HC Deb 03 May 1976 vol 910 cc812-4
5. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will discuss with the Central Electricity Generating Board a proposed programme of measures required to raise the thermal efficiency of electricity generation in the United Kingdom to average European standards.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alex Eadie)

As I indicated to the hon. Member on 5th April, it is extremely difficult to make meaningful international comparisons of thermal efficiency. The CEGB is continually seeking ways of increasing the thermal efficiency of its system, and over the past 10 years has achieved an improvement of about 3.3 percentage points. It is confident that by a programme of continuous plant monitoring and modification it will be able to achieve further improvements in the future.

Mr. Rost

Does the Minister not accept that meaningful comparisons have been made—particularly by the EEC—on a strictly comparable basis, which show that the CEGB is bottom of the European league on thermal efficiency? Will he not at least instigate an inquiry into the reasons for this, as there would be savings in fuel and electricity bills to the consumer if we got up to the average European standards?

Mr. Eadie

There are reasons, as the hon. Gentleman knows, for this situation, principally because the CEGB system contains a smaller proportion of hydroelectric plant than systems in other EEC countries. That is a fact. This type of plant is capable of a more flexible mode of operation than are conventional steam-fired plants and can meet demand peaks more efficiently. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is also the question of age. I should tell him and the House that the highest thermal efficiencies in 1974 were achieved by the Fawley oil-fired station and the Ratcliffe coal-fired station, which both achieved efficiency in excess of 37 per cent.

Mr. Palmer

Does the Minister not agree that our electricity supply industry could have no conceivable reason whatever for maintaining a low thermal efficiency if it could attain a higher one? The difficulty is the nature of our system as against, say, the French or German system.

Mr. Eadie

As my hon. Friend knows, there is an investigation going on about this at the present time. The subject is currently being considered by a study group under the chairmanship of the Department's chief scientist.

Mr. Rost

Will the Minister not admit that he himself has published figures that do not take into account hydro-electric power, and that the figures are therefore on a comparable basis? Furthermore, the Plowden Committee has criticised the CEGB for using its fuel inefficiently. Will the hon. Gentleman not instigate an inquiry in his Department?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman is talking about figures that I supplied to him in answer to a Question. I did say that those figures were accurate. I am not questioning the accuracy of the hon. Gentleman's question. However, the CEGB has clear responsibilities—which have been recognised by Plowden and by the CEGB—for improving performance in this area, and it is accepting that responsibility. Different factors apply as between this country and the EEC countries, and hydro-electric power is one of them.

Mr. Skinner

In view of the relatively low thermal efficiency in some power stations, of all kinds, including coal-fired power stations but mainly oil-fired power stations, would it not be a good idea to introduce the two new coal-fired power stations—Drax B and Burton B—in order to raise the overall level of efficiency for all the others?

Mr. Eadie

I could not agree more. This whole question is being examined, as my hon. Friend knows. The question of extra coal-fired power stations is being discussed by the various sub-groups. However, the fact remains that we are talking about the age of our power stations, and that is a fact that the House and the country cannot ignore.