HL Deb 14 June 1993 vol 546 cc1218-20

3.2 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions they have reached on the recommendations in a recent report, Tidal Stream Energy Review, that electricity could be generated efficiently by underwater installations from currents in the Pentland Firth.

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

My Lords, the report Tidal Stream Energy Review provides an assessment of the relevant technology. The report identifies sites that could generate around 20 per cent, of the United Kingdom's electricity requirements. However, the report estimates that the cost of generating this electricity is between lOp and 16p per kilowatt hour at the Pentland Firth, the most promising site, and more than£2 per kilowatt hour at the most expensive site investigated.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her reply. Is this not a very promising scheme, as appears to be suggested in the report, because it would not alter water levels, as happens in estuaries, where wildlife and farming are affected? Do not the particular advantages of no gas emissions or landscape intrusions make it worth pursuing because it is green and clean?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to tell my noble friend that this Government have a record second to none in their support for the development of renewable energy sources. However, I must contrast the price that I quoted of lOp to 16p per kilowatt hour at the most promising site with the current typical electricity pool price of 2.5p per kilowatt hour.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I am led to believe that the technology here is extremely complicated. I am sure that the noble Baroness understands it fully, although I do not. But would it not always be the case that a new technology of this kind would be bound to be more expensive than a conventional technology? Therefore the real question is how much we are willing to invest initially to get to grips with it in order to know what it can do. Do I understand the Government's view to be that we already know enough to know that it simply will not pay? Is that the point that the noble Baroness is trying to make—that we have done some work, that it looks as if the electricity, at least in the short term, will be expensive and that we do not believe that it will ever be economic? Is that what the Government are now telling us?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, we felt that it was worth looking at and we therefore commissioned the review. However, the indications are that the technology is not far enough advanced for us to be able to make a judgment and there are many other sources of renewable energy which look more promising at this stage.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, on the wider issue of renewable energy, to which the noble Baroness has said the Government are committed, can she give us a broad indication of the contribution from renewables in, say, about 10 years' time compared with their contribution today?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, what I can give the noble Lord is a figure that the Government are working towards for the year 2000. We hope that, by the year 2000, 1,500 additional megawatts of electricity generating capacity will be from renewable sources. That is the target that we are working towards.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, on the subject of technology, might not the experience gained in the North Sea by the offshore industry in the past 20 years prove helpful?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am sure indeed that that is taken into account by the people who develop devices. The work done by British companies in the North Sea is much to be praised.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Baroness assure the House that in giving consideration to these matters she will not pay undue attention to the persistent advice given to her by her officials and that she will, of her own volition and on the basis of her own knowledge and conviction, arrive at a conclusion on these matters?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is not asking me to make uninformed decisions. But having taken information, I join with my right honourable friends and other colleagues in aiming to ensure a competitive energy market which will be the best aid to British industry.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, as someone who is fairly near Pentland Firth, I do not entirely share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for trusting these matters to the intuition of the Minister, excellent though it may be. Is she aware that I have some sympathy with her view? We all hope that natural sources of energy will eventually prove much more possible than they are today. Is she further aware that there is a huge windmill in Orkney? However, it appears that the wind is nearly always either too fast or too slow. The windmill spends most of its time tied up. Obviously modern technology has not yet reached the point at which we are able either to foretell the wind accurately or to make use of the pace at which it takes it into its mind to blow.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comment on the fact that ministerial intuition is not necessarily the best basis for policy decisions. Perhaps I may say, although it is slightly outside the Question, that we are looking very closely at wind sources of energy. There is in that area considerable potential for costs to fall. We will stay alongside the issue.

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