HC Deb 13 June 2002 vol 386 cc994-5
9. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

If she will make a statement on her Department's support for clean-coal technology. [58225]

The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson)

The Department is supporting cleaner-coal technology by providing some £17 million over the period 1999 to 2005 for research and development and technology transfer, as well as assisting with the promotion of United Kingdom exports of clean coal.

Mr. Illsley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. At a time when our whole energy policy is under review, it is essential that we maintain our coal industry, especially with increasing gas prices and certain nuclear power stations coming to the end of their life. Will my hon. Friend press for more investment and the application of research and development of clean-coal technologies to provide extra markets for our coal industry?

Mr. Wilson

The short answer is yes to all of that. Clean-coal technology is important domestically—if we are to continue to have a coal industry, it must be based on cleaner coal—but it also has tremendous export potential. Probably the best thing that we could do globally for the environment is to make sure that clean coal is used in countries that are heavily dependent on coal and in most cases on old and dirty technology.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

The Minister should be aware that the cleanest coal is not the black stuff but the brown stuff; it is called lignite and is used extensively by a number of our colleagues in continental Europe, especially Germany and Spain, for power production. Near my home in Ballymoney we have extensive lignite resources close to the surface; there are extensive resources in the west of my constituency at Crumlin and Lough Neagh, and there is lignite throughout the United Kingdom. Will the Minister give a commitment in any review of energy priorities that may be in production that lignite will be given precedence? Will he liaise with his colleagues in the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments to see that lignite, the clean coal, is used for power production in the UK in future?

Mr. Wilson

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said. In the context of the consultation on the White Paper and the emphasis on cleaner-coal technology, I am pleased to give the undertaking for which he asked.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government supported the new IGCC—integrated gasification combined cycle—for clean-coal technology in particular, that would result in a long-term future for our coal industry? It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the need to transport coal—because plants can be sited on colliery premises—and the need to quarry limestone. It would also provide new opportunities for our engineering industry.

Mr. Wilson

I have no quarrel with any of that. As my hon. Friend knows, I have been having discussions with interests that are particularly relevant to his constituency.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Will my hon. Friend remain mindful of the special needs of coal-fired power stations such as Aberthaw in my constituency, which was designed exclusively to burn coal from south Wales, in particular from Tower colliery, with a high sulphur content? In future, the pressure will be on those power stations to increase limitations on their emissions.

Mr. Wilson

I realise that. One option that we are considering in the clean-coal programme is retrofitting to reduce emissions from existing power stations.