HL Deb 17 January 2005 vol 668 cc533-5

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ezra

: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as patron of the Micropower Council.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made towards achieving the target for combined heat and power as a contribution to reducing carbon emissions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

: My Lords, we are currently over halfway to achieving our target of 10 gigawatts of good-quality CHP capacity by 2010. Last year's CHP strategy set out a framework to support the growth of CHP capacity and to enable the CHP industry to meet what is a very challenging target. It is indeed our belief that CHP technology has an important role to play in achieving our energy White Paper targets for a low-carbon economy.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he agree that generally the installation of new CHP plant has stagnated over the past three years or so, with one or two exceptions, and that has happened even though the Government have recognised CHP as one of the most cost-effective options for carbon abatement? Furthermore, does he accept that, even though we are running behind target, the saving in carbon emissions by CHP already installed is running at around 4,000 tonnes of carbon per annum, and that could be doubled if the Government's target of 10 megawatts could be achieved by 2010? Does that not call for a new initiative such as a CHP commitment similar to the existing renewables commitment, which I pressed for as far back as five years ago, when we were debating the Utilities Act 2000?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord's penultimate point that CHP already provides a significant carbon saving and that that would make a very significant contribution to achieving the target. The noble Lord's first point is also right: progress in the underlying rate of take-up of CHP over the past three years has been disappointing, with a few important exceptions, due largely to the relative price of gas and electricity moving in the wrong direction.

We are looking at all options for improving support for CHP and discussing with the industry which of them we could pursue. The energy commitment potentially brings CHP into conflict with the renewables obligation. It is important that we continue to seek a way of giving additional support to the industry.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, the Minister is correct to say that we are roughly halfway to the 2010 target, but that is only just above the 2000 target. So although we are halfway to 2010 in time, our output for combined heat and power has scarcely increased. What further steps do the Government have in mind to resuscitate that rather moribund situation?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the situation is not quite as bad as the noble Lord suggests. Largely because of one major new plant coming on line quite recently, we are ahead of the 2000 target. Nevertheless, there has been a slowdown; it is important that the industry picks up. Many of the support mechanisms were outlined in the CHP strategy, but, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, we must look at additional potential support for the sector and hope that the relative prices of electricity and gas make it more commercially advantageous to install CHP.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, surely the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is absolutely right in pursuing the question of combined heat and power, since the overall thermal efficiency of power stations is virtually doubled by employing CHP. Will the Government give the matter considerably more priority, especially given that Scotland is, apparently, to be defaced by thousands of wind turbines? The Lake District is to be similarly destroyed. I hope that the Government can get their priorities right.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agreed with the first part of what my noble ex-friend said: we should give priority to it. We are giving priority to it. Whatever your views on wind farms, it is a complete diversion to say that, by encouraging renewables technology, we are undermining CHP. The two are not in conflict; both are contributions to a low-carbon economy. As noble Lords will know, I am strongly in favour of continuing to encourage wind farm technology.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us whether the local communities welcome or do not welcome the schemes?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the plans for wind farms and, indeed, CHP installations go through the normal planning process. Most of them have succeeded in that process, albeit slightly less quickly than might have been hoped. The views of the local community are taken fully into account.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, what progress is being made towards encouraging local authorities to put in incinerators with combined heat and power facilities? What measures are being taken to overcome public objections caused by emissions from chimneys?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Countess is correct to say that there is misguided opposition to some of the proposals for incinerators using both CHP and other advanced technologies. The emissions from such incinerators are very low risk, in the context of the cutting edge of technology. From the point of view of waste disposal and carbon saving, it would be helpful if there could be more such installations.

Again, one must take the view of the local community into account, but the opposite view, which is that they can make a positive contribution, must also be heard.