are a vital part of the country’s achieving its net zero target. However, there is concern among potential investors—particularly in connection with the carbon cluster projects—that the Government are moving a little too slowly. Will the Minister reassure those businesses that the timetable will be honoured?

My hon. Friend regularly champions investment in his constituency, working closely alongside the businesses he supports. We understand the importance of that. Just before Christmas, we set out a road map to speed up the process, which we very much hope will unlock that vital investment for his community.

I welcome the Minister to his post. I think he is struggling a little bit to get with the programme, but hopefully he will soon be on message. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] That was in terms of his answer to the question about being anti-net zero.

The Department confirmed last month that curtailment payments cost a whopping £1.4 billion last year. That is bill payers’ money being used to pay providers to switch off wind power and switch on gas. Why should people be paying even more on their energy bills to switch off cleaner and cheaper energy because the Government have failed to deliver the net zero capacity that we need?

That is why we have been focusing on expanding the interconnectors network so that, where we produce energy that we cannot use domestically, it can be sold. I also welcome last year’s large-scale expansion of battery farms—they have been springing up at an amazing speed—which allow us to store the energy supplied that exceeds demand.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s predictions of what the curtailment payments will be in the coming year, because they were up for the previous year. In a survey of energy industry leaders, nearly 90% said that we need new policies to make the UK more attractive to investors. Nearly two thirds are moving investment out of the UK, and three quarters blame a lack of clarity from this Government on net zero. Is it not time for Ministers and Back Benchers to drop the culture war and put British industry and jobs first?

On a lack of clarity, I think the shadow Minister has mixed things up with the green prosperity plan. Even I cannot keep up with the latest position of senior figures in the Labour party, but I think the shadow team lost that battle. The reality is that in 2023 we secured £60 billion of private investment in low carbon technology, which was up a staggering 71% on the previous year. That is a credit to our team who delivered that.

Rooftop Solar Panel

The Government recently consulted on the future homes and buildings standards, which explore how we can drive on-site renewable electricity generation, such as solar panels, in new homes and buildings. In December we simplified planning processes for larger rooftop installations by removing the 1 MW cap for non-domestic arrays in permitted development rights.

The CPRE’s rooftop solar campaign calls for far greater emphasis on the installation of solar panels on our nation’s rooftops, rather than the promotion of ground-mounted solar on greenfield and agricultural land, which harms our natural environment and imperils UK food security. Would the Minister be kind enough to read the CPRE’s “Lighting the way” report, which highlights international best practice on this issue?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his recommended reading. I was aware of the CPRE’s rooftop campaign, and I am keen to understand the findings of its latest report. As set out in the British energy security strategy and the energy security plan, we are aiming for 70 GW of solar capacity by 2035. That would be more than quadruple our current installed capacity. We need to maximise the deployment of both types of solar to achieve that ambition.

This is my first chance to offer my condolences to you, Mr Speaker, on the death of your dad. He was a great man and helped induct me into this place when I first came here in 1979.

If we are to have a proper domestic solar roll-out across, we desperately need more trained people in the green sector. What will the Minister do about that? Is it not about time that every university and further education college offered apprenticeships and ways in to these wonderful jobs? Will he talk to industry leaders, such as Octopus, about their shortage of skilled men and women?

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets companies such as Octopus. Through our green jobs delivery plan we are enticing more people into the jobs of the future, to help deliver our ambitious targets. It is interesting to note that Labour’s plans would halve the number of apprenticeships for those jobs in the UK, should it ever get into power.

Onshore Wind Planning Applications

6. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on trends in the number of onshore wind planning applications. (902279)

In 2023, 80 onshore wind planning applications were submitted in Great Britain—a 27% increase from 2022. We have recently changed planning policy in England to pave the way for more onshore wind projects where there is local support.

It is now seven months since the Government claimed to have lifted the onshore wind ban. The Secretary of State at the time claimed that her decision would speed up the delivery of projects. Since then, no new applications for onshore wind farms for domestic use have been submitted. Does the Minister think that that has been a success?

Unlike the Opposition, we like to work with and listen to communities around the country. We believe in local consent for projects. It should be up to local communities to decide whether and how much onshore wind they want in their area. The Opposition do not like to talk about this, but we must remember that in 2010, a pitiful 7% of electricity came from renewables—that is up to 50% under this Government.

Solar Farms: Impact on Local Communities

As with any new development, solar projects may impact communities. The planning system considers all perspectives when balancing local impacts with national need. It is important that local areas benefit from hosting net zero infrastructure. Many developers already offer community benefit packages.

If the Minister had wanted to see the impact that a massive solar farm, such as the so-called Lime Down carbuncle in my constituency, will have on local people, he should have come to Malmesbury town hall last week, where 750 people were protesting against this appalling plan in North Wiltshire. It is going to be 2,000 acres of panels, 3 million panels, 5,000 acres blighted, and 30 miles to the nearest connection down at Melksham. It is an absolutely disgraceful proposal. It comes at a time when Wiltshire has eight out of 10 of the largest solar farms. We already have enough, vastly exceeding our county target for solar production. Will the Minister consider the cumulative effect of all these solar farms? Will he ask the National Infrastructure Commission to take into account the cumulative effect of solar farms when considering such applications?

I very much thank my hon. Friend for that question. He raises a very interesting topic, and one that we are listening to. The project he speaks to is at the pre-application stage. An application is expected to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate between January and March 2025. Due to my quasi-judicial role in determining applications for development consent, it is not appropriate to comment on any specific matters. I am aware that some of his constituents are coming to Parliament this Thursday and I will be happy to meet them to discuss their concerns.

Decarbonisation: Off-grid Properties

The Government offer grants of £7,500 to those wanting to install a heat pump, or £5,000 to install a biomass boiler, under the boiler upgrade scheme. Support for energy efficiency upgrades and low-carbon heat is also available through our help to heat schemes.

Cornwall has a very large number of off-grid properties. One way they can decarbonise their heating is through the use of renewable liquid heating fuel. Last year, the Government said there would be a consultation on promoting and supporting the use of that fuel in the coming months. However, in response to a recent written question it was suggested that it would not be launched until at least September this year. Will the Government bring forward the consultation as soon as possible, so we can help people to decarbonise through the use of renewable fuels?

The Government recognise the potential for renewable liquid fuels to play a role in decarbonising heat where heat pumps are unsuitable, and we are working at pace to develop a consultation that will explore that role in more detail. We will be issuing a consultation in September, in line with commitments made by Ministers during parliamentary debates on the Energy Act 2023.

I support the cause of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). The transition to hydrotreated vegetable oil is far cheaper than heat pumps; we are talking about a conversion that be done in an hour for about £500. I urge the Government to proceed on that with haste.

It is important to note that we are taking this matter incredibly seriously. We are also providing funding to tackle fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions through the energy company obligation, the home upgrade grant and the social housing decarbonisation fund.

Nuclear Energy Capacity

The historic nuclear road map that I announced in January reconfirmed the Government’s ambition to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050. The road map sets out plans to make investment decisions concerning 3 GW to 7 GW every five years between 2030 and 2040.

Nuclear is essential not just for our economy but for our national security. A truly sovereign supply does not just mean commissioning new reactors but increasing our skills base, so I welcome the £750 million invested in that. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that people in communities such as Heywood and Middleton can access that skills funding, so they can take advantage of high-skilled, well-paid jobs in the sector?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a doughty champion in this area—indeed, he should be with Atom Valley in his constituency. As he references, last month the Prime Minister announced significant investment in developing the nuclear skills pipeline, helping the sector to fill 40,000 new jobs by the end of the decade, including supporting plans to double the number of nuclear apprentices and quadruple the number of specialist sites and nuclear fission PhDs.

Green Technologies: Investment

The UK has already made tremendous progress in securing investment in green technologies. Recent figures indicate that the UK saw £60 billion of investment in 2023, meaning that since 2010 the UK has seen £300 billion of public and private investment in low-carbon sectors. As a Department, the ministerial team and I meet regularly with investors, such as through our second hydrogen investor forum event and regular roundtables to understand how we can better encourage investment.

It is true that the UK has a remarkable track record of winning investment in green technology, but given that other countries are now proceeding apace with their own green investment plans, does my hon. Friend agree that if we can show that we have effective policies for speeding up planning consents for energy projects and expanding grid capacity at a far faster rate, and if we can fix our contracts for difference regime, we shall be able to demonstrate to investors once again that this is the very best place in which to invest in such technology?

My right hon. Friend is right: we have a proud record of investment in green and clean technologies, and in many respects we are leading the world in that regard. Last year we launched our Giga project and this year we are launching CfD allocation round 6, which is the stand-out leader when it comes to enticing investors—but of course we can go faster and further, and where we can we will. That is why I am so pleased to see the work that is being done within my Department and, indeed, with industry with the aim of doing just that.

Given that there is no more important technology in the UK’s green industries than hydrogen, I was pleased to note that, after much dilly-dallying, the Department had listened to my continued advocacy of hydrogen blending in pipes. I look forward to seeing its plans imminently, but what support is it giving to home appliance providers who want to take advantage of the benefits of hydrogen to create hydrogen-ready technology that can be used for both blended and fully hydrogen-powered appliances?

My hon. Friend is another doughty champion for one of the expanding sectors in which we are investing: his championing of the hydrogen industry in this country is unmatched. I should be happy to meet him to discuss how we can progress further and speed up investment in hydrogen, which will be key to securing the progress of so many of our ambitious projects.

Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), I co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on green deal mis-selling. After nearly 10 years, we are still waiting for justice for our constituents who were told to invest in green technologies for their homes. A legal process is under way, but it is very lengthy. Most of our affected constituents were over 70 when all this happened, and some were over 80.

There must be a political solution. Numerous Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State have agreed that what happened to our constituents was dreadful, so why do they not find a solution that will encourage other people to feel confident that they too can invest in green technologies in the knowledge that the Government have their backs should it go wrong?

I agree with the hon. Lady that what happened was dreadful. As she has said, an ongoing legal process is under way so I am restricted in what I can say at the Dispatch Box, but I should be happy to meet her in the coming days to discuss the specifics involving her constituents who were affected.

The south-west is proud to be punching above its weight in green technology, and will soon welcome a £4 billion gigafactory at the Gravity site near Bridgwater which will create 4,000 new jobs and boost the green economy. Investment in infrastructure around the country is needed if we are to see more developments of that kind, so what steps is the Department planning to facilitate such ventures?

It is fantastic to hear Liberal Democrats champion Conservative policies that are bringing investment and new jobs into the country—for that is what happens under a Conservative Government—and it is great that a gigafactory is planned for the south-west. As a result of Giga and so many of the other projects and funds launched by the Department, we expect to see many more such developments, but of course there is work to be done: we can go further and faster, and, as I have said, where we can we will. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady in further championing the UK as the destination of choice for all who want to invest in these new technologies.

Grid Decarbonisation: Cost

23. What recent estimate she has made of the cost of decarbonising the grid by (a) 2030 and (b) 2035. (902296)

Our plans to decarbonise the grid by 2035 are ambitious but achievable, and have been assessed as realistic by the Climate Change Committee. They will build on the UK’s achievement in becoming the first major economy to have halved emissions. According to independent analysis, securing a net zero grid by 2030 would cost taxpayers £116 billion, and it would mean a “made in China” transition.

The Conservatives have a strong track record of promoting renewables, and this Government are supporting British companies and supply chains through programmes such as Giga with funding which now stands at more than £1 billion. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour’s unaffordable and unrealistic plans to achieve a net zero grid by 2030 will not give British supply chains time to grow, as well as meaning the “made in China” transition to which she has referred?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Only recently, we have seen European countries having to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas. We cannot do that, only to become dependent on other parts of the world for our energy needs. Our plan will give British supply chains time to develop, ensuring that British workers can reap the benefits of the energy transition. According to expert analysis, the Labour plans will cost taxpayers £100 billion—all to undermine British manufacturing and risk blackouts.

As the Secretary of State is aware, the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into decarbonising the economy has heard evidence that no newly commissioned nuclear capacity—even from small modular reactors—is able to come on stream until 2035. New energy projects given planning consent today are unlikely to connect to the grid before 2030, and the scale of the necessary grid network roll-out to reach our 2035 target is already huge. What does my right hon. Friend make of the feasibility, let alone the cost that she has highlighted today, of the fantasy pipe dream of official Labour party policy to decarbonise by 2030?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The plans that we have set out represent the largest expansion of nuclear in 70 years, with radical reforms to the grid. However, it does take time to build things. Labour’s 2030 policy is mad, bad and downright dangerous. I have yet to meet a serious expert or a single person in the industry who believes it is possible. We have a record to be proud of, becoming the first major economy to halve our emissions, but Labour’s plans would heap costs on to taxpayers, in stark contrast to our pragmatic and proportionate approach.

If grid decarbon-isation by 2030 really did cost the billions of pounds that the Secretary of State claims, she might care to explain why her own policy is to achieve 95% of full decarbonisation by the very same date. She knows that independent analysis actually says that Labour’s plan would reduce families’ energy bills by £300 a year, so will she ’fess up? Will she admit that the true price of her failure will be paid for by hard-pressed families in their energy bills?

I would completely reject that, based on the many conversations that I have had with industry and experts. The plans that we have set out have been assessed by the Climate Change Committee as being realistic. The plans that the Labour party has set out have been criticised by pretty much every single part of the energy system. Rather than playing politics with this issue, the hon. Gentleman should consider the reality of the taxes, the raised bills and the problems with the economy that Labour’s plans would force on Britain.

Last year, the Government promised that they would publish their decarbonisation plan by the end of 2023, but they have failed to do so. Is that because the Secretary of State is too embarrassed to admit the truth? She is way off track, even for delivering clean power by 2035, because she has bungled the offshore wind auction, is failing on energy efficiency and refuses to end the onshore wind ban. Is it not the case that she wants to attack Labour’s plan because she cannot defend her own?

I thank the hon. Lady, but that is an extraordinary question. There would be much more credibility from the Labour party if it would recognise that the UK is the first country in the G20—the 20 largest economies—to halve emissions. While Labour Members might play politics with this issue, I am absolutely happy to defend our position on dealing with our climate change obligations in a pragmatic way that protects household finances.

Public Ownership of the Energy System

13. Whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of public ownership of the energy system. (902286)

Properly regulated markets, which incentivise private capital to invest in the energy system, provide the best outcome for consumers and promote market competition as the best driver of efficiency, innovation and value.

Despite the Minister’s disagreement, public ownership exists in our energy system. For example, 45% of our offshore wind assets are publicly owned, just not by the UK—they belong to the state-owned companies of countries such as Denmark and Norway. Publicly owned energy companies can accelerate the transition to clean energy while creating jobs, reducing bills and ensuring that the public benefit directly from our common resources. Countries that are leading the transition to renewables have realised this; when will the Minister?

I thank the hon. Member. It is flattering: I am 48 hours into my role, and she would like to upgrade it so that I can personally be in charge of delivering energy companies. I gently remind her that in her own local authority of Nottingham City Council, Robin Hood Energy, which was chaired by a politician—the public probably want fewer, not more, of us—managed to cost taxpayers a staggering £38 million.

LNG Emissions: Impact of Oil and Gas Licences

15. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the number of oil and gas licences issued by her Department on the level of carbon emissions from imported liquefied natural gas. (902288)

North Sea Transition Authority analysis shows that producing natural gas domestically is almost four times cleaner than importing liquefied natural gas from abroad. Without continued licensing, our dependence on imported oil and gas, including LNG, will only increase more quickly in the future.

I have always been a fan of us fully exploiting our natural resources. We have got to take a pragmatic route to cutting our carbon emissions, but at the forefront of our thinking must also be driving down energy costs, boosting energy security and not doing anything that enfeebles our country on the global stage. Does the Minister agree that this is the right approach in terms of energy costs and that not importing as much liquefied natural gas will also make our carbon footprint smaller?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s analysis. Utilising our own domestic resources is just common sense when the alternative is to import more fuels from abroad. It would be an act of self-sabotage to put restrictions on our own domestic sector, damaging jobs and investment only to liquefy and ship gas from halfway around the world and create more emissions in the process.

I welcome the Minister to his post, but he will know that most of our gas imports are not LNG and that they actually come via a pipeline from Norway, where gas production is half as polluting as it is in the UK. New oil and gas would not only be disastrous for our climate; it would also fail to boost energy security. Following the welcome announcement that the UK will finally withdraw from the energy charter treaty, will the Government also reverse their decision to license the Rosebank oil field, which will cost the climate and the public purse extremely dear?

I thank the hon. Member for her kind comments. While we scale up our clean energy success, including in renewables, which have gone from 7% to 40%, there is still a need for oil and gas. A failure to issue a new licence would make no difference to the consumption of oil and gas, but it would increase imports, which typically have higher emissions, and also damage our economy.

Offshore Energy Grids

The Minister will be aware of the Norwich to Tilbury pylon proposals, which will put 50-metre pylons through swathes of the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex countryside. He will also be aware that the recent electricity system operator review indicated that it will soon be cost-neutral to have an offshore option for that same energy transition, and that multiple points for connecting offshore wind turbines to the grid are facing planning problems. Will he do what he can to engage with National Grid and get it to do the right thing and look at a cost-neutral option of offshore transmission, rather than the current onshore proposal?

My hon. Friend has a long-standing record of making powerful suggestions on behalf of his constituents and neighbouring constituencies on this important issue. The ESO’s recent study considered a total of a nine alternative options for transmission routes in East Anglia, including three predominantly offshore options and two hybrid onshore and offshore options. It is important that we try to work with communities.

Topical Questions

I would first like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), who served this Government for eight years, including as Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero since 2022. He will be missed in the role for his expertise. He attended his first COP in 2005 and was instrumental in our achievements at COP28 last year. He helped the UK to halve its emissions, which is an extraordinary achievement. We are the first major economy to do so. He also worked with the Net Zero Council, protecting families through the global energy crisis and backing 200,000 British oil and gas workers. He leaves a legacy of which he can be very proud. I would also like to welcome the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), a tireless campaigner who I know will continue this Government’s world-leading work.

Since I last updated the House, families are benefiting from a drop in the energy price cap worth almost £250 a year to the average household. I have set out plans to reform tariffs, saving bill payers up to £900 a year, and invested £750 million in nuclear skills as part of my plans for the largest expansion of nuclear in 70 years.

The consultation on renewable liquid fuels from September is welcome, but the recent survey by the Future Ready Fuel campaign showed that 88% of respondents from off-grid households actively want the option of switching to a renewable liquid fuel. Will my right hon. Friend work with me to ensure that we can get consumers the choices that they actually want, and not the heat pumps that many do not?

I thank my hon. Friend. I know that he is a fantastic champion for people living off the gas grid. We are supporting off-grid homes to transition to heat pumps or biomass boilers through the boiler upgrade scheme, with grants of up to £7,500. Renewable fuels such as hydrotreated vegetable oil have the potential to play an important role in heating off-grid buildings, and we will be issuing a consultation on that role by September, in line with commitments made by Ministers during the passage of the Energy Act 2023.

Mr Speaker, can I start by paying tribute to your father, Doug? He was a remarkable fighter for social justice, and we share your sense of loss.

A year ago, after presiding over the absolute scandal of the forced installation of prepayment meters, the right hon. Lady’s predecessor promised full compensation for anyone affected. Unbelievably, she has left it to the energy companies to decide who gets compensation and how much. They have assessed 150,000 people and just 1,500 got anything—99% got nothing. Why has she so catastrophically failed to deliver justice for those affected by the PPM scandal?

The right hon. Gentleman does actually raise an important issue. We have gripped the question of prepayment meters since the scandal first emerged. Not only have we made it clear that the horrors that we saw last winter, of people forcing prepayment meters on vulnerable households, should not take place, but I have been in contact with Ofgem in recent days about making sure that people can get the compensation they deserve at the speed with which they need it.

That is simply not good enough. It is a year on. The right hon. Lady is the Energy Secretary; she should be delivering that compensation to people, and she is failing across the board. The onshore wind ban remains; the offshore wind market crashes; the insulation schemes are a disaster, while she spends her time appeasing the flat-earth, anti-net zero brigade in her own party. No wonder the former Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) resigned. Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State is failing in her job and the British people are paying the price?

The right hon. Gentleman did not listen to my previous answer. It was this Government who worked with Ofgem to make sure that forced prepayment meter installation stopped taking place for vulnerable households. We have said very clearly that it is abhorrent, and we do not want to see it again. On compensation, we are working with Ofgem.

However, if the right hon. Gentleman talks about the wider energy plans—and we should do that—I think that he should consider the recent comments from industry that Labour’s plans would leave the country uninvestable, that they would hike the bills that people would pay, and that they would cost so much in needed taxes—over £100 billion of costs for Labour’s mad plans to decarbonise the grid by 2030, which, let me be clear, are not backed by industry, the unions or consumers.

T4. We have seen the price of fuel go up at the pumps because of what has happened in Ukraine, but, in this country, we have also seen that there is great variety at different petrol stations. I am really pleased that the Competition and Markets Authority has looked into it and that the Government are coming forward with Pumpwatch. We have seen something similar in Australia that saves up to £50 for the individual. Can we make sure that, when this comes into play, the Government have an advertising campaign so that the public know that they will be able to see local prices, up to date every 30 minutes, for the best place to get their fuel? (902309)

We will publish the Government’s response to the recent Pumpwatch consultation as soon as possible, and we continue to work closely with the Competition and Markets Authority, and the sector technology companies, to launch Pumpwatch this year. Of course, my hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point that, when we launch this, we will of course make sure that everybody knows about this valuable resource.

We learned last year that no fewer than 200 Department for Energy Security and Net Zero jobs were going to transfer from London to Aberdeen. That was championed by no less than the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) and the Minister responsible for nuclear and renewables, the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). It now transpires that only 35 jobs will transfer to Aberdeen. For context, that is 0.37% of the DESNZ workforce. Is the Secretary of State content for that derisory transfer of jobs from her Department to Aberdeen? Presumably she will not be, so what is she going to do about it to give the north-east of Scotland a better deal?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. We are very proud—I am particularly proud—that we have announced Aberdeen as our second headquarters. Hosting our second headquarters underlines the importance of the north-east of Scotland in our net zero transition. Unlike the Scottish National party, we champion the north-east of Scotland. They are anti-exploration, anti-new licences and anti-oil and gas. The headquarters already has more than 100 staff, and our ambition is for more than 135 by March 2027. I have been doing some research, though: it turns out that the Scottish Government—his party’s Government—have a grand total of zero jobs in his own constituency of Angus.

T9. Residents in Cranbrook and Tithebarn have faced frequent energy outages and woeful customer service from E.ON’s district heating networks. The Government’s Energy Act 2023 means that district heating networks will finally be properly regulated. Will my right hon. Friend outline when this regulation will be brought in? (902314)

The initial phase of heat network regulation, including transparency rules, will come into force in 2025. Some requirements, such as pricing regulation and guaranteed performance standards, require more market data and will be introduced in the second-phase regulation in 2026.

T2.   Does the Minister acknowledge that the alarming delays in track 1 carbon capture and storage expansion and track 2 timelines endanger the Humber’s status as a global leader in hydrogen and CCS, endanger £15 billion of private investment and jeopardise industrial decarbonisation and economic growth? (902307)

We recognise the role that CCS can play for the economy not just in the Humber but across the wider British economy, which is why we have set out £20 billion of investment committed to this sector. We set out an ambitious road map just before Christmas, and we continue to meet investors to see how we can speed up the process.

I have been speaking to my constituents about the whole net zero agenda. Although the people of Romford are very determined to see cleaner and greener energy sources, I have to say that their priority is energy security, energy self-sufficiency and energy sovereignty. I am worried that we are not taking the people with us on net zero, because many people simply cannot afford this extreme agenda that could end up giving China a competitive advantage and bankrupting our own country.

Order. I remind Members that these are topical questions. I have to get through them. Just because the hon. Gentleman missed out on Question 18, it does not mean that he can have an extended topical question. Let us help each other.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) highlights the importance of working with the public and business. Whereas the shadow Secretary of State sneers at those who are sceptical, we have to win hearts and minds. That is why my hon. Friend will welcome our “Powering Up Britain” plan to secure our energy system by ensuring a resilient and reliable supply, increasing our energy efficiency and, crucially, bringing down bills.

T3. Did the former Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), leave because he is worried about losing his seat to Labour at the next election, or because he could no longer bear to support the woeful energy policy of this Government? Which one was it? (902308)

I direct the hon. Gentleman to the letter of my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart). I reiterate our pride in his work and the amazing contribution he has made to this Government and this country.

Clayton-le-Moors in my constituency is home to the Lancashire centre for alternative technologies, initiated by the Government’s getting building fund. Will the Minister agree to visit to see how the centre is providing financial and research and development support to accelerate the commercialisation of low-carbon technologies?

I agree that it is incredibly encouraging and exciting to see those developments. I would, of course, be delighted to visit my hon. Friend in her constituency at any time.

T5.   Energy Security and Net Zero questions has once again proved to me how out of touch this place is with the rest of the country. The poorest 40% of UK households will be made much worse off by net zero policies, according to a report from York University. The poor in Ashfield will get poorer, and rich eco-fanatics like Dale Vince will get richer and pass on some of his millions to that lot in the Labour party and Just Stop Oil. Can the Minister confirm how much net zero will cost, to the nearest trillion pounds? (90310)

I am very proud of what this Government have done to protect the poorest in society from rising bills, which are the result of international factors and a volatile gas market. I make it absolutely clear that the only way that Dale Vince, the climate extremist, and his enablers will come anywhere close to having influence on energy policy is if a Labour Government are elected. Frankly, that is the only thing that voting Reform will achieve.

At my constituency surgery on Friday, I met representatives of the Riddings Lane solar action group who are concerned about the proposals to build a new solar farm covering 145 football fields’ worth of land between the villages of Gleaston, Dendron, Leece and Newbiggin. Does the Minister agree that solar farms are great but should not go on prime agricultural land?

As my hon. Friend is aware, we have a presumption against building on the best and most versatile agricultural land. Due to my quasi-judicial role in planning I cannot speak to the issue directly, but I am very happy to meet him and, indeed, any representatives from his constituency to discuss the project in question.

T6. I have been contacted by a popular village pub that is struggling with its energy debt and astronomical energy bill. Such pubs are at the heart of our local communities and they are closing at an alarming rate. Will the Secretary of State consider measures to enable them to manage their historical debt by allowing them to pay it off more slowly, or supporting them in another way so that we can keep these important pubs open? (902311)

I could not agree more that these pubs are at the heart of our communities, which is one reason why I have regular meetings with UKHospitality to think about how we can look at bills, including things such as blend and extend.

On Ynys Môn, companies such as Mona Lifting in Llangefni, supported by the Green Digital Academy, which has been funded by £2.7 million from the community renewal fund, are working hard to use their businesses to help to deliver net zero with the installation of solar panels and charging points. Does the Minister agree that it is thanks to the UK Government that innovative, forward-thinking companies such as Mona Lifting are leading the way so we can deliver net zero?

My hon. Friend once again champions her constituency, working with businesses so that in conjunction we can drive up our use of renewables. It is thanks to this Government that we changed the planning rules to make it easier to set up large-scale solar installations. I also welcome households playing their part, with 17,000 solar-panel installations a month last year.

T7. Thank you, and big hugs, Mr Speaker, for the loss of your father.My constituent Joe Stean did the right thing and switched the family car to electric, but now the cost and lack of charging points have put him into fuel poverty. What are the Government doing to encourage charging options for people who do not live in detached homes? Is it true that the new Minister voted against the zero-emissions vehicle mandate? (902312)

It is an important point. As a proud electric car driver, I have concerns that not all people have equal access to charging, which I have on the driveway to my house. I was therefore thrilled when the Government managed to deliver a 50% increase in EV charging points in the last year alone.

Energy security is national security, and food security is national security. Up and down the country there are plenty of rooftops, residential, industrial and agricultural, that are suitable for solar panels. Will my hon. Friend the Minister reassure the country that we will prioritise those sites for our solar footprint, rather than jeopardising prime food-producing land or, indeed, our precious greenbelt?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Food security and energy security are both vital, which is why the UK solar taskforce identified the need to address barriers relating to rooftop solar deployment, including access to finance as a priority. The rooftop subgroup was established to focus specifically on this area, and we are exploring options to facilitate low-cost finance from retail lenders to help households and businesses with the up-front cost of solar installation on rooftops.

T8. Smart meters are vital to help families to cut bills and save money on their energy outlay, yet the Government’s own figures show that 4 million smart meters are faulty. Is that not another catastrophic failure? When is the Secretary of State going to get a grip on the issue? (902313)

Clearly this is an issue that concerns us in the Government, which is why we are striving to do everything that we can to make sure that we are solving the issue.

T10. The giant pylons—they are absolutely huge—associated with the transmission route have caused grave concern in the highlands. Can I have an assurance that strong consideration will be given to undergrounding the cables near the communities that are affected and, indeed, to going under the ocean where that is possible? [Interruption.] (902315)

While the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) heckles to say that there is yet another nimby, we recognise that we want to work with communities and respect local knowledge to inform present and future works. All transmission projects are required to progress through the robust planning process, which includes statutory consultations and individual planning reviews, and I am sure that the hon. Member will feed into that directly.

Forty per cent. of properties in this country do not even have an energy performance certificate, and of those that do in the private rented sector, and in the private ownership sector, only 30% are EPC C rated. Last year, we made an improvement of only 1% on this. EPC C is the standard, so when does the Minister expect that we will ever get to 100% EPC C in our housing stock, and what are the Government doing to increase the speed of the process?

The pace of delivery of the Great British insulation scheme is accelerating quickly, with the rate of delivery doubling over the past three months. We have a proud record on energy efficiency. In 2010, we inherited a situation in which only 14% of homes were well insulated, but now we have that figure up to nearly 50%.