HC Deb 28 March 1963 vol 674 cc1507-10
2. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of Power if he will give a general direction to the Central Electricity Generating Board to review their proposals for oil-firing of power stations, as opposed to coal-firing.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. John Peyton)

No, Sir.

Mr. Dalyell

Is sufficient consideration being given to the fact that what is really relevant is the comparative prices of oil and coal in the 1980s? Is it not likely that for geological if not political reasons the real cost of oil will rise?

Mr. Peyton

All these matters are considered by the Generating Board. It would be wrong for my right hon. Friend to give directions to the Board at every turn. Its duty primarily is to provide electricity on an economic basis.

19. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Minister of Power what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government on whether new power stations are to be fuelled by coal or by oil.

25. Mr. T. Fraser

asked the Minister of Power if, in view of the declared policy of Her Majesty's Government of giving preference to areas of high unemployment in allocating contracts, he will ensure that all conventional power stations constructed in such areas, with adequate coal reserves nearby, will be coal-fired.

The Minister of Power Mr. Richard Wood)

When I consider an application for a power station I take account of where the load is, what different fuels are available and how much they cost. I cannot give an undertaking that in the circumstances described by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr T. Fraser) I shall consent only to coal-fired stations.

Mr. Hughes

But can the Minister say how far he co-operates with the Secretary of State for Scotland on these issues of principle? Is he aware that there is exceedingly great interest in Scotland because a large part of the future of the coal industry depends on this? Can the right hon. Gentleman prod the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to some decision?

Mr. Wood

I co-operate with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland as closely as possible on as many problems as possible, but the problem which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is a matter which is now being discussed between the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board. I have no reason to believe that they will not be able to come to an amicable arrangement on the possibilities for the future, but I am afraid that I cannot say that they have come to one yet.

Mr. T. Fraser

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the differential in price between oil and coal for the fuelling of power stations anywhere in these mining areas is bound to be infinitesimal. I think that it would probably work out in favour of coal, but the difference is bound to be infinitesimal. Would not it be totally absurd to build a power station on top of a coal field and fire it with oil, and thus deny employment to about 10,000 miners in the area and involve the Government in considerable expense in trying to find alternative work for those people?

Mr. Wood

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I cannot think of any station which has been built on a coal field and which is fired by oil.

Mr. Fraser

I am talking about the future.

Mr. Wood

The hon. Gentleman is asking whether it would happen in the future. I cannot give him an undertaking that in all circumstances oil would not be justified, but I bear in mind, and I shall continue to do so, the considerations which I expressed in my first Answer.

Sir E. Leather

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in several other countries power stations are being built with firing equipment which is readily and economically convertible from one fuel to another, and is there any reason why we should not do that in this country, with all the great advantages that it gives?

Mr. Wood

My hon. Friend may not know that I recently gave my consent to such a dual-fired power station on the Medway. That was announced a few months ago.

20. Mr. Darling

asked the Minister of Power what are the relative technical and financial advantages in the use of oil-firing equipment and modern cyclone coal-firing equipment in electric power stations.

Mr. Peyton

The cyclone firing of coal depends for its success on the use of coal with suitable physical properties, especially as regards ash. Many British coals have not been found suitable. There are no major technical difficulties in burning oil. General financial comparison is not possible because the relation of coal to oil prices varies at different power stations, depending on sources and transport costs.

Mr. Darling

If there are no substantial advantages in oil-fired equipment over modern coal-fired equipment, provided that the right kind of fuel is used, can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us why the conversion of Lots Road Power Station has taken place in view of the fact that this conversion, which apparently has no financial and technical advantages, will throw a considerable number of miners out of work in the North-East? Does he realise that his Answer is in complete conflict with one given by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, on 6th March, who said that there was a heavy balance of technical and financial advantage in the use of oil?

Mr. Peyton

I think that the misunderstanding lies with the hon. Gentleman who, I do not doubt, will benefit enormously from reading my Answer in the morning. I pointed out that there are no major technical difficulties in burning oil. The Answer given by my right hon. Friend previously to the Gentleman is absolutely correct and at no point at variance with what I have said.

Mr. Darling

The Question asks not only what is the balance of technical advantages but what are the financial advantages, too. If there is no financial advantage in it, what is the point of throwing miners out of work in order to make this conversion?

Mr. Peyton

What I said in my Answer was that general financial comparison is not possible. Particular financial comparisons are always made by the Generating Board. Naturally, it is its duty to do so as it is its duty to choose the fuel which will be most economic.