HC Deb 29 October 1998 vol 318 cc445-6
2. Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

What plans he has to increase the target set for renewable energy output in 2010. [55052]

The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells)

We undertook in our manifesto a commitment to a new and strong drive to develop renewable energy sources. As a first step, my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Industry announced the fifth and largest non-fossil fuel obligation, or NFFO 5, order of 1,177 MW on 24 September 1998.

For the future, we are reviewing what would be necessary and practicable to achieve 10 per cent. of the United Kingdom's electricity needs from renewables by 2010, and what contribution new and renewable energy technologies might make to future greenhouse gas commitments.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Minister agree that, as the climate change conference in Buenos Aires approaches, renewables must become the main source of energy supply in the UK—well above the 10 per cent. Target—as a central part of the climate change strategy? Will he try to convince the Chancellor that it is terribly important that the renewable energy review be published soon, to give us a stable framework for investment, economic development and jobs? There are tremendous opportunities that we simply cannot afford to miss. Specifically, does he agree that we need to unlock the mechanisms for bio-energy, which could make an important contribution to the revitalisation of rural economies and to farm diversification, which is especially important at the moment?

Dr. Howells

Discussions have taken place between officials in my Department and in other Departments—the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for example—to consider the possibility of developing the new energy crops. The thought of hard-pressed farmers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and in mine being able to supplement their incomes by growing energy crops and helping to combat greenhouse gas emissions is extremely attractive. I am confident that we will publish the review shortly and that there will be a full debate on the future of renewables. Whether we can produce a majority of our energy via renewables is another matter. Merely to reach the 10 per cent. target we have to produce 5 GW of electricity, and if that means covering Wales in windmills, I, for one, will not have it.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

My hon. Friend will be aware of the European Commission's interest in renewable energy output. Will his Department work with our European partners to consider the barriers to renewable energy output that are created by some of the European mechanisms? Can he assure me that the previous Government's cuts in renewable research funding have been reversed?

Dr. Howells

My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Industry has certainly reversed those cuts. I am absolutely confident that this vital research will be carried out and that we will become the driving force in Europe for renewables. We have great resources. We have ample opportunity, for example, to develop offshore wind generators, and I am sure that that is what we will do. I am extremely interested in the idea of biomass and energy crops. There is a great future for that in this country.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)

The NFFO 5 round is welcome, as is anything that can give greater opportunity for renewables. Does the Minister not agree, however, that the problem is not the size of the round but the lack of success of the projects that have been initiated? Of the bids accepted, perhaps less than 50 per cent. have gone through to produce renewable energy. Would the Minister consider mechanisms whereby the bids can be promoted up the scale on the basis not simply of cost but of the projects' chances of success?

Dr. Howells

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is absolutely vital both that there is a concept and that we look carefully at the delivery systems. With wind power, as happens all too often, what looked like a viable scheme was smashed apart off the Scottish coast and suddenly it became wholly unfashionable. We will get nowhere with that sort of short-term view. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that the research and development element is extremely important, but the entrepreneurial element is important, too. We must consider that carefully.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)

I understand why the Minister does not wish to cover Wales with windmills, but has he any plans to develop offshore wind power? Has he received any representations on that?

Dr. Howells

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Industry has received a good many representations on projects for looking at offshore wind generation. After all, we have plenty of resources for it. There is plenty of wind around. There is wind in other quarters, too. I have often thought that the most effective bit of generation would come if we could ever wire up the Chamber: we could probably keep a large part of London going.