HL Deb 11 July 1990 vol 521 cc273-4

2.50 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are encouraging schemes to make use of methane gas, generated in landfill rubbish dumps, as a source of energy.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have a substantial programme to promote the use of methane from landfill sites. They have spent some £2 million on research, development and demonstration projects to encourage its exploitation as a fuel. The Electricity Act 1989 encourages electricity generation from non-fossil fuels through the introduction of the non-fossil fuel obligation. This will provide an unprecedented opportunity for renewable energy sources such as landfill gas to establish themselves in the electricity market.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Should not the gas be used as a fuel wherever practicable not only in order to save energy but also because it is dangerous and has caused explosions and is a prominent greenhouse gas?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the use of landfill gas as a fuel represents a valuable resource for this country. The United Kingdom is the largest user of landfill gas as a fuel in the EC and is second only to the United States in its exploitation world-wide. However, my noble friend is right to point out the safety and environmental problems associated with uncontrolled emissions of methane.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, can the Minister say in what percentage of landfill sites methane gas is used for this purpose?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, at present there are 36 landfill gas utilisation schemes in the United Kingdom. That number is expected to more than double after five years. By the end of the decade energy from landfill gas is expected to be equivalent to 1 million tonnes of coal per annum.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, is the contribution of methane gas towards the greenhouse effect the same as or greater than CO2 which would be produced by burning it?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I understand that methane is more dangerous as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the Minister and his noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to the danger of methane gas from landfill sites. Can the Minister say what happens to landfill sites in respect of which there is no possibility of recovering the gas for this purpose? Do they all blow up?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, for environmental and safety reasons it is important that landfill gas is collected in a controlled manner. Whether it is flared or used as a fuel will depend on the availability of an economical application for the energy. The Department of the Environment provides technical guidance on remedial action for landfill sites. In addition, in 1991 the Government are providing £33 million to local authorities as an earmark capital allocation in order that remedial work can be carried out on closed sites.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister reply to the first part of the question asked by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel? How many landfill sites where there are no schemes as described in his Answer are unaffected by such schemes? What study have the Government made into such situations? Do the Government propose to extend the scheme upon which they have already embarked?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I sought to stress the provision of money to local authorities and the management of such sites, which is their responsibility.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, have any instances of methane gas affecting livestock been reported to the Minister?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, not to my knowledge.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that while larger landfill sites may offer commercially viable options for methane gas extraction the situation is different in respect of smaller sites? In the light of that will the Government consider giving grants to aid the reclamation of those smaller landfill sites?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government's research and development programme supports the forms of energy and the sites which have the potential to become economically viable. That includes the landfill gas sites. The non-fossil fuel obligation will offer an opportunity for some presently marginal renewable forms of energy to establish themselves.