HC Deb 26 January 1987 vol 109 cc5-6
5. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, he will discuss the conversion of existing oil-fired power stations to coal.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I understand that the board has concluded that conversion of oil-fired power stations to coal would be uneconomic at present.

Mr. Pike

Should not the Government be encouraging the CEGB to think again in the best energy interests of the nation? Does he appreciate the importance of conversions of power stations such as Padiham in my constituency?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As I hope the hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, the whole House is aware, there has been a considerable narrowing of the differential between oil and coal prices in the past 18 months, which has considerably reinforced the case against conversion. I stress, however, that it is for the CEGB to take a decision on this.

Mr. Forth

Does my hon. Friend recall that during the miners' strike the miners tried to deny supplies of coal to the power stations and thus electricity to our people, and that reliable, continuous sources of supply were provided by oil? Will he bear that in mind when considering the matter in the future?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I shall, of course, bear that in mind, as any fair-minded citizen would, but the ultimate decision is for the CEGB.

Mr. Jack Thompson

Bearing in mind the Minister's comments a few moments ago about the economics of conversion from oil to coal, is not one reason for that programme the lack of investment in research and development in new technology in coal-burning power stations?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

No, I do not think that that is so. The issue rests on the economic case. Unless we observe the economics of the situation, the consumer and industry suffer and industry, in particular, becomes uncompetitive. Ultimately, those are the considerations that matter.

Mr. Watts

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind especially the need to avoid any overdependence on coal and to maintain a diversity of sources of fuel for electricity generation. so that there is no risk of the country being held to ransom by Arthur Scargill and his friends on the Opposition Benches?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Of all the industrial countries in western Europe, the United Kingdom is blessed with the greatest variety of fuel sources, and it is clearly right to take the best advantage that we can of that and avoid over-reliance on any one source.

Mr. Wilson

Has the Minister seen the report in the Glasgow Herald today that the CEGB is playing ducks and drakes with the Scottish supply system, and that having taken 20 per cent. of Scottish output during the cold weather it has now apparently stopped the imports? Before any decision is made about conversion of power stations, will the Minister look into what is being done to provide for the economic supply and use of power?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

One of the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom is the mutual assistance that can be given from time to time on both sides of the Scottish border with England and Wales. The fact that assistance goes one way at one time and the other way at another time does not justify criticising what happens on just one occasion, as the hon. Gentleman often chooses to do.

Mr. Eadie

Does the Minister agree that as Britain has more coal than oil there will still be coal when oil supplies have been exhausted, so that on economic grounds coal has the advantage? Secondly, as the power station construction industry is hungry for orders, is there not an economic case for giving it orders for conversion to coal because, on economic grounds, the nation and its people would benefit?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman's arguments on economics, taken to their conclusion, would simply put up the price of electricity for the consumer. Having listened to some speeches from the Labour Benches in recent weeks, I am sure that Labour Members would not support that. It would also put up the price for industry, making our goods less competitive in the world. I should be interested to know whether that is what the hon. Gentleman is arguing for.