HL Deb 10 December 1991 vol 533 cc591-3

2.55 p.m.

Viscount Mersey asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power stations after 1995, given the phasing out of Magnox nuclear power stations and their replacement by conventional power stations.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, a number of factors will influence carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity industry. The widespread introduction of gas-fired combined cycle generation replacing coal-fired plant and a greater contribution from renewables are both likely to lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions, while on the other hand retirement of some nuclear stations will increase such emissions. All those factors were taken into account when the Government set the UK's target of limiting carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2005 provided other countries took similar action.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reasonably helpful reply. But is it not the case that we are replacing power sources that emit nil carbon dioxide with power sources that emit some carbon dioxide? If so, there must be an increase. The European Commission estimated that increase to be in the region of 5½ per cent. over the next decade. Is there any way of reducing that increase in emission other than by preventing people from using as much electricity as they do at present?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, my noble friend is partly correct. However, the overall trend in emissions from the electricity sector is encouraging; for example, through gas burn, renewables and combined heat and power. I refer my noble friend to the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State last Friday in which he indicated that projected emissions will come down. Again, the trend will be helped by active participation in energy efficiency.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that fitting flue gas desulphurisation units to a power station removes 90 per cent. of the sulphur emissions? That considerably cuts back the acid rain fallout. Can the Minister inform the House how many power stations in Britain have been fitted with FGD units? To what extent have Her Majesty's Government financially assisted those installations? And how do we compare with the EC directives on the matter?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am happy to write to the noble Lord with the details of the number of installations. I can only say that we will comply in full with the EC directive on the matter. Although the noble Lord is right in saying that the units reduce emissions, they also considerably reduce efficiency and therefore increase CO2 emissions. By way of general example, if electricity currently provided by nuclear power were generated instead by coal, the UK emissions would increase by 15 million tonnes of carbon each year. That would mean a total increase of emissions of around 10 per cent.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the statement made by his right honourable friend in another place regarding the revised estimates of CO2 emissions in the years 2000 and 2005. Will he indicate how the estimated emissions in those years are much improved on previous estimates and what has led to that?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, it was a combination of things which I mentioned in my original Answer, not least the successful use of energy efficiency and increased gas burning.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the safe extension of the life of Magnox at our power stations has benefited both the economy and the environment? That is a tribute to those who designed and engineered them. Can he confirm that in the 1994 review of nuclear power, environmental as well as economic factors will be taken into account?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, those factors will certainly be taken into account. I too am encouraged by the Magnox extended life programme. I am encouraged also by the fact that Sizewell B is being constructed to time and cost.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, following on the question asked by my noble friend Lord Mason regarding the desulphurisation programme at the coal-fired power stations, can the Minister tell us whether the original programme that was set by the electricity board in conjunction with the Department of Energy before the board was privatised, has been adhered to, diminished or abandoned altogether If it has been diminished or abandoned altogether, does the Minister agree that that is a sad reflection on our attempts to clean up the environment?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I believe that the programme has been altered from time to time. I do not believe that it is a question of diminishing or increasing it. I repeat that the European directive on the question will be adhered to.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Lord say why he could not answer the simple question put by the noble Lord, Lord Mason, as to how many of the coal-fired power stations in this country are not fitted with sulphur-reducing gear?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, it was a simple question. The reason why I told the noble Lord that I would write to him was because I do not have the information with me.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is unwise for the generating industry to rely too heavily on natural gas because it is in limited supply? Does he agree that it would be both prudent and environmentally beneficial, as my noble friend Lord Mason suggested, to invest more heavily in developing even cleaner clean-burn technology for coal so that we can use our indigenous fuel? Does the Minister further agree that the Government should invest much more heavily in renewables and, above all, in a massive energy conservation campaign?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am a little surprised by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I remember that in a recent debate he acknowledged the work that the Government were doing in all these fields. The current programme for all those matters has been greatly increased this year and will be increased again next year.

The Earl of Erroll

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of the renewables carry many other environmental dangers? I refer, for example, to wave generation which will drastically alter the shoreline ecology. Many of the other renewables can have drastic consequences as well.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, there is no form of producing energy which does not have a down side. I believe that the noble Earl is absolutely right in that respect. We try to achieve a balance in these matters. The planning arrangements and safeguards which ate in place do safeguard the country from the dangers that the noble Earl speaks of.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend is in favour of what is called the "carbon sink"? That is an assemblage of plants that mops up carbon dioxide principally through forestry. If my noble friend is in favour, does be agree that it is discouraging that private forestry planting is down by two-thirds due to the abolition of the tax incentives? Will my noble friend press for their reintroduction?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I shall certainly draw my noble friend's remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who deals with those matters. Biomass is encouraged by the non-fossil fuel obligation. I have to tell my noble friend that in this country that will not make a significant contribution. It is welcome but not decisive.

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