HC Deb 05 April 1982 vol 21 cc683-4
21. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to announce the results of consultants' reports on projects for combined heat and power systems.

Mr. Mellor

The results of our consultant's investigations on combined heat and power will be announced after consultation with interested parties.

Mr. Spearing

While I thank the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he would agree that the results of the investigations are taking rather a long time? Does he agree that there are a number of power stations in the country that would be suitable for active experiments on a large scale with this sort of project? Cannot the hon. Gentleman hurry up the programme?

Mr. Mellor

The Atkins committee, which was set up following Dr. Marshall's inquiry, was originally due to report in January. There has been a small slippage to April, which those who follow these matters will understand, having regard to the complexity of the issues that are involved. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are interested in the whole idea of heat and power district heating schemes and we shall be studying the report with great interest when it arrives shortly.

Mr. Cryer

Meanwhile, are not local power stations being closed in rapid succession? They are the very sorts of power stations that would be ideal for combined heat and energy schemes. Why do not the Government hurry up the process and stop the closure of these power stations, because some people are suspicious that this is being done to create capacity to be filled with nuclear power generation?

Mr. Mellor

If the electricity supply industry, whose decisions these are, were to fail to close small and uneconomic power stations and that led to an increase in the price of electricity, the first person to complain would be the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer).

Mr. Rost

Can my hon. Friend confirm that when the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill becomes an Act it will provide an important stimulus to the development of combined heat and power, because the gas monopoly has restricted the use of gas to industrial CHP?

Mr. Mellor

It is right that we have shown some concern at the apparent difficulty of combined heat and power schemes using gas getting off the ground because of supply difficulties. There is no doubt in the mind of the Government that the effect of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill will be to make more supplies of gas available to a domestic market that is currently underprovided for.

Mr. John Evans

Will the Minister confirm that the only power stations that are being closed are the old, small, clapped-out ones that would cost an absolute fortune to modernise and put back into commission?

Mr. Mellor

I am very grateful for the robust common sense of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans). According to the merit table that the electricity supply industry has to use, the difference in the costs of generation in a large, efficient power station compared with some of the smaller ones is so marked that we cannot allow sentimentality to intrude on what is a case of hard economics, as I think the hon. Gentleman recognises.