HC Deb 11 December 2003 vol 415 cc1189-90
13. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab)

If she will make a statement on the prospects for reliable electricity supplies this winter. [143331]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

We are working closely with Ofgem and the industry to ensure reliable electricity supplies. Indeed, security of supply was one of the four key goals of energy policy that we specified in the energy White Paper, which was published earlier this year.

Generation plant margin for this winter is now projected at just over 20 per cent. That is enough to meet predicted demand in all but the most exceptional circumstances, thereby reflecting that energy markets are working effectively.

Mr. Brown

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The issue is important and we all appreciate that weather conditions and engineering or technical difficulties can cause reductions in power and blackouts. However, when looking to the future, I am deeply concerned because although I support renewables, I am worried that the gap or the targets that we have set cannot meet baseload power supply. I encourage my right hon. Friend to think further and more deeply about nuclear energy and the direction of future development.

Ms Hewitt

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to ensure long-term investment in a range of electricity generation sources, including renewables. We clearly spelt out the position on nuclear energy in the White Paper: we will keep the nuclear option open. However, at this stage, the emphasis needs to be on renewables and energy efficiency, which undoubtedly represent the cheaper and the better way of fulfilling all our energy policy goals.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

To keep the nuclear option open, the Government must accept that they need to recommit to the nuclear industry's longer-term future. Will they do that?

Ms Hewitt

I have just spelt out our policy conclusions. Electricity generation from the nuclear power sector will continue to play an important role in our country for a long time. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that, for the reasons that we set out in the White Paper, had we decided to encourage building a new generation of nuclear power stations, we might as well have given up on energy efficiency and on renewables, for which we need a step change in investment and effort. I am glad to say that our Government will deliver that.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP)

I welcome the commitment to secure electricity supplies in the years ahead. However, there is a feeling that the Government are paying only lip service to renewables, especially when small and medium-sized companies that try to develop hydro electric projects wait for years for a planning decision. Is there joined-up government and will it address the serious problem, which now affects jobs in my constituency?

Ms Hewitt

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. It is precisely because of the need to get planning decisions made much faster on renewable energy projects, and on a range of other investment projects, that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has introduced a new planning Bill to ensure that, even as we balance environmental and economic considerations, we do so without the absurd delays that currently plague the planning system. Let me also remind the hon. Gentleman that the renewables obligation that we have put in place will deliver support for renewables investment worth some £1 billion a year by 2010. We have also recently extended the life of that renewables obligation and the amount of money that will be generated by it, to the great welcome of the renewables industry.