HL Deb 21 January 1987 vol 483 cc926-8

2.45 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any progress has been made towards commencing a programme of building and commissioning new power stations.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, as I indicated to the noble Lord in my Answer to his Question on 13th October 1986, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy's decision on Sizewell B will clearly be important for the CEGB's proposals for any future nuclear and conventional stations. The full version of the report has now been delivered to my right honourable friend. It is a major work and will need careful consideration. My right honourable friend will make his decision as quickly as possible.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but in my Question I deliberately did not refer to Sizewell B because there are other problems to be dealt with. Is the noble Viscount aware that the Electricity Council recently published a report showing that by the year 2000 there will be a necessity for 12,000 megawatts of new power capacity? This will mean building between 11 and 15 brand new power stations. As it takes seven years from the ordering to the commissioning of a power station, does it not make sense immediately to order two coal-fired power stations, because irrespective of the public inquiry on Sizewell, coal will still play a major part in our energy requirements? In view of the unemployment problems that the industry is continuing to suffer, does it not make sense to place the order now?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I understand that the CEGB is considering the possibility of building new coal-fired stations but that no applications to construct new power stations have been received, apart from that for Sizewell B. I understand that the board take into account the planning timetable in considering the many factors involved in the choice of sites for new power stations.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is it not a fact that during this excessively cold spell that we have been enduring we have received a great deal of our energy from France? In fact, France's power is nuclear. Has the noble Viscount received any protests about nuclear policy from those using this power?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right; and I must also say that I have had no protests.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some has also come from Scotland?

Viscount Davidson

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, are the Government bearing in mind sufficiently that the life of a power station is about 30 years, and as a number of our power stations were built in the early 1960s they will become obsolete in the middle '90s? Is it not time therefore that the Government—or somebody—placed orders for the two coal-fired power stations? Is the noble Viscount aware that the northeast firm of NEI announced 500 further redundancies just before Christmas, which is only a small fraction of the redundancies they will face over a two-year period, and that the ordering of one coal-fired power station would transform the employment prospects there? As the firm has already done a great deal of work on one of those power stations, can the Government help the north-east by expediting this order?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend will read what the noble Lord has said. Proposals for new power stations, nuclear or otherwise, must come from the electricity supply industry. The CEGB has identified a number of possible sites for future coal-fired stations, but it is still evaluating them and has made no firm decisions on where such stations might be sited.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, have the Government noted that voltage reductions took place during the recent cold spell? What guarantees can they give that in future years, should we have a spell of bad weather as extensive as that which we have suffered in the last three weeks, there will not be even more serious cuts in electricity supplies? What plans do they have for accelerating the building of new power stations to ensure that such cuts do not happen?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I have already said that this is a matter for the CEGB and I am sure that it will read the noble Lord's words.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that during this excessively cold spell although a record load was being carried by the CEGB it managed to maintain supplies without shedding load, to the great appreciation of the whole country?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I think that the CEGB should be very warmly congratulated.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, while it is accepted that the CEGB trigger off the mechanism for ordering power stations, will the noble Viscount agree that the Government have some influence in this situation? Is he aware that the firms of GEC and NEI (which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Glenamara) as well as the firm of Babcock, those being the major firms that are concerned with power stations, over the past 10 years have invested nearly a quarter of a billion pounds in modernising their plants to deal with this situations? They are not asking for government hand-outs. They are asking for work to be brought forward which is in the interests of the community, is economically viable, and will justify itself. Will the noble Viscount make the most urgent request to the Secretary of State to do something to bring forward this programme in the interests of everybody?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I shall draw the noble Lord's remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Viscount give some indication of the extent, if any, to which those plans are being inhibited by considerations of the public sector borrowing requirement and its applicability to public boards?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, so far as I know, there is no connection.