HL Deb 22 October 2003 vol 653 cc1606-9

2.41 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that the United Kingdom should develop a long-term carbon management strategy, including fossil fuels, as recommended in the report of the Department of Trade and Industry technology service mission to the United States and Canada.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, the Government's energy White Paper provides a long-term strategy for the reduction of carbon emissions in line with the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Environmental Protection for a 60 per cent reduction by 2050. Fossil fuels are recognised as an important part of the energy mix in the strategy. My department is currently considering the development of a carbon abatement technologies programme for fossil fuel power generation. We will develop that new programme with the full involvement of UK. industry.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that fairly encouraging response. Nevertheless, has the Government's record so far in carrying out a carbon management strategy not been somewhat patchy? They have given substantial support to certain renewables, notably wind power, but less support to other means of dealing with carbon emissions, such as the recovery and treatment of methane from coal mines, combined heat and power including micropower, in which I declare an interest, and clean coal technology with carbon extraction.

Is the noble Lord aware that, according to the mission's report, in North America, the clean use of fossil fuels, notably coal, is regarded as a key component in developing a sustainable energy future, and a number of clean coal technology plants already operate or are under construction there? When can we expect such plants to operate in the UK?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we have what is, in effect, a carbon management strategy with different parts. Part deals with the renewables obligation and other parts are appropriately best dealt with by research. Research is taking place on areas such as carbon capture and storage, renewables and, as I said, we are developing a carbon abatement technologies strategy that will cover such things as carbon capture and storage, co-firing of fossil fuel with biomass and higher power plant efficiency.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, clearly we must have a carbon management strategy for the long term. The Minister appears to be satisfied with his own strategy, but what about that of China and other developing nations?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I was recently in China discussing this matter. This is a huge opportunity for British industry, which has good experience of clean coal technology, to sell into a huge market that is now very keen to deal with its environmental problems. China is keen to get clean coal technology because of its large quantities of coal.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, in the past, nature has provided the necessary balance between the amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere and being taken out of it. Are not today's practices upsetting that balance, especially in industrial and urban areas?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, that is clearly the case. That is why the energy White Paper went into the question of dealing with the problems of climate change in such length. We have a major programme to increase renewables precisely to deal with this type of problem.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government have an aspirational target of 20 per cent of energy to be produced by renewables by 2020. Will the Minister recognise that, by that time, all but one of the nuclear power stations will have closed, so the net gain will be nil?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the nuclear plants last slightly longer than that, but we have already said that we will keep the nuclear option open in case we cannot, by the means that we have set out, achieve the targets that we believe to be very important.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, this country used to be at the leading edge of clean coal technology. What has happened to the research programme on that technology? Has it been maintained?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the clean coal technology programme has been maintained. There will be another call this year for programmes within that framework so that we continue to maintain our position in that technology.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned the work on clean coal technology in the United States. Is not one of the problems that arose with nuclear energy that we engaged in too many types of nuclear plant instead of learning from existing proven technologies? Why are we not doing more research in this area? Why are we not using clean coal technologies that have been developed in the United States to make quicker progress?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we looked at the whole question of clean coal technology plant review and whether there should be a demonstration project. That was part of the clean coal technology demonstration project that published its report in 2001. We found that most of the commercially available technologies had already been fully demonstrated and that there was little support for major demonstration projects so far as the industry was concerned. As we go forward with some of these technologies, international co-operation with the United States, Canada or the EU is a sensible and important proposition.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, will the Minister explain how the Government will manage to keep the nuclear option open when the skills have been run down, the technology has been in decline for a long time and the research effort is almost nil?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I am not sure that any of those points is correct. A considerable amount of training is still going on. Research continues and we take part in research projects on an international basis. The foundations are there, so if we brought the nuclear option back in due course it would need to be ramped up very quickly. Nevertheless, it could be done.

Baroness Lock wood

My Lords, coal mines are still being closed. Would it not be better for the Government to give more support to the clean coal industry and try to maintain a reasonable output from British coal mines before the whole industry disappears?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as I said, we are keeping the clean coal technology programme going. However, the industry's main problem is not that but the fact that today it is very easy to import coal from much cheaper sources from around the world. However, we are keeping that technology programme going and we are about to have a carbon abatement technology strategy. That is on a slightly wider basis, but will help to deal with the problem.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Minister and his colleagues regularly refer to keeping the nuclear option open, as does the White Paper. However, since it takes about 15 years from decision to operation, when will they come off the fence?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we have said that we will keep the decision under review. If it appears that we cannot meet our targets with renewables, we will open that option again.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, how can we keep the nuclear option open, if we do not make a decision on the management of nuclear waste?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the whole question of how we deal with nuclear waste is subject, at the moment, to consultation. That is as it should be. If we are to make progress, we must get consensus on the best way of doing it.