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Huhne quizzed on Energy

March 26, 2011 12:09 PM

• [Mar 24] Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire, Conservative): What recent steps he has taken to ensure security of energy supplies in response to the political situation in the middle east.

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Christopher Huhne (Secretary of State, Energy and Climate Change; Eastleigh, Liberal Democrat): The UK has diverse sources of oil and gas, including our own substantial North sea production. Political unrest in the middle east has not led to any oil or gas shortages so far. My Department has been in close contact with the International Energy Agency and International Energy Forum partners, and Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries members. Saudi Arabia has said it will make up any shortfall through increased oil production. The IEA has confirmed its readiness to use emergency stocks, if required.

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Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire, Conservative): I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Microgeneration is a key part of our future energy security. What impact does my right hon. Friend expect his Department's decisions on feed-in tariffs to have on the number of home owners able to generate their own electricity?

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Christopher Huhne : I expect the decisions we are taking on feed-in tariffs to ensure a steady and sustained growth in the industry, which will protect householders, who are completely unaffected by the review, in respect of any amount below 50 kW. As the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Gregory Barker pointed out, that amounts two tennis courts and it is absolutely unaffected. We therefore expect that the number of households generating their own electricity will rise.

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Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour): The Secretary of State surely knows that solar is a very important part of future energy security in our country. The recent decision to backtrack on solar means that community groups that were going to make a real contribution now feel deserted. Their banks have deserted them, so this sort of solar initiative will no longer go ahead.

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Christopher Huhne : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has taken up this issue. Let me be clear that the decisions we took were designed to ensure sustainable and strong growth in the solar industry. That is absolutely key. We are precisely trying to avoid boom and bust in this sector. If it had gone on growing, the large-scale plants would have gobbled up all the money available for small-scale plants. That would have meant slamming on the brakes, after which there would have been a much greater threat to the industry. We are going to have sustainable growth, which is as it should be.

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Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle, Conservative): May I put it to the Minister that in the current dangerous and complex circumstances the most important key to the preservation of oil supplies is that Bahrain should remain in friendly hands, and that from the British point of view it is strategically far more important than Libya?

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Christopher Huhne : The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting and important point. Bahrain is a long-standing friend of this country. We have watched with interest over the years as it has increasingly experimented with becoming a more open society, and it is very regrettable that that process is where it is. I note what my hon. Friend has said, and we are watching the situation closely.

Nuclear Safety

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye, Conservative): What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the nuclear safety regime in the UK; and if he will make a statement.

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Bob Blackman (Harrow East, Conservative): What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the nuclear safety regime in the UK; and if he will make a statement.

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Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove, Conservative): What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the nuclear safety regime in the UK; and if he will make a statement.

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Christopher Huhne : The International Atomic Energy Agency integrated regulatory review service-IRRS-recently noted that the UK has a mature and transparent regulatory system, an advanced review process, and highly trained, expert and experienced nuclear inspectors. Nevertheless, we take the recent unprecedented events in Japan extremely seriously, and I have asked the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to provide a report to the Government on the implications and the lessons to be learned for the UK nuclear industry.

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Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye, Conservative): I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I must tell him that a number of residents of Hastings and Rye have written to me, and although they share heartfelt sympathy for the people of Japan, as they live next to Dungeness they now have additional concerns. They want to know what action can be taken to ensure that our country's nuclear facilities are made even more safe.

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Christopher Huhne : Let me reassure the hon. Lady first and foremost that there are very substantial differences between our situation and that in Japan. We refused to authorise the boiling-water reactor type used in Japan when that was proposed for use in the UK. Secondly, we do not, of course, live in an earthquake zone. The strength of the most severe earthquake in the UK was a mere fraction of the strength of that in Japan-the recent Japan earthquake was stronger than the 1931 Dogger Bank earthquake by, I think, a factor of 60,000-and nor do we have the associated tsunamis. We are not complacent, however, and we are looking into this. We do have extreme weather events, and Dr Weightman has asked all our existing nuclear sites to check that they can withstand the extreme weather events that we experience.

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Bob Blackman (Harrow East, Conservative): With the advent of the electric car, there will clearly be a requirement for much more baseload overnight so that people can recharge their electric cars, which means the case for nuclear power advances quite rapidly. What we need in this country is safe nuclear power. What consideration has the Secretary of State given to ensuring it is produced quickly and safely?

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Christopher Huhne : As my hon. Friend knows, the coalition Government's plans clearly envisage an important role for nuclear. We aim to bring the first new nuclear on stream for 2018. It is our view that new nuclear can play an important part, and unless Dr Weightman's report gives us any particular reason to reassess that, I see no reason why that should not remain our view.

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Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove, Conservative): There are undoubtedly lessons to learn from the tragedy unfolding in Japan, and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend says we will learn them. Nevertheless, does he agree that the only realistic way we can meet the expected huge increase in domestic demand for energy is through the domestic production of nuclear power?

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Christopher Huhne : As I have just said, our plans clearly envisage an important role for new nuclear. When people visit the departmental website, they can access an interesting pathways model called "My2050", which allows them to see the effort that would have to be made if we did not have nuclear. We would have to make enormously greater efforts on both renewables and carbon capture and storage. That is physically possible, but the costs would be very substantial.

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Dennis Skinner (Bolsover, Labour): Now that the nuclear industry is in serious trouble as a result of what has happened in Japan, now that we are running out of supplies of North sea oil and now that fighting all over the place in the middle east is massively increasing the price of oil, is it not time for king coal again?

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A breath of sense has at last found its way into the House of Commons. Why can the Indians and Chinese burn coal and not us? They have been independent Countries for well over half a...

Submitted by Paul Rutherford

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Christopher Huhne : The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The entire departmental strategy on energy is to have diverse supplies; it is not to put all our eggs in one basket, be it coal, nuclear or renewables. The reality is that coal will have a role to play in a low-carbon future, as will other diverse supplies.

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Albert Owen (Ynys Môn, Labour): It is right to review the implications of UK civil nuclear power in the light of what happened in Japan. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is also right to explain that strategic site assessments and generic nuclear installation designs have been approved by this House and by the Government, and that we need not only to make it clear to the public that safety is paramount, but to make it clear to business that it is right to invest in nuclear?

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Christopher Huhne : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have made it clear in every statement I have been asked to make on this issue that safety is absolutely paramount. That is precisely why I want Dr Mike Weightman to examine all the lessons from Japan, and for us to base any debate on the facts and the evidence, and not on knee-jerk reactions. There have been knee-jerk reactions in other countries, but that is not the right basis for British policy.

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Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour): It is fascinating hearing the Secretary of State dance around on this issue. I welcome his remarks as far as they go-clearly safety is paramount in nuclear power-but he has made some comments over the past few days and has today failed to be emphatic about the Government's position on nuclear. Will he make it clear? He has used words -[Inte r ruption.] I can hear chuntering from those on the Government Front Bench. He has used words such as "we envisage a role"; he has pointed again to a study of a future without nuclear on his departmental website; and he has talked in The Observer about an

"80% reduction in emissions...without new nuclear"

if we invest more in renewables. Those are red herring statements. Will he be emphatic and make it clear to investors what the Government's position is on new nuclear? Will he tell us clearly: is he backing new nuclear?

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Christopher Huhne : I do not think investors are under any illusions about the position. At the Nuclear Development Forum, I said very clearly that we continue with the plans as set out in the coalition agreement, and that we envisage a role for new nuclear and want to see new nuclear come on, but that we have to put an emphasis on safety. That is why we commissioned Dr Mike Weightman's report. I do not anticipate that it will lead to enormous changes, but we will have to wait to see its results and base the debate on the facts.

Emissions Reductions

Claire Perry (Devizes, Conservative): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the setting of an EU-wide 30% carbon dioxide emissions reduction target by 2020.

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Christopher Huhne : I have had numerous discussions with my EU colleagues in recent months on the importance of the EU low-carbon transition, including the role of an EU-wide 30% target. In response to the publication of the Commission's 2050 low-carbon road map on 8 March, I wrote an open letter jointly with my ministerial colleagues from Denmark, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Sweden urging an open debate on a 30% target. I continue to use opportunities such as the discussion of the road map at the forthcoming informal Environment Council meeting to make the case for an early move to a 30% target.

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Claire Perry (Devizes, Conservative): I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Does he agree that the Chancellor's Budget statement yesterday confirming the capitalisation, timing and role of the green investment bank will do much to inspire confidence in Britain's ability to achieve its own emissions targets by 2020?

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Christopher Huhne : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the most important announcements made yesterday was the one on the green investment bank and the fact that we have trebled the amount of capital found for its capitalisation during this spending round. We will try to do our bit on asset sales, but if they cannot be found, they will be guaranteed by the Treasury. In addition, the fact that the bank can begin to borrow and lend before the large amount of energy investment in offshore wind is crucial.

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Nia Griffith (Llanelli, Labour): I welcome the Secretary of State's comments about working with other European countries to seek a reduction in carbon emissions. Will he explain, then, why his Government have just announced a unilateral carbon floor that is making steel companies, such as Tata in my constituency, extremely jittery and is making them consider pulling out from investing here to invest in other countries in Europe? We will simply be uncompetitive, even with our European partners.

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Christopher Huhne : The reasons for the carbon price floor were set out clearly by the Chancellor. We need to send out clear signals to investors about the transition to the low-carbon economy. This measure will do that, and it will also, operating within the power sector, ensure that we use low-carbon sources of electricity through the whole process and the transition rather than merely using high-carbon ones. It is an important part of our transition to a low-carbon economy.

Nuclear Power Stations

Michael Weir (Angus, Scottish National Party)

What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the construction of new nuclear power stations.

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Christopher Huhne : I have had discussions with Cabinet and other colleagues in government on energy policy including new nuclear build. We take the recent unprecedented events in Japan extremely seriously and I am having continuing discussions on the subject of new nuclear power stations in light of the ongoing situation.

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Michael Weir (Angus, Scottish National Party)

Given that analysis released by Redpoint Energy shows that yesterday's carbon price floor announcement will lead to a windfall profit for existing nuclear stations of £1.33 billion-let alone what it will mean for new stations-how does that sit with Ministers' repeated pronouncements that there will be no public subsidy for nuclear?

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Christopher Huhne : The carbon price floor is designed to encourage low-carbon sources of energy and it is not in any way designed to attract particular support for one low-carbon source or another. One could equally argue that it is benefiting renewables. That is why it will lead to the switching effect that we find desirable, so that we rely more on low carbon than on high carbon. In addition, the hon. Gentleman will note that the Treasury is considering the impact on existing operators and will keep that under review.

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Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative): This week, the former UK chief scientific adviser Sir David King has said that the real lesson from Japan was that

"nuclear power is even safer than we thought...by far the safest method of power generation".

Will the Secretary of State be mindful of that advice and does he agree with that assessment?

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Christopher Huhne : I am mindful of it. That is an interesting argument which has been made in many quarters. It is absolutely crucial, comparing the debate in this country with those in other countries such as Germany, that we should base it on the facts and the evidence. That is precisely why I asked Dr Mike Weightman to produce a report-so that we can have a sensible and measured debate based on the facts and the evidence.

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)

Could the Secretary of State say a little more about the assessment he has made of the potential rise in costs of the fleet of new nuclear following the Fukushima disaster? Will he comment in particular on the likelihood that the Japan accident will make it more difficult for private investors to raise capital to build the eight new reactors that are planned by the Government?

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Christopher Huhne : On the first point, it is too early to answer the hon. Lady until we have had the report from Dr Weightman and we can understand whether we need improvements in our regulatory regime and whether there are lessons to be learned. There are substantial differences between the Japanese situation and ours but I am determined that we should learn any lessons we can. On the second point, although I spent many years in financial markets I do not claim to know how they will react to particular events as they can often react in a rather faddish and fashionable manner. I think we will just have to wait and see.

Electricity Market Reform

Iain Wright (Hartlepool, Labour): What recent discussions he has had with representatives of energy-intensive industries on electricity market reform.

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Christopher Huhne : Concerted efforts are made by all Ministers and officials in the Department to engage stakeholders with an interest in electricity market reform, including representatives of energy-intensive industries.

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Iain Wright (Hartlepool, Labour): It does not make much sense, either economically or environmentally, when the steel that will be used in the rush to a low-carbon economy is imported from Russia and Ukraine because of electricity market reform and regulatory differences. Tata Steel has a world-class pipe mill in my constituency, and it really wants to play a leading role in the supply chain for the national infrastructure. Will the Secretary of State listen to Tata's concerns, level the playing field for UK firms and ensure that the competitiveness of firms in this country is not hindered?

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Christopher Huhne : We are very keen to listen to Tata's concerns, and both myself and the Secretary of State for Business have been very aware of energy-intensive industries. It is important to recognise that the costs of a move to the low-carbon economy depend on what we think the costs of staying with the fossil fuel economy are, and judging by recent moves in the oil market we may find that that is a volatile source of supply-and a rather costly one.

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Topical Questions

Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test, Labour): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Christopher Huhne : In addition to my normal departmental responsibilities, we have commissioned a report from the chief nuclear inspector on the implications of the situation in Japan and the lessons to be learned. We have launched the renewable heat incentive to provide long-term guaranteed financial support for renewable heat technologies, and the Energy Bill has now been introduced to the Commons from the Lords.

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Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test, Labour): Can the Secretary of State clarify whether the carbon floor price that starts in 2013 will be £16 per tonne, as the Chancellor suggested yesterday, or £4.94 per tonne plus the European Union emissions trading scheme amount, as the accompanying Treasury document sets out? If the latter is the case, does the Secretary of State think that it will produce a considerable differential between electricity imported through interconnectors and electricity produced domestically, and what are his plans to deal with that?

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Christopher Huhne : The Chancellor is absolutely correct, because there is a carbon floor price, and it is designed to ensure that the price, which is composed of the emissions trading scheme and the carbon floor price, is as applied to electricity generators. He is very well aware, I know, of the potential implications of the carbon floor price for interconnection, and that has been taken into account in the Treasury's decision.

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Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe, Conservative): The Government's report, "The Plan for Growth", published yesterday, states that the Secretary of State for Energy

"will also place significant weight on the need to support the economic recovery in related"-

planning-

"consent regimes".

Can he confirm that the Government will now consider the benefits to the local economy of building a new power station at Dungeness as part of their consultation on new nuclear sites?

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Christopher Huhne : I am aware that my hon. Friend has an important constituency interest in this. He has been a great champion of the interests of his constituents in securing another new plant at Dungeness. I am reluctant completely to redraw the national planning statements, which have already been going out for consultation, but the interests of the national economy certainly need to be taken into account, and they will be.

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Iain Wright (Hartlepool, Labour): Yesterday's announcement from the Chancellor about a supplementary charge for oil and gas producers places a question mark over investment decisions and the possible supply chain, and it might increase still further our reliance on imported oil and gas. Teesside is a major hub for offshore engineering, with many jobs reliant on it. Will the Minister guarantee that no jobs will be lost in Teesside, which is an unemployment hotspot, as a result of the Chancellor's decision?

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Christopher Huhne : The Chancellor is keen to see new jobs in Teesside; that is precisely why he announced that one of the enterprise zones will be coming to the Tees valley. We have a great commitment to new jobs in Teesside and, indeed, the whole of the north-east. On the hon. Gentleman's specific point, I anticipate, because of the rise in the oil price, that we will have a lot of resources available to operators in the North sea, and I would be surprised if there were not a continued increase in investment.

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Steve Brine (Winchester, Conservative): In the past, park home residents in Winchester and Chandler's Ford have expressed to me their grave disappointment that they have not been eligible for the Warm Front scheme. Like the omission of a specific park home option on the 2011 census form, this rather feeds the view of many park home residents that they are treated differently. Does the green deal offer them cause for hope, or at least some excitement?

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Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative): Yes, it certainly does. I can confirm to my hon. Friend that in relation to funding energy efficiency improvements, the green deal should apply to park homes if they have an appropriate energy meter and qualify under the normal rules. Later this year, we will consult on the size and scope of the energy obligation, including the types of property and householders qualifying for support, and that will include park homes.

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Julie Hilling (Bolton West, Labour): With around 30,000 people dying of cold each winter, the introduction of smart meters and ever-increasing fuel bills, will the Minister meet me to discuss the promotion of cold meters, which sound the alarm when the temperature dips below safe levels? That is particularly important for elderly people.

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Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative): Yes, I will certainly meet the hon. Lady to discuss that. It is not an idea that I have heard a lot about, but it sounds very sensible. The great thing about the green deal is that we want to encourage the introduction of new technologies that will help the consumer.

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative): Enfield has a welcome commitment to increase the supply of decentralised renewable and low-carbon energy. May I invite the Minister to come to Enfield to see for himself these innovative plans, particularly on capturing energy from waste, and to see that when it comes to supporting renewables, instead of chasing mega-business deals, small and local is often beautiful?

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Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative): My hon. Friend is absolutely right; small and beautiful is our vision for a much more decentralised energy economy. I would be delighted to come to Enfield to see the real strides that people are making to achieve that.

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Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland, Labour): Earlier we heard the Secretary of State boasting about his experience of financial markets. The Office for National Statistics rules about how to classify things are absolutely clear. It is more than 20 years since private finance initiatives were set up, so why has he been so incompetent in the way that he has structured the green investment bank, which has been classified in the public sector, giving the Treasury the excuse to delay its borrowing powers for four years?

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Christopher Huhne : The hon. Lady, as a former Treasury official, knows about this from the inside. I can assure her, however, that I was not boasting of my expertise in financial markets, but drawing attention to the fact that, although I had been in those markets for a considerable period, I was completely incapable of forecasting how they would react in these particular circumstances. I do not believe that we are going to have the problems with the green investment bank that she anticipates. It is clear that this is a historic moment. For the first time, the Treasury and the whole Government are agreeing to set up an institution that will be able to borrow, in its own right, just before the point at which it will need those resources. It will be able to borrow because the offshore wind investments will be there in the second half of the decade. As an ex-Treasury official, the hon. Lady well knows that given all those years in the 1930s when we became the only industrialised country not to set up a public development bank, this is an extraordinary achievement, and I hope that Labour Members recognise it as such.

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Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown, Conservative): Does the Minister agree that offshore wind farms, such as the one that has been proposed for off the coast of Brighton, will not only help energy supplies and counter the effects of climate change, but boost the local economy?

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Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Wind farms bring significant job opportunities. I have been to the port at Newhaven to talk about those opportunities. This will be an important part of our energy infrastructure going forward. Britain already leads the world in the deployment of offshore wind, and we intend to build on that and to secure supply chain jobs in Britain.

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Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West, Labour): My question relates to the renewable heat initiative. I am sure that the Minister remembers the productive meeting that we had with Geothermal International, a small company in Coventry. Although the outcome on the commercial applications side has been very good, the continuing delays on the domestic side are holding back the industry. It is a very important industry in the small and medium-sized enterprises sector, which is being targeted by the Government. If he could hurry up with that, we would be able to make more progress.

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Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative): I assure the hon. Gentleman that the domestic launch is not being delayed at all. The only difference is that at the same time as we launch the industrial scheme this year, we will launch the renewable heat premium. The premium will reach more consumers in the first year than the ordinary tariff under the original model was anticipated to reach. I assure him that the premium will add to the scheme, not detract from it.

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Robin Walker (Worcester, Conservative): Recent announcements, including that on the premium, have been welcomed warmly by Worcester, Bosch Group, which employs more than 1,000 people in Worcester. It wants the domestic roll-out of the scheme to succeed, and feels that the key to that is winning over installers. Will the Minister update the House on his plans to engage with installers, and will he visit the training centre with me, where more than 10,000 installers are trained each year?

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Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative): My hon. Friend is absolutely right that installation is key, particularly for such new, innovative technologies, which are not all as tried and tested as we would like. We are working closely with installers. My officials meet regularly with firms and liaise closely with the industry. I would be delighted to accept my hon. Friend's invitation and see it for myself.

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Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge, Labour): I have a range of energy intensive industries in my constituency, including steel, glass, paper and the entire clay pipe manufacturing capacity of the UK. How can south Yorkshire develop its manufacturing capacity and encourage economic growth if the international competitiveness of its current engineering capacity is being undermined by the Government's energy market reforms?

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Christopher Huhne : In answer to a previous question, I made it clear that we are listening to energy intensive industries carefully, and using all the means that we can to ensure that we can offset any demonstrable effects. We have had those discussions in the context not just of the carbon floor price, but of the European Union's emissions trading scheme. We will continue to watch this situation carefully because I want to see many new jobs in south Yorkshire and everywhere else in the country.

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Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden, Conservative): Earlier, the Secretary of State said that in the long term, the costs of unrestrained climate change will exceed the costs of doing something about it. Surely he is aware that the Stern report states that over the whole of this century, the costs of the programme that he is advocating exceed any benefits from reducing climate change, so that- [ Interruption. ] That is in the Stern report on page 167. Surely the Minister is aware of it.

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Christopher Huhne : Let me answer my right hon. Friend. This is not just a question of assessing the costs to the world in the long run if unrestrained climate change is allowed to proceed; it is also a question of energy security in this country and of the costs of the alternative. Given that the oil markets have gone from $60 a barrel two years ago to $80 a barrel last year, and are now at $115 a barrel, my right hon. Friend should be well aware that relying on fossil fuel markets could be extremely damaging to our economic health.

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Ian Lavery (Wansbeck, Labour): The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that the carbon intensity of electricity should be reduced from today's 500 grams of CO2 per kWh to the highly challenging figure of 50 grams of CO2 per kWh by 2030. The Energy and Climate Change Committee suggests that the target should be about 100 grams of CO2 per kWh. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State explain how difficult it would be to achieve the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change?

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Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): rose-

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Christopher Huhne : rose -

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Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): We are both keen to answer that because it is such a good question and we have such a good answer. We see a whole range of opportunities, and carbon capture and storage will be a fundamental one. It brings a real opportunity for coal to be part of the mix. We can look at the number of bids that we have had in-nine bids have come to Britain for the European scheme, out of 22 across the whole of Europe. Seven of those are for coal and two are for gas, which shows that there is a real opportunity for clean coal in the UK mix, which will be a world-beating achievement.

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Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West, Liberal Democrat): Given the Government's commitment to both a low-carbon future and localism, do Ministers agree that everything should be done to encourage local carbon budgets, which can clearly play an important part in achieving our national targets?

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Christopher Huhne : I agree that local carbon budgets are important, which is one reason why we have continued with the pilots of databases that allow local authorities to know what their carbon emissions are and to continue to set targets. I do not want to impose those on local authorities, because they are a matter for localism, but it is right that they should have the information on which they can base informed decisions.

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Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour): The vital ring-fenced support for the marine renewables deployment fund ends next week. With the green investment bank some way off, no news on the low-carbon innovation fund until the summer and nothing in the Budget, will the Minister clarify what backing the industry can expect, or does he prefer the jobs to go abroad?

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Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative): Absolutely not. We have gripped this agenda, as the enthusiasm of the new marine programme energy board made clear when we met in Exeter. I can tell the hon. Lady that we will announce the allocation from the Department of Energy and Climate Change's budget for supporting low-carbon technologies very shortly, and the results of the review of the renewables obligation that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Charles Hendry, brought forward will also be announced in due course.

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Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat): On the idea that there is no public subsidy for new nuclear, the Government will of course effectively have to underwrite new nuclear in respect of events that we all hope will never happen. How is the carbon floor price not effectively a back-door subsidy for new nuclear?

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Christopher Huhne : My hon. Friend should be aware that we are not providing underwriting funds or soft loans. In the United States, for example, the Obama Administration are proceeding with $35 billion of soft loans for the nuclear industry, but we have explicitly said that new nuclear will be built here without public subsidy. We have also said that, as Lord Stern pointed out, climate change is the greatest market failure of all time. We have to offset that market failure with a clear signal to the markets, whether through the emissions trading scheme or the carbon floor price, that low carbon is here to stay and we must accelerate it.

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Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Labour): Yesterday, in response to the Budget, Karl-Ulrich Köhler, chief executive officer of Tata Steel Europe, said that

"the introduction of the Carbon Floor Price...represents a potentially severe blow to the sustainability of UK steelmaking."

Does the Secretary of State believe that the CFP announced yesterday is the type of state intervention that is good for British steel making on Teesside?

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Christopher Huhne : I have said in answer to previous questions that we will engage in ongoing discussions with energy-intensive users. We want them to use low-carbon electricity, and a number of them are doing that, including by moving to biomass. There are alternatives, and there is flexibility in, for example, the EU emissions trading scheme, which allows us to help.

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the damage done to business confidence by his extraordinary U-turn on support for mid-sized solar installations, and of the 14,000 new jobs that were in the UK solar industry precisely because of that? How many of those jobs will be lost as a result of that extraordinary decision?

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Christopher Huhne : The hon. Lady has to be aware that sadly, in the world in which Ministers operate, we have to assess the alternatives. Had we not acted, the alternative would have been a much greater boom and bust and a much greater destruction of confidence. I am absolutely unhesitating in assuring her that solar industry confidence is substantially higher than it would have been if we had taken the action that she suggests.

Several hon. Members: rose -

John Bercow (Speaker) Order. We must now move on.

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