Huhne quizzed on Energy Policy
• [Jul 07] Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon, Conservative): WHAT recent assessment he has made of the incentives available for investment in renewable energy infrastructure.
• Christopher Huhne (Secretary of State, Energy and Climate Change; Eastleigh, Liberal Democrat): The current financial mechanisms to incentivise renewable electricity are the renewables obligation and the feed-in tariff scheme. We are currently undertaking reviews of the RO banding and the FIT scheme, and the renewable heat incentive is due to go ahead this year. The Government have also set aside up to £60 million of direct support for the development of offshore wind manufacturing at port sites in English assisted areas.
Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon, Conservative): There are some fantastic community-led renewable projects in my constituency, including Oncore-Oxford North Community Renewables-which is a project to build solar panels on Cherwell school in north Oxford. However, despite the fact that we all recognise that such projects are vital to our efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, they often struggle to raise sustainable funds. Will the Secretary of State tell me how he expects projects such as the green investment bank to help support community renewables projects such as these?
• Christopher Huhne : Access to finance is clearly a major issue for projects such as those in my hon. Friend's constituency, and the green investment bank will certainly play a role eventually. Our FIT scheme reforms have focused on ensuring that money goes to community schemes rather than City speculators. The banks are increasingly taking a favourable attitude to this matter and finance is increasingly available from the high street banks. I am pleased therefore to confirm that yesterday the Treasury opened a consultation on the provision of other finance and on ensuring that enterprise investment
schemes and venture capital trusts investing in FIT schemes through community-interest companies, co-operative societies and community benefit societies continue to qualify for improved support, as will those generating electricity from micro-hydro schemes. I hope that this change will focus investment on schemes that benefit local communities.
Nicky Morgan (Loughborough, Conservative): I have written previously to the Secretary of State on behalf of Evance, a manufacturer of small wind turbines in my constituency. One of the main issues it has raised has been the need for clear guidance for planners on how to deal with small wind systems. Will he tell me what discussions he and his ministerial colleagues have had with the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue? In particular, would any guidance include specification of acceptable noise levels for these small-less than 50 kW-wind systems?
• Christopher Huhne : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. It is a matter for DCLG, as she implied, although I have discussed it with that Department, and I expect an announcement shortly that I hope will indicate that some progress has been made.
David Hanson (Delyn, Labour): Will the Secretary of State tell us precisely what percentage of the respondents to the recent FIT consultation supported the Government's view? What assessment has he made of the impact of the review on manufacturers such as Kingspan in Hollywell in my constituency and Sharp in Wrexham, which he visited and lauded but has now pulled the rug from under?
• Christopher Huhne : I respect the right hon. Gentleman for standing up for his constituency-I would expect nothing less-but the responses to the FIT consultation were not as binary as he suggests. People did not give yes or no answers. We had to take a decision on the FIT programme for a simple reason, which was that, unfortunately, the planning that went into the announcement assumed that there would be no large-scale solar projects for three years. If the right hon. Gentleman, who was a Minister in the previous Government-as I well remember-is prepared to take responsibility for those assumptions, I would be very pleased, but sadly I am not. We have had to amend those assumptions and ensure that we have an affordable scheme that can provide steady growth-
John Bercow (Speaker) Order. I am extremely obliged to the Secretary of State.
Gloria De Piero (Ashfield, Labour): Underground heat pumps and solar panels will become a fact of life for us all in the not-so-distant future. What are the Government doing to help areas such as mine-former coalfield areas-to play a part in manufacturing these things so that once again we can power Britain and the world?
• Christopher Huhne : We have seen enormous growth in low-carbon goods and services. In fact, the sector now employs 910,000 people across the UK economy so it is no longer a cottage industry-it is serious stuff. In relation to the green deal, particularly some of the kit being manufactured for it, we are in discussions with
manufacturers to try to ensure that they are thinking about the scale on which the green deal will operate, because obviously if the market is relatively small, there will not be the economies of scale that can get prices down and the opportunities up. I am determined-
John Bercow (Speaker) Order. We must make some progress at Question Time.
Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat): My right hon. Friend mentioned the review of the renewables obligation certificates. He will be aware of the great opportunity presented by the wave hub project located off the north coast of my constituency. In respect of the review, however, what reassurances can he give me and the House that there will be an even playing field north and south of the Scottish border?
• Christopher Huhne : The devolved Administration-the Scottish Government-have the ability to vary ROC support somewhat, which they do in the case of advanced marine renewables. We are determined on both sides of the border to see progress on those technologies, because they have enormous potential in the years to come, and I am sure that there is enough to satisfy those both south and north of the border.
Jennifer Willott (Cardiff Central, Liberal Democrat): What progress he has made on his objective to reduce central Government carbon emissions by 10%.
• Christopher Huhne : The Prime Minister announced on 14 May 2010 that this would be the greenest Government ever and that central Government would lead by example, by reducing their emissions by 10% within 12 months. I am pleased to announce that the Government have achieved that target, reducing emissions by 13.8%- I think I am entitled to round that up to 14%-using weather-corrected data. Never before have central Government achieved such a reduction in such a short space of time.
Jennifer Willott (Cardiff Central, Liberal Democrat): As the Government have done so well and surpassed their 10% target, may I encourage the Secretary of State to be ambitious when setting central Government's next carbon reduction goals? Will he work with business and the rest of the public sector to ensure that they achieve the same scale of reductions?
• Christopher Huhne : I am very pleased to confirm that the Prime Minister has announced a new five-year carbon reduction target of 25%, to ensure that we continue to drive down carbon and energy use in the Government. By focusing attention on the issue among decision makers, we can help to move the whole country along. We need to practise what we preach, and we will.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North, Labour): Can the Secretary of State please tell the House what the exact level of carbon emissions from the parliamentary estate was previously, so that we can be absolutely clear what it is now, after the 13.8% reduction, or have the figures been estimated and banded?
• Christopher Huhne : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be shocked if I attempted to take responsibility for the parliamentary estate, which is clearly up to the House of Commons. This issue is strictly about central Government, not the parliamentary estate, but I would urge Mr Speaker, using all his great influence, to ensure that the parliamentary estate is performing just as well as central Government.
James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative): I warmly congratulate the Government on more than achieving their target, which stands in stark contrast with previous Governments. None the less, at a glance around the governmental estate-and the parliamentary estate, too-we see lights burning all night long, with no use of energy-efficient lighting. We also see the ambient temperature of Ministry of Defence buildings, such as the one in my constituency near Corsham, at 25°, which means that civil servants have to sit with their jackets off, because otherwise it would be too warm. Surely we should get our lights off at night and get the temperature down, so that people feel cold in the office and put sweaters on.
• Christopher Huhne : I hesitate to say this, but I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We have set an ambitious target and there is more work to do. Whether that means getting people to put on woolly jumpers or getting them to turn the lights off, we will do it, and we shall continue our efforts.
Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton, Conservative): What representations he has received on his objectives for the reduction of carbon emissions by 2020; and if he will make a statement.
• Christopher Huhne : The Government have committed to reduce UK emissions by 34% by 2020. The Committee on Climate Change confirmed on 30 June that we are on track to meeting this target. Internationally, the Government remain committed to moving to a 30% EU target. I have had numerous discussions with my EU colleagues and a wide variety of stakeholders in recent months on the importance of the EU low-carbon transition, including a move to 30%.
Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton, Conservative): Given the agreement, and the ambition of the targets, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give the House today that businesses will be able to meet those targets without incurring ever higher energy bills or having to pass on the costs to their consumers, who might not be able to afford them?
• Christopher Huhne : We are working hard with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on a package to help energy-intensive industries to ensure that, for example, when we build much of the important energy infrastructure that we are going to be building over the next 10 years, the demand for steel and aluminium stays in the United Kingdom. That is a crucial part of what we are doing. My hon. Friend should not forget that we are also seeking an enormous increase in demand for British manufacturing as a result of the need to replace our energy infrastructure, and that investment levels will be running at double the normal level. That will give an enormous shot in the arm to manufacturing.
Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian, Labour): The Government are facing both ways on this issue. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether the Tory MEPs who last week voted against an increase to 30% in the EU commitment to reducing emissions by 2020 are part of the "greenest Government ever"?
• Christopher Huhne : Perhaps it is now the policy of Labour Members to incorporate Members of the European Parliament into this Chamber, but until that happens-
Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour): Well, you got in here!
• Christopher Huhne : I got in here separately on the basis of an election. Let me point out to Chris Bryant that when I left the European Parliament to come here, I remember keeping a league table on the three main parties in this Chamber whose MEPs agreed with the policy at Westminster, and I am not at all sure that my Conservative colleagues would be the most embarrassed by it. On a number of occasions, then and now, Labour MEPs do not necessarily take the same line as Labour Members in Westminster.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Conservative): What estimate he has made of the number of jobs which could be created as a result of his plans for decarbonisation of energy supply.
• Christopher Huhne : The Government have not estimated the impact of the decarbonisation of energy on employment levels, but we have substantial opportunities-for example, offshore wind has the potential to employ a further 70,000 workers by 2020, bringing benefits to the UK of £6 billion to £8 billion a year. About 16 GW of new build nuclear could create up to 30,000 new jobs and equates to investment of around £50 billion, with the construction of each reactor delivering investment equivalent to that for the 2012 Olympics. We should not forget either the impact of the green deal in the current Energy Bill, which is forecast to increase the number of jobs in the insulation sector from 27,000 to 100,000 by 2015. This is a jobs-rich, green-growth programme.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Conservative): While I welcome the potential for new jobs in the green economy, does the Secretary of State agree that we need to strike a balance between generating new jobs and protecting jobs in the existing manufacturing sector, especially in the black country, part of which I represent, which has manufacturing businesses with high-energy intensiveness-Somers Forge being one particular example? Does he agree that we need to strike a balance so that we do not undermine the competitiveness of our manufacturing industry?
• Christopher Huhne : I absolutely assure my hon. Friend on that. As I mentioned previously, we have a working group with BIS looking exactly at what help is necessary for the energy-intensive industries. It is also worth pointing out that, particularly when we are emerging from such a deep recession, it is jobs in new industries, rather than merely the recovery of the old industries, that tend to drive the overall recovery. That was the story of the 1930s: we did not regain our prosperity by reversing the declines that had happened in the old industries that had caused the recession; we built entirely new industries. The low-carbon goods and services industry offers us enormous potential in that respect.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn, Labour): To consolidate and maximise the benefits of the low-carbon economy, does the Secretary of State agree that rather than having a broad concept of enterprise zones, we actually need to create energy zones so that we can maximise the skills base in those areas and transfer the skills from existing downgraded industries into the energy sector?
• Christopher Huhne : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that industries that share a skills base and a knowledge base often tend to cluster. As I understand it, however, that is not the enterprise zone concept. It is certainly the case that, through the ports infrastructure improvement programme, for example, we are encouraging the clustering of some of the new technologies in offshore wind and elsewhere.
Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, Labour): What recent discussions he has had on domestic energy bills with representatives of the six largest energy companies.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central, Labour): What recent discussions he has had on domestic energy bills with representatives of the six largest energy companies.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South, Labour): What recent discussions he has had on domestic energy bills with representatives of the six largest energy companies.
• Christopher Huhne : Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers and officials regularly meet energy suppliers to discuss market issues, and this afternoon I will be hosting an energy summit for small, non-big-six suppliers, to discuss the barriers they face to competing in the market, with a view to making sure it is as easy as possible for them to enter it.
Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, Labour): Bringing the Secretary of State back to the issue of the big six energy companies, do they do enough to make vulnerable customers aware of their potential eligibility for a social tariff, and if they do not do enough, what will the Government do to make sure vulnerable customers are made aware of their potential eligibility?
• Christopher Huhne : The hon. Gentleman raises an important question, especially as we approach the winter months. As he may know, we have put the warm home discount scheme on a legislative basis and it is absolutely crucial that our targeting efforts continue. We are doing a lot of work, not least with the Department for Work and Pensions, to try to ensure that we can identify the people who will be most in need, and of course the green deal, which will start next year, will prioritise those in fuel poverty so that we tackle the root causes of the problem and do not merely seek to apply a sticking plaster-
John Bercow (Speaker)
Order. We are grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central, Labour): The Secretary of State did not answer the point about the big six, so I will give him another chance. We have some of the highest energy prices in Europe. What action is he taking with the big six to ensure that electricity and gas prices in this country are fair for those whose living standards are being squeezed by his Government?
• Christopher Huhne : The hon. Gentleman is incorrect about the comparison with other European countries' electricity and gas prices. In fact, in both cases our prices are among the lowest. They could certainly be lower, and I am determined to try to make sure that we have the
maximum competition in the market, because in my experience that is always the best guarantee that the consumer will get the best deal. That is why we want more companies to enter the market, and the electricity market reform will encourage more market entrants on the generator side. That is also why in the long term-
John Bercow (Speaker)
Order. I think we have got the thrust, and we are very grateful, but we must have shorter answers. Exchanges are taking too long.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South, Labour): The charity Age UK predicts that rising energy bills will take 250,000 more pensioners into fuel poverty, and those pensioners are under-heating their homes by rationing their consumption of fuel and thereby increasing their exposure to potential ill health, misery and depression. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that gas and electricity prices are fairer, something that the Prime Minister promised those pensioners?
• Christopher Huhne : As I said in a previous answer, we are doing two very practical things. One is providing the warm homes discount and ensuring that it is made available to those most in need; the other is ensuring that we tackle the root causes of these problems. There is another key issue for anyone facing high energy bills is the need to switch, as I have been trying to encourage them to do. As the hon. Lady may have noticed, customers of the big six who are already on dual fuel direct debit accounts could have saved between £160 and £200 in 2010 merely by getting on to the cheapest tariff available at the beginning of the year.
Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Liberal Democrat): But for people to make the savings they need to understand what they are being charged. Does the Secretary of State think that there could be improvements to and reductions in bills and that the market could be opened up if there was more clarity on the tariffs available and less confusion about what things were going to cost?
• Christopher Huhne : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and what he describes is one of Ofgem's objectives in tackling this issue. It is also one of the objectives we are introducing in legislation: we want to ensure that people can see on their bill that there will be a clear alternative with the same supplier at the cheapest tariff.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire, Liberal Democrat): The big six seem very quick to put prices up, but they act much more slowly to reduce their prices when wholesale prices fall. There are alternatives out there, such as the social enterprise Ebico, which supplies energy on a not-for-profit basis. What more can the Secretary of State do to make customers aware that they do not need to stick with the big six if they are being ripped off?
• Christopher Huhne : The key is to encourage people to act. At the moment 99% of people are with the big six, and they are very unlikely to look at alternatives and to switch. If we can get people to look more comprehensively on a regular basis at alternatives, substantial savings can be made, and we can drive greater competition, we can simplify bills, we can bring more new entrants into
the market, we can make sure that Ofgem is keeping that market under review and we can give the best possible deal to British consumers.
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour): We have heard a lot of warm words from the Secretary of State today, and before the election the Prime Minister made promises about what he would do to tackle energy price increases if he got into power. We have seen these huge price increases, and customers are rightly confused and angry, so what is the Secretary of State going to do right now to tackle this problem? The electricity market reform is all very well, but we could deal with issues relating to doorstep selling and smart meters. There is action that he could take now, so I would like to hear what he is planning to do to help consumers today.
• Christopher Huhne : As the hon. Lady knows, much of what we can do takes time, but we have already, in just over a year in government, moved to legislate on the warm homes discount. That means that we will be providing a legal underpinning for the scheme which will help our poorest consumers and those most at risk in fuel poverty. We are also moving on energy saving and moving to increase competition in the market. We are trying to provide assurance and an increased ability to switch, and to simplify tariffs. That is quite an agenda, and none of it was being undertaken by the previous Government.
Margot James (Stourbridge, Conservative): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
• Christopher Huhne : Since the last departmental Question Time, the Energy Bill has completed its Committee stage. Yesterday, we announced that Whitehall carbon emissions have been cut by nearly 14% in one year: the Department of Energy and Climate Change achieved an impressive reduction of 21.3% and was only just pipped at the post by the Department for Education. We have also revealed the simplification proposals for the carbon reduction commitment and climate change agreements. We have responded to the Committee on Climate Change's third annual progress report to
Parliament, as required under the Climate Change Act 2008, and the fourth carbon budget, covering the period from 2023 to 2027, is now law.
Margot James (Stourbridge, Conservative): There are many energy-intensive companies across the black country producing high-value items for export all over the world. Those companies, which I would not call old industry, are concerned about the carbon price floor and rising energy costs. Can my right hon. Friend advise whether the joint working group between the Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and his Department will meet representatives of the chemicals and aluminium industries to hear their concerns?
• Christopher Huhne : I can assure my hon. Friend that I met representatives of the aluminium industry very recently and that we have a regular programme of meeting companies from energy-intensive industries. Indeed, I have also had contact with trade union representatives from energy-intensive industries. We want to see a solution that will ensure those industries are able to thrive within the United Kingdom-she can have my absolute assurance on that. As my colleagues have pointed out, there are discussions under way between BIS, the Treasury and us on this.
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour): The green economy road map was promised in April. Where is it?
• Christopher Huhne : The green economy road map is under way in the Green Economy Council. It is very important that we get that process of work right, and the hon. Lady will know that getting a cross-governmental road map right is not always the easiest process, but I can assure her that it is under way and that she will be put out of her misery shortly.
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour): Whenever the right hon. Gentleman's Department has to work with other Departments, progress on green issues stalls. We have now learned that the flagship Energy Bill, which the Minister of State, Charles Hendry, has spoken about a great deal today, has been shelved. When will we see the Bill back in the House, and will it delay the start of the green deal?
• Christopher Huhne : Obviously the timing of the final stages of the Energy Bill is a matter for the business managers, but we are determined to hold to the October 2012 deadline for the launch of the green deal and are working to ensure that we meet it, despite the congestion we have faced in the House of Commons. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for encouraging us to come forward with further details of our policy and note that she is about to offer what has been billed as the first detailed insight into the Opposition's thinking on low-carbon policy at a green business event, which I am sure we all look forward to.
Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat): As Ministers will know, Cornwall has ambitions to becoming the green peninsula in the UK through renewable energy and therefore warmly welcomes the Government's proposed marine energy park. What progress has been made on that, what timetable has been set and will
Ministers ensure that the park provides the vital stimulus so that the wave hub can get going off the north coast of my constituency?
• Christopher Huhne : My ministerial colleagues have had regular meetings on this with the green energy programme board and are making good progress. We will continue the workstream to try to accelerate our commitment to low-carbon goods and services in the UK economy. It is a high-growth opportunity, and obviously Cornwall will play an important future role in that.
Ian Lavery (Wansbeck, Labour): Will the Minister confirm his support for the pioneering plans for underground coal gasification off the Northumberland coast, as described earlier by my hon. Friend Chi Onwurah, and agree to meet representatives from the Opposition, from Newcastle university and from Five-Quarter to seek support on the issue?
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): That is exactly the offer I made to Chi Onwurah. I am keen for that meeting to be as wide as possible, and indeed happy for it to include the entire parliamentary Labour party. This is an important technology and we are keen to understand the expertise that the university has.
Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Conservative): The Minister will be aware that farmers and parish councils across Suffolk are keen to contribute to reducing local carbon emissions and supporting renewable energy, but there is great concern about the divisiveness of onshore wind turbines in local communities. What other renewable energy measures is his Department keen to promote on a local level?
• Christopher Huhne : There is a whole range of technologies for renewable energy that are appropriate at local level, such as anaerobic digestion, which has already been discussed today. Furthermore, we have introduced £860 million to support a range of renewable heat technologies that will be significant for our future, including air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. However, I urge my hon. Friend not to take too jaundiced a view of onshore wind turbines. So far I am the only Member of the House who has been booed on "Any Questions" for pointing out that onshore wind turbines are beautiful, a view I hold to firmly and with which I hope other Members will agree.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour): Many people in Wales are excited about the possibility of shale gas transforming the welsh economy, but equally many of my constituents are worried that the chemicals that are pushed down into the ground will end up in the watercourse and that the fracking process, which has possibly already led to problems in Blackpool, might lead to real problems across the whole of the south Wales coalfield. What will the Minister do to reassure my constituents?
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. There is potential for shale gas in the United Kingdom, but only one application is going
forward, in the north-west, and that is on hold to see whether there is any link between the recent minor earth tremors there and the drilling process. We need to understand fully any issues with that. It is a legitimate technology, but the fluid is 99% water and the majority of the remainder is an inert soapy-type compound-
Several hon. Members:
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): So we have very strong environmental controls on those issues.
Several hon. Members:
John Bercow (Speaker)
Order. Ministers are rather testing the knee muscles of a number of right hon. and hon. Members who keep bouncing up and down.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West, Liberal Democrat): Leeds has a strong case to be considered for the green investment bank, and I look forward to discussing it next week with the Minister, but may I ask for some cross-departmental working? The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announcement, which appeared to suggest that Leeds was no longer in the running, was not helpful, so can the Minister assure me that it is not a foregone conclusion that the bank will be in London ?
• Christopher Huhne : I can assure my hon. Friend that no decisions on the matter have been taken. He is absolutely right that the BIS is the lead Department on it, but decisions are some way off and we have some work to do on scoping and on getting right the detail of the proposals before siting becomes salient.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour): In relation to the Humber ports, the Minister talked earlier about the £60 million that is available for the development of green energy on the portside, but that was an announcement by the previous Labour Government of course. In terms of the job opportunities for my constituents, can he explain the targeted assistance that will be available to Hull?
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): The difference we have made is that that funding is linked specifically to manufacturing projects, rather than to speculative improvements in ports. In addition, £70 million has been brought forward in Scotland, and there will be perhaps more in Wales, so we are very keen to see specific projects. Siemens is looking at the opportunities on the north side of the Humber in Hull, where very good progress is being made, and there will be a fixed formula for establishing exactly how much Government support is going to be available for private sector investment.
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Conservative): What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage the Danish company Vestas to build a wind turbine factory in my constituency?
• Christopher Huhne : I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am very keen to see Vestas come back to the UK market as a manufacturer. I remember visiting its plant on the Isle of Wight some years ago, and it had a manufacturing facility in Woolston close to my constituency.
The fact that it is looking at re-establishing itself in the UK is enormously encouraging, and we are in conversations with the company. Clearly, Sheerness as a site is not an assisted area and therefore would not benefit from the subsidies that have been found for assisted areas, but it has other advantages, of which I am sure Vestas is well aware from its discussions with my hon. Friend, and I very much hope that it takes that decision to go forward.
Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Labour): The Secretary of State, in one of his lengthy answers to his interviewer on the "Today" programme, waxed lyrical about the potential of wave and tidal energy. Will he therefore explain why the earmarked amount from the development fund has been reduced from £50 million to £20 million, which green energy specialists have described as a drop in the ocean and completely inadequate?
• Christopher Huhne : The hon. Gentleman should be aware that that is new money, which will be spent-unlike some allocations that were made under the previous Government. We are very committed to bringing forward such early-stage technologies, which are going to be part of our future, and I have been very keen to see for myself the progress that has been made, particularly on wave projects.
Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich, Conservative): By 2012, Bentley Motors in Crewe in my constituency will have made 100% of its range compatible with renewable fuels, reducing its CO2 emissions by at least 15%. Will my hon. Friend visit the Bentley site to see how that and other investment is helping to reduce the impact on the environment, and to discuss what further support his Department may be able to offer?
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): I was very pleased to have the chance earlier this week to talk about those issues with Bentley, which is of course a world-class engineering company based in my hon. Friend's constituency. I shall be in touch with his office later today to fix a visit in the coming weeks.
Dennis Skinner (Bolsover, Labour): Will the Secretary of State reflect further on the anaerobic digester plants that are close to and in built-up areas? Is he aware that the stuff being carried by lorries trundling through the village of Whitwell in my constituency is not the green deal but brown and stinks to high heaven? What does he have to say to the people there?
• Christopher Huhne : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The more I do this job, the more I realise that there is not a single energy source, whether it is anaerobic digesters, wind turbines or nuclear power, or indeed fracking with shale gas, that does not involve concerns and worries. It is our job to make sure that those are minimised, and we want to ensure that his constituents suffer the minimum disruption to their lives in built-up areas.
Steve Brine (Winchester, Conservative): I thank the Minister for giving his time earlier this week to meet the GreenWin organisation from my constituency. He will have noticed that it stands well prepared for green deal roll-out in my part of the world. Will he keep
at the forefront of his mind at all times the fact that it is not only these big society organisations that will make the green deal a success, but the small value-added services that can be offered to make energy efficiency possible for many of our constituents-services such as basic loft clearance, which he knows could be a deal breaker?
Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative): I was delighted to meet my hon. Friend and GreenWin, which is an excellent organisation whose expertise is now radiating beyond his constituency. He is absolutely right. Many of the barriers to the green deal and take-up of energy efficiency are not just financial but involve practical measures such as clearing the loft. A community response to overcoming those barriers is often the very best way. My officials will be working to see how we can spread the expertise of GreenWin right across the country.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli, Labour): An observant constituent of mine noticed on a very sunny day that he was getting nothing back for the electricity he was generating from his solar panels. Luckily the problem-it was a grid problem-has now been resolved by Western Power. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the infrastructure across the country is adequate to take on all the electricity, especially in areas where solar panels have become very popular, and to make absolutely sure that those people are able to get the feed-in tariff that they are generating?
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): Part of the solution to this is the rolling out of smart grids, which will measure two-way flows of electricity and therefore give an absolutely precise reading of what is being put into the grid. We are taking forward that programme, and we have already shaved a year off the time scale that we inherited from the previous Administration because of the many benefits that it will bring.
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth, Conservative): Will my hon. Friend update the House on what recent actions he has taken to ensure that the problems encountered last winter by constituents of mine who heat their homes with fuel oil will not be repeated this year?
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that at this time of the year, because this is when we need to be planning for the winter. The Office of Fair Trading is investigating the matter. I have asked for its report to be completed by the early autumn so that we can decide exactly what measures need to be introduced to make sure that the problems of last winter are not repeated.
Gavin Shuker (Luton South, Labour): I am sure that a Minister as progressive and forward thinking as the Secretary of State is convinced by the arguments put forward by those who advocate double summer time. What efforts is he making to reduce carbon emissions by following this approach and speaking to his Cabinet colleagues about the issue?
• Christopher Huhne : I was quite intrigued by the whole issue of double summer time because I, perhaps like the hon. Gentleman, thought that it was a bit of a silver bullet
and an easy solution. Unfortunately, it turns out that there are more complications, not only north of the border but certainly there, and that the extent of the carbon reductions is not as clear cut as it may appear. However, it is a matter not for my Department but for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
John Bercow (Speaker)
Last but not least, I call Tessa Munt.
Tessa Munt (Wells, Liberal Democrat): Sir Michael Pitt from the Infrastructure Planning Commission, supported by the Department, requested a fair, independent and transparent report on the cost of undergrounding and any alternative to cables and pylons. Now that KEMA has been sacked, the Institution of Engineering and Technology cannot endorse a report because there is not one. National
Grid is implicated for not providing the figures that are necessary for whole-life costs. The public are left with buried figures rather than buried cables. What can the Minister do to get information on costs available to people before the development consent applications have been received by the IPC?
• Christopher Huhne : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. She is a particularly doughty campaigner on this issue, and I am aware of how significant it is in Somerset. All I can say is that we will try to be as open as possible about all the information. If we have in any way failed to be open, I ask her to get in touch and we will make sure that we are being so. My understanding is that the costs of undergrounding are roughly 10 times as high as the costs of pylons, and that pylons are going to be quite important.