HC Deb 31 January 1983 vol 36 cc7-8
7. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what surplus of generating capacity for the efficient running of the grid and providing for future consumption he takes into account in considering the approval of new investment in generating capacity.

Mr. Lawson

Since the Conservative party took office investment by the electricity industry has been approved only to reduce costs and to increase diversity of supply, not to increase capacity. However, the planning margin which the Central Electricity Generating Board has used hitherto is currently under review.

Mr. Skeet

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greater part of excess capacity is made up of old and inefficient plant and that it is largely coal-fired? In acquiring further capacity, will he take into consideration the need to acquire additional technology and to diversify fuel sources?

Mr. Lawson

My hon. Friend is quite right. The diversification of fuel supplies is an important considera-tion. That is one of the important arguments in favour of increasing the proportion of our electricity that is generated by nuclear power.

Mr. Race

If nuclear power is so cheap compared with the production of power by other means, why was the publication of the new study by the CEGB into the relative costs of nuclear, coal and oil-fired energy postponed from October to November, from November to December and from December to January? Who is sitting on it?

Mr. Lawson

Nothing is being sat on. As a result of the Sizewell inquiry and the great interest that is taken in such matters, more information than ever before is being provided. Sometimes it takes a little longer than hitherto to provide such information. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman and the whole House would welcome that extra information.

Mr. Forman

In the review of the planning margin, will my right hon. Friend take full account of the growth of pump storage for the electricity system, since that must benefit the efficiency of the system?

Mr. Lawson

Yes, Sir. However, its contribution—although important—is relatively modest.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it would be foolish to shift the balance of energy away from coal to any other form of fuel when there is a temporary lull in the oil market? Will he also confirm that during the 1950s and 1960s many people, including, in various Governments, Ministers in the right hon. Gentleman's position, made a grave error in turning away from coal and closing pits that should have been kept open and could be producing coal now? We do not want to make that mistake again.

Mr. Lawson

Since we generate about 82 per cent. of our electricity from coal, the hon. Gentleman is hardly on a very good point. He has overlooked the fact that this Government introduced and extended the coal-fired boiler conversion scheme. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that the extent to which business and industry avail themselves of that scheme will depend on the performance of the coal industry in every respect.