HL Deb 01 April 1993 vol 544 cc1008-10

11.21 a.m.

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether by the year 2030 much of the United Kingdom's electricity generating power will have reached the end of its useful life and if so, apart from nuclear power, how they propose to meet this situation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, it is likely that most of the UK's generating power will have reached the end of its useful life by the year 2030, which is why my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade authorised further developments on 25th March. It is the Government's commitment to have diverse sources of energy to ensure there is supply to meet demand.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she appreciate that the reason for asking this Question is that I hope that the public as a whole will become more informed of the issues that will arise, and will not expect to find that all our extra generating power can be obtained from renewables?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am sure that the amount of discussion which has taken place in the past few weeks will certainly have increased the public's knowledge.

Lord Renton

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is immensely increased scope for harnessing the tides and winds? To what extent are the Government prepared to support that by providing incentives to those who are prepared to spend some of their own money in doing so?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to reassure my noble friend Lord Renton that the Government are committed to helping technologies in the renewable area to become commercially competitive. That is part of our policy on renewable energy.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, in her reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, the Minister said that the Government had a commitment to provide a variety of sources of energy. Will she give an undertaking that the Government will continue or increase their efforts to make sure that when the power stations are replaced they are replaced by a system which is environmentally friendly, in line with their past statements regarding the environment, and refuse to allow any expansion, even by the elimination of orimulsion as a fuel used to provide power in this country?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that the Government's commitment to their international agreements on environmental matters is absolutely sound.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, referring to the question from my noble friend Lord Renton, will my noble friend the Minister ensure that wave power is also included in the review of renewable energy?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that many experiments have been going on in regard to renewable energy, many for some time. Probably the point could soon be reached where either the breakthrough will be made or it will be decided that that is not the route. We are staying alongside all of them and we shall be very interested in, and supportive of, developments.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in view of the long lead times required for the development of new generating technologies, and for the construction of power stations, would it be helpful if the Government were to suggest to the major generating companies, perhaps in conjunction with the National Grid Company, that they should prepare a report on the power generating options for the early part of the next century; and in that report pay particular regard, in view of our debate yesterday on coal, to the role that power stations using clean coal technologies may play in that development?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, it is of course important that people look forward to future needs. Perhaps first I could comment on something which the noble Lord knows. I am pleased to say that building times of generators of all types have much decreased from the days of the sixties. From the decision process and planning permission, the building process takes less time and comes in usually on time and in budget. We expect people to look forward and to bear in mind all the possibilities. The noble Lord draws attention to the fact that technology in this area is changing extremely fast.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, can my noble friend give us any reassurance that by the year 2030 both the Mersey barrage and the Severn barrage will be generating electricity?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am afraid that my noble friend asks a question which it is totally beyond me to answer.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is forecast that by 2030 British Gas will have virtually exhausted its resources and that British oil will be virtually exhausted? Can she tell the House whether the Government assume that by that time we shall carry the burden of our enormous energy consumption on our already shaky balance of payments? Or does she think that we shall by then be dependent on nuclear power, and possibly desperately digging for British coal?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, as we have discussed on many occasions—the noble Lord has been part of that discussion—it is possible to make assumptions about resources in energy areas to which, again, technology brings differences as it develops. There is no reason to believe that economic gas supplies will run out before economic coal supplies.