Mr Redwood’s speech to the Eleventh Delegated Legislation Committee: Draft Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order 2013, 6 March

Mr Redwood: I am grateful to you, Mr Benton (Committee Chair), for allowing me to speak in this important debate. I rise because the Committee has tackled at some length, and with great passion, the international issues. I am glad that so many of us feel that this country can—and does—do a lot to help those in poverty and those who suffer from various global policies elsewhere, but the Committee would be remiss if it did not also consider what our electors are asking us to do. I am in no doubt that two overriding concerns arise out of the English debate. I am sure that the Minister has them in his mind and he may like to comment on them briefly before the Committee decides on this issue.

What do English voters want? They want to make sure that the lights will stay on over the next few years, and they are conscious that this country is getting close to the point where it will not have enough energy to sustain itself at all times. If we had a combination of no wind and a strong cold spell, which led to high domestic demand, we could be in some difficulties. We need back-up for our wind energy, and we need to make sure that we have not closed all our coal mines and most of our nuclear stations owing to their age before we have that replacement capacity available, so that we can keep the lights on.

The second thing that our English voters want is affordable energy. For people on benefits or on a low income in our country today, the energy bill is a real shock; they have to consider carefully how many lights they can have on, how often they use the cooker and how much heating they can afford if they have electric heating. The gas bill and other energy bills are not much better from their point of view because all energy is expensive, has got dearer, and is in danger of getting a lot dearer.

I know that the Minister is conscious of that and it is good news that the order takes a small step in the right direction. It is, after all, trying to get the benefits of scale and industrial process improving and technology advancing so that we can get some of those costs down for some of the renewable energies. Of course, I agree with him that any sensible Government must have diversified energy sources. We would not want to bet all on one energy source for the reasons already identified, but we need to bet on enough of them, and we need to bet on enough cheaper ones so that we can keep the lights on and so that people can afford energy.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): What energy sources would the right hon. Gentleman describe as cheap?

Mr Redwood: Quite clearly, the unsubsidised ones —for example, combined-cycle gas—are relatively cheap compared with other energy sources. Every time we go for a dearer energy source, we have to recognise that it will raise the average price. I do not rule out doing some of that; I agree with the Minister’s logic. However, we have to consider the balance, and surely it is right to take into account the final price to the customer. The hon. Gentleman has to face his constituents, as I do, and they will not thank him if he gives no consideration to the total cost and to their bills.

Graham Jones: I am sure they will thank me in 25 years’ time when gas has gone through the roof and we have invested in renewables. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that?

Mr Redwood: I have just said that I agree with diversification. I have no better insight into prices in 20 or 30 years’ time than the hon. Gentleman, which is an argument for having a diversified set of sources. He should understand that if we deliberately choose too much dear energy now, there are immediate problems. There is the problem not just of his constituents’ energy bills, which he should worry about, but of adding to the de-industrialisation of this country. The Government, fully supported by the Opposition, wish to promote more industry in this country.

A lot of industry is very energy intensive. We are trying to compete with America, whose gas is half the price of ours, and with Asian countries that have a rather different technology mix and are putting in a lot of coal power stations, which will produce cheaper energy than some of the energy we are producing. Our policies will not save the planet if all they do is export high-energy burning industries to other countries. The fuel will still be burned, the carbon dioxide will still be emitted, but it will not be in our country, so we can say, “Isn’t that wonderful?” We tick the carbon dioxide box, but our people will be out of work. This country will have less income, and we will struggle to pay for imports because we have done damage by having dear energy.

I want to press the Minister, as he tries to do the difficult job of getting the balance right, on the immediate prospects of our coal-fired power stations and their possible replacement with wood—I hear we now have to call wood “biomass”, but I will refer to it as wood, because that is a little more intelligible to normal people trying to understand our debates and preoccupations.

The Minister is in a difficult position because he came to office after the previous Government spent 10 years ducking all the big decisions about whether to replace nuclear, and what kind of strategy to go for. Some options are no longer available because there is no longer the time to get the power stations in that we might need. He also came to office after most of the decision-making powers had been given away to the European Union. Most of what we are doing today is implementing superior law from the European Union, and there is not much the Minister can do about that. Even the degree of subsidy will need EU approval under its subsidy-approving mechanism. Therefore, he is quite constrained. However, he does have some options, with which the order tries to deal, on the immediate future of our coal-power stations.

Arguably, the cheapest and easiest way of getting through the period before we have enough renewables and new nuclear power stations—whatever it is going to be—is to run on the coal-power stations. However, I believe that the Minister’s advice will be that that is not legal under European law. I understand that Germany, which has ruled out nuclear as well as some other problems, is going to run more coal stations under the same regulations that we are told do not allow us to do so. Has he investigated what Germany is doing? I believe that Germany already burns an awful lot more coal than we do. Is that not a short-term option while we get better options in place, because of the delays we have been having? If that is not possible, how feasible is it to switch our coal stations to wood burning, how expensive will they be and how quickly can it be done? I fear we need a pretty quick fix. I trust that is the underlying plot behind the amendments that he introduced to the subsidy regime. I had better give him time to answer, because we do not have enough time to have a proper debate on this huge subject. In conclusion, I ask the Minister, please, to understand that we want more energy and cheaper energy. Something has to be done very quickly, otherwise the lights will go out.

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15 Comments

  1. Paul
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I’m can picture Graham Jones sticking his fingers in his ears singing la la la la during your questions. Sorry John, but you might as well be banging your head against a brick wall for all the good your interventions might have.
    It’s too late – the bandwagon is miles long and heading towards the border. Whatever people do to try to reason with these clowns it will make not a jot of difference.
    My suggestion, if you really want to make changes, is to shout expletives instead of firing off perfectly sensible questions. You may find yourself in big trouble but at least it might highlight the seriousness of this situation and trigger a debate: a debate which is not really happening.

  2. me
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Millions of prematurely dead pensions would have wished he’d kept the coal stations which, if necessary, we could fuel ourselves.

  3. Edward.
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Be in no doubt John, insiders who work for national grid know that soon the lights are going to go off – that’s why they’ve all installed home generators.

    Wind, is no substitute for effective large scale base load power generation.

    Base load, can only be provided by coal and or nuclear – birdmincers are simply put – blots on the landscape and a folly to the modern green agenda but a leg iron to the consumer and taxpayer – it will be the ‘death of us’ for we are in the [power generation vacuum] cold now.

  4. David Langley
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    We can no longer afford nuclear power stations as we have gone bust. That time has gone, but we do have billions of tons of coal, unfortunately our mining industry fell foul of cheap imported coal from Poland, and a massive communist inspired battle between the conservatives under Thatcher, which lead to a strike that was wrongly timed and tactically impossible to win. Nonetheless the coal is there but new pits will have to be sunk and a new generation of miners trained and given homes and the means to live near to the pits. The Tory government have a bad historical record with the miners and a lot of the aged miners still live near to their old places of work. I know all the history my family lived and died in pits in Kent, Somerset and Yorkshire. I married a miners daughter and never met my paternal grandfather who died down the pit. I grew up with men who lived and worked underground and who knew the values of family and health better than most.
    I agree with you John but the weak attitude of successive governments to bite the Nuclear bullet is typified by the current dispute on where to put nuclear waste. This is what I am continually writing about, dither and weakness, we do not have a government of any colour that will grip our problems and be honest about them. I have the feeling that stocking up candles could be a good bet.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      I came across a brief mention of a technique for “mining” coal from deep seams without having to send miners underground. I believe it is analogous to fracking for gas.

      But the general point is that energy generation must be open and encouraging to innovation and enterprise.

      • Dan H.
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        Sir,
        The technique you describe is partial combustion of very deep coal seams; this part-combustion yields a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane very similar to old-time town gas (which was produced by pyrolysis of mined coal). This mixture can be piped to the surface and turned into less toxic fuel, or simply used as-is, though it cannot be piped direct to consumers due to toxicity and other issues.

        This technique was developed for use in coal seams too deep to mine by normal means, of which Britain has quite a lot. Indeed this technique, along with greatly improved methods of getting at coal nearer the surface would provide a huge amount of relatively cheap, good-quality coal for our use.

        The reason that Germany is continuing using coal-fired power stations is simple: they are in deep trouble if they don’t do so. They have therefore invested heavily in generating plant which is much more efficient than our steam based technology; superfluid CO2 is one such system, as are Stirling Cycle systems which are once again much, much more efficient.

  5. Antisthenes
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Tim Worstall has made a very interesting point in an article(blog) he wrote about how we should constructed our energy policy. He says it should be based on the cost of the damage that climate change would be and the cost of the remedies to counter it. If the former is greater than the latter then fine but if not then we gain nothing but can lose out considerably. Further he points out that politicians are not taking this basic economic consideration into account when deciding energy policy. This being the case coupled with the very inaccurate science currently on climate change and it’s cause and effect we are no doubt wasting billions in doing absolutely the wrong thing about climate change. In fact doing anything at this stage is verging on the criminal as decisions are being made without sufficient evidence to measure damage cost against remedy cost.

  6. Sue
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    The sheer disrespect this government shows for its citizens is certainly becoming beyond all belief and morality.

    We don’t have the money to keep the lights on here and our energy prices are totally unaffordable for most ordinary people. And yet we have £10million spare to fund mining in Afghanistan.

    “(alleges corruption in Afghanistan-ed)
    Are you lot that thick or do you think so little of us and are all having a right good laugh behind our backs?

    You really have a downright cheek. Roll on the day when we have our democracy back. These are the things we should be voting on. IT’S OUR MONEY, NOT YOURS!

    If you lose even more voters to UKIP, there’s another reason why.

  7. Pleb
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I listened to Mr Clegg on LBC today. He sounds like a typical civil servant. Lots of words but nothing to say. More of the same until 2015.

  8. Mark
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    More evidence that the lights have gone out in the brains of those who work at DECC.

  9. stred
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I checked the web and the latest news is that in the US a study has been done on biomass/wood and found that their subsidised woodburning power stations are not effective in co2 reduction and can take 20 years to take effect replacing coal or 90 replacing gas. The state is to stop the subsidy until the matter is clear. The US is finding that wood cuttings from forestry are insuficient for even one station and whole trees will have to be cut. More co2 is produced in the burning than other fuels. REF Gaia site.

    From the BBC new on Drax, which supplied 10% of UK power, it is now half converted to use biomass. However the wood chippings have to be kept dry under huge domes, it has to be subsidised as it is less efficient in burning, and 90% of the biomass/wood has to be imported, mainly from Canada and US. Adding the shipping and land transport, CO2 savings must be even more doubtful than in the US.

  10. jdseanjd
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    John hi.
    Thanks for your attempts at commonsense in your approach to our energy problems.

    I was surprised to see you still swallowing the CO2 as a pollutant fable.
    CO2 is plant food, & the increased CO2 in our atmosphere is beneficial to plant growth:
    http://www.scienceandpublicpolicy.org & go to Biospheric Productivity in Africa.
    The increased CO2 has been aiding plant growth & rolling back the sahara desert for the last ~27 years.

    There is good ice core evidence that CO2 levels rise lagging behind temperature rises by approx 800 years.Increased Co2 is a product not a cause of temperature rise, which in the amount we have seen in the last century, ~0.7degC, is entirely beneficial.

    The best debunking of CO2 as a cause, for a non-scientist such as myself, is Dr David Evans:
    Dr Evans is a man with 6 degrees, inc one in electrical engineering, which is the discipline needed to understand computer modelling on which the global warming alarmists base their case.

    Reply: I have never said CO2 is a pollutant. I did in the Committee seek to engage with all the global warmists present, pointing out that exporting our energy intensive industry elsewhere would not in their terms “save the planet”.

  11. jdseanjd
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    May I suggest that you chat with Lord Monckton, Nigel Lawson or Matt ridley, they are very clued up chaps.

    This is now most urgent, for reputations will be destroyed to say the least if our energy policy is based on cod science, designed to pillage the poor & enrich the wealthy, while costing many lives.

    (recommends unchecked site-ed)
    James Delingpole is extremely well versed in this area.

    Regards,
    JD.

  12. jdseanjd
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I forgot to add that there has been no global warming now for ~16 years, & there is every possibility we are headed for a cold period, the sun has been rather sleepy.

    • jdseanjd
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      This in spite of constantly rising CO2 levels.

      Finito.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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