HC Deb 03 July 1997 vol 297 cc399-400
1. Mr. Hanson

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will make a statement on her Department's policy towards promoting renewable sources of energy. [5203]

The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle)

The Government are undertaking a new and strong drive to develop renewable energy options, such as wind, water, solar and biomass, as a means of ensuring diverse, secure and sustainable energy supplies.

We are also examining the role of research and development to maximise the benefit to the economy of the emerging new environmentally friendly energy industries.

Mr. Hanson

I thank my hon. Friend for his comprehensive reply. Does he agree that the recently announced changes and the Fossil Fuel Levy Bill will go a long way to help promote renewable sources of energy? Does he agree also that renewable energy sources are one of the key features that the Government must achieve and secure to help them meet their laudable target of a 20 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010?

Mr. Battle

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. Yes, the targets are tough, but that is all the better in our drive towards renewables, which we see emerging as a contribution to our achieving the CO2 targets. The renewable energy industries need a clear signal that there will be confidence in them as generators of energy in future. The purpose of the alterations to the fossil fuel levy is precisely to create space and more support for renewable sources of energy.

Mr. Evans

I support any promotion of the use of renewables, but will the Minister give an assurance that local people will always be consulted and taken heed of when any applications for the erection of wind turbines, especially in areas of beautiful open countryside, are made? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we only diverted more money, perhaps away from subsidising some of the more inefficient ways of producing energy, into energy conservation in people's homes, we would be doing far more to ensure that the countryside is preserved for the enjoyment of everyone?

Mr. Battle

Energy efficiency and conservation are not incompatible with developing sources of renewable energy. Energy efficiency measures, as proposed by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions for example, are a positive way forward.

All the projects that go through for non-fossil fuel obligation support must have local consent and support. Some people oppose wind farms, but there is quite substantial opinion in favour of them among those who see them as a positive way forward. In international terms, we should not confine our attention to the turbine itself but think of the chain of engineering in a wind farm. It is a good product and it can win markets internationally.

Mr. Tipping

Will my hon. Friend examine the research into renewable and sustainable energy and extend it towards clean coal technology? Does he agree that coal faces a challenging time and that any help that we can give it to become a more competitive and environmentally sensitive source of fuel will be welcomed by coalfield communities throughout the country?

Mr. Battle

My hon. Friend has a record of championing cleaner coal technologies. Research has already been undertaken, and we are pulling it together. It is important that coal generation tackles noxious emissions such as sulphur and nitrous oxide. It is important to look to technologies to ensure that coal is burnt more cleanly and that there are not nasty emissions. We shall do all we can to assist in research and development and to bring the process to market. We shall also assist in ensuring that there is some space in future for coal and coal burning, while not jeopardising the environment.

Mr. Roy Beggs

Does the Minister accept that there are many small potential hydro sites, as yet undeveloped, throughout the United Kingdom? Will he give early consideration to the difficulties and costs that face those who seek to promote new, small hydro sites? Perhaps too much difficulty is being created by ill-founded objection at local level.

Mr. Battle

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to that matter. We want to support small hydro schemes—that is part of the package of support for renewables. Hydro is eligible for NFFO as well. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me details about difficulties with projects in his part of the world. If he does, I will see what can be done to assist.