HC Deb 12 December 1988 vol 143 cc633-4
7. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet the chairman of the Electricity Council; and what matters he proposes to discuss.

Mr. Michael Spicer

My right hon. Friend and I meet the chairman of the Electricity Council regularly to discuss a range of issues.

Mr. Flynn

The next time the Minister meets the chairman, will he take the opportunity to discuss the vast potential for tidal power which, if linked with pump storage hydro-electric schemes, could produce a fifth of our national electricity requirements in a way that is entirely demand-responsive and would contribute to base load electricity? Why do we not pay more attention to tidal power? It does not pollute, produce radioactivity or add to our burden of carbon dioxide; it is free, it has enormous power, it is British and it is eternal.

Mr. Spicer

The figure is even greater than the one that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The Mersey and Severn barrage proposals could produce 6.5 per cent. We are taking a great and close interest in this. The Government have sponsored a good deal of research, particularly environmental research, on the basis of which decisions will be taken in the new year. We shall have those research studies before us then and we shall be able to form a view about the environmental aspects because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are environmental questions. Thereafter, it will be a matter of whether the industry decides to go ahead. It will do so on the basis of the non-fossil fuel obligation, which applies as much to renewables, particularly tidal power, as to nuclear power —a point often forgotten by the Opposition.

Dr. Glyn

Is my hon. Friend aware of the severe power cuts in Windsor—which lasted, with short intervals, for two days—and of the fire? When he has consultations with the chairman, will he please ask for a proper explanation of why the cuts occurred for so long and how such cuts can be prevented in the future?

Mr. Spicer

I shall certainly pass on what my hon. Friend has said and I shall try to obtain an answer as soon as possible.

Mr. Michael

Does the Minister accept that people will be concerned at the idea that the mere free flow of market forces will determine whether tidal power comes into being? Will the Minister give us an idea of his best estimate of the first date on which the Severn barrage, for example, could be producing electricity into the grid system?

Mr. Spicer

As I said in the last part of my answer to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), tidal power will come under the same arrangements under the non-fossil fuel obligation as nuclear power. That is often conveniently forgotten by the Opposition. It will, have an advantage to that extent, because it will be able to compete within that obligation against nuclear power and other forms of renewables.