HC Deb 17 April 1996 vol 275 cc701-2
7. Mr. Tipping

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to help promote renewable energy sources and industries in the United Kingdom. [23922]

Mr. Page

The Government are stimulating the development of new and renewable energy technologies and industrial and market infrastructure via the non-fossil fuel obligation and a supporting programme.

Mr. Tipping

Will the Minister consider further steps to help this country's environmental technology industries—including, for example, solar power, for which the global market was worth £1 billion in 1993. At that time, Britain had 10 per cent. of solar panel exports but was spending less than 1 p per person on solar research. Should not a research framework be established so that the UK can be the enterprise centre for creating new energy sources, making sure that British companies get a fair share of the world market?

Mr. Page

I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's particular interest, and I broadly agree with the thrust of his question. He is right to remind the House that we sometimes take access to electricity for granted. We should never forget that millions of people have no electricity and that the only means of obtaining it will be through the use of photovoltaics. I can give the hon. Gentleman some good news. BP Solar alone achieved 7 per cent. of the world market in 1995 and has so far attracted orders in excess of £15 million. The market is huge, as the hon. Gentleman told the House, and I certainly want to see it developed.

Mr. Ian Bruce

My hon. Friend will know that the Government have been encouraging local authorities to burn municipal waste to create energy, but will he carefully consider the representations on the subject? Most constituents are in theory happy with that approach, but they do not want the effluent from incinerators anywhere near their homes. I wonder whether the Government have got local popular opinion wrong.

Mr. Page

The decision on where to locate any particular NFFO project is a planning matter for the local authority. The NFFO project is a two-pronged objective. One objective is environmental improvement, to reduce the pollution that comes from conventional methods of energy production, and the other is the creation of a manufacturing base in renewables.

Mr. Battle

As the Minister said that he agrees with my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) and that he is especially keen on photovoltaics, why does he not open up the fossil fuel levy, which at present excludes support for photovoltaics? Would it not be better to let them in to ensure that we end up a world leader in that industry and do not fall further behind?

Mr. Page

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the whole purpose of the non-fossil fuel obligation is to bring about a convergence of energy production from renewables so that that approach can actively and competitively compete in the market against conventional energy producers. The question of photovoltaics will be considered alongside all the others when we consider NFFO5 and, if it can achieve some market convergence, it could certainly be included. I would want to be convinced that the market convergence will be obtained, because I do not want to waste taxpayers' money.