HL Deb 11 March 1992 vol 536 cc1324-6

3.13 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they consider to be the long-term possibilities and costs of extracting carbon dioxide from the flue gases of coal-fired power stations and burying the carbon dioxide in deep oceans or in spent oil drillings.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the Department of Energy is evaluating, in collaboration with United Kingdom industry and internationally under the auspices of the International Energy Agency, a range of technical options for the recovery of carbon dioxide from the flue gases of coal and gas-fired power stations and for its subsequent disposal.

Initial indications from those studies are that should such action ever be necessary as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere considerable capital and operating expenditure would be required and there would be a substantial increase in the cost of generating electricity from fossil fuels.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which probably provides as much information as he can give at the moment.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, on the question of cost can the Minister say what is the recent estimated cost of fitting the flue-gas desulphurisation unit at the Drax coal-fired station and what progress is being made on further installations?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, if the noble Lord were to put down a Question to that effect I should be very happy to answer it.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the Question is a very important one and that in my view his Answer was very unsatisfactory? Does the Minister accept that the reduction of CO2 emissions is a very high priority for the Earth Summit to be held in Rio in June this year? Should we not be taking a more positive view, such as now committing ourselves to ending emissions contributing to ozone depletion by 1995? Secondly, should we not make a commitment in respect of the point made by my noble friend Lord Mason? Surely we can give a more positive answer at this time.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, is hard to please. The study is taking place. I merely made the point that action would be expensive. It may not be wrong to say that the cost of electricity would be significantly increased and I could not rule out an increase of the order of 50 per cent, or more. Nevertheless, we are taking the option extremely seriously.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I know that I shall be rather unpopular for asking this question, but are we absolutely certain, before we impose huge costs on coal-fired power stations, that it is only CO2 emissions which cause global warming? Are we convinced that sunspot activity and cloud formation do not have as much, if not more, effect on global warming? Would it not be wise to be certain of those factors before we impose such enormous costs on coal-fired power stations?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I do not know who the noble Lord thinks he will be unpopular with, but he has made a very important point. Many of those factors are still uncertain. So far as concerns the present study, one would need to consider the results and implications carefully and there would have to be environmental assessments of the problem in relation to where the CO2 would be dumped in the oceans.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, when does the Minister expect to have the results of the research to which he referred? Is it not vital to have the answers before the summit conference in June?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, preliminary feasibility studies by the Energy Technology Support Unit and consultants have been completed. The main conclusions were presented last week at an international conference and will be published in due course. The studies were limited to particular technologies and the results should be regarded as indicative only. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, given that investment in clean coal technology has recently been so low, will the Government give an assurance that if the results of the investigations are positive they will make the electricity generators accept an environmental obligation to install such clean coal technology in order to clean the carbon dioxide emissions?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I do not quite know what the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, means by "positive". A great deal of information will come out of the studies and much will remain to be done. There is no question that as a result of the studies there will be immediate action. That is a long way off.