John Redwood (Con) (Wokingham): I rise to support the Government and to urge the rejection of amendments that would delay getting rid of the subsidies for wind power. Our country desperately needs more electrical power to be available, and I am pleased that the Government are now taking action, with capacity auctions, to try to get some more power available. We need more affordable power. We need to tackle fuel poverty and have power at prices where households can afford to purchase. We also need to have affordable power for extra industry, which is one of the Chancellor’s aims. We need reliable power; we want to know that the power is there whether the wind is blowing or not, and whether the sun is shining or not. People expect continuous power, in order to light and power their homes, and industry needs continuous power for its processes. On all those grounds, wind does not cut the mustard, and I am glad that we now have a Government who recognise that.
When the history of the past 15 or 20 years comes to be written, what the European Union is doing and what the previous Labour Government did on energy policy will go down as one of their catastrophic failures. It will be at least as big as the exchange rate mechanism, which destroyed so much activity, jobs and prosperity in our country. It may not be as big as the disaster of the euro, but it will be one of the big, classic disasters of the European Union that Europe as a whole is becoming an area of too-little energy and very high-cost energy, driving industry out of the European Union area and into Asia and America, where more plentiful and affordable energy is available. Far from sparing the planet extra carbon dioxide, all this mad policy is doing is making sure that the carbon dioxide is produced somewhere else, rather than within the European Union itself.
Germany has much more wind power than we do and many Opposition Members admire it in this respect, but what happens when the wind does not blow? I will tell them what happens: Germany relies on a large number of extremely dirty coal power stations to churn out the electricity, producing more carbon dioxide than it would if it had opted for a fleet of modern gas stations in the first place. On average, that would have been better than this strange mixture of intermittent wind, which is very good on carbon dioxide when the wind blows, and back-up power, which in Germany and elsewhere in Europe is often generated from coal, and is extremely bad on carbon dioxide when the wind does not blow.
David Mowat (Con) (Warrington South): Germany uses coal all the time and the wind power is the intermittent stuff. Germany’s carbon emissions are 30% higher than the UK’s per unit of GDP and per capita just because it uses so much coal and fossil fuels, even though its renewables level is quite high as well.
John Redwood: Yes, but, as my hon. Friend will agree, when the wind does not blow, Germany has to use more coal. When there is no wind energy, the replacement must come from fossil fuel. A wind system with fossil fuel back-up does not even work on its own terms, and he is right that the German merit order is somewhat different.
I was going on to point out that from an economic point of view, we in this country have managed to damage every kind of power generation. If we insist on giving priority to dear, interruptible, intermittent sources such as wind, the more reliable, cheaper sources such as gas become intermittent, as they are switched off every time the wind blows and switched back on every time the wind is not blowing, which in itself is difficult and expensive. That undermines the economics of what would otherwise be good-value power. It means that we cannot run the plants flat out. We have higher operating costs because of the complications of switching on and off and managing the furnaces accordingly, with much less revenue coming in because less power is generated and power cannot continuously be sold to the market.
The ham-fisted interventions—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) does not seem to understand the policy that his party put in place and that the European Union supports. The ham-fisted interventions in our energy market mean that we have less reliable energy, because we deliberately subsidise a lot of intermittent and unreliable energy; that we have dearer energy, because, as is commonly accounted, renewables are considerably dearer; and that we have much dearer energy overall, because of the extra cost, which is not included in the way that the cost of renewables is accounted for, which means that non-renewable power becomes a lot dearer per unit as well.
Jonathan Edwards (PC) (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr): Has the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to reflect on the complete U-turn by Energy UK, which now says that the Government need to promote renewables instead of fossil fuels? Indeed, it says that an energy policy based on fossil fuels is a smartphone equivalent of placing all our bets on Nokia as opposed to Apple and Samsung.
John Redwood: No, I have not had the chance to reflect on that, but it does not seem to be a very interesting observation given the fundamental truth that I have just given him, on which the hon. Gentleman has not reflected at all. The truth of our current energy policy—
Dr Alan Whitehead (Lab) (Southampton Test) rose—
John Redwood: Let me just deal with the hon. Gentleman, and then I will happily deal with the shadow Minister. The truth about our energy policy is that the various interventions have conspired to make less power available at a much higher price and that, unless we start to reverse some of those interventions, we will get those pernicious effects. If he is saying that, yes, the price of energy from fossil fuels is variable, depending on the world market price, that is self-evidently true, but it does not mean that it is a good idea to put in something that is very unreliable and intermittent and is dearer than fossil fuel at more or less any realistic market price that might be commanded in the market by fossil fuel.
Dr Whitehead: Has the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to go to the national balancing services centre, which is in his constituency, as it undertakes a great deal of work balancing the system? There are substantial constraints on non-fossil fuel as well as fossil fuel inputs to the system, which cause shortages in power delivery at various stages, whether non-fossil fuel or fossil fuel delivery. Perhaps he could reflect on that in his comments.
John Redwood: Of course, as Member of Parliament for Wokingham, I have visited the centre on several occasions, and met the dedicated group of people there. The last time I visited was quite recently, and they were saying to me how much more difficult it is to manage a system that relies on wind, which is becoming more and more intermittent. That is self-evidently true. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reinforcing my point, although I am not sure whether that was what he was trying to do.
It used to be much easier when we had baseload power that could be relied upon and that was not interrupted by changes in the weather or the wind, and where the swing factor could be accounted for primarily by the pumped storage systems at Dinorwig. A command could be sent from Wokingham to Dinorwig. The water would come down the hill very quickly, and the kettles could boil in the interval of the big movie or whatever it was that was causing the surge in power demand. It is much more difficult now to call up power if, at the same time, the wind suddenly drops.
That is leading to our having to put in more and more interconnectors with other countries, so we become a net importer of power on a more regular basis, which is not something I value. I want us to have security of energy supply in our own country. We are, after all, an island of coal in a sea of oil and gas, and one would think we could find environmentally acceptable ways of exploiting that and burning it to produce the power we need. As I want an industrial revival in this country, that could well start with us importing less electricity.
Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman talks about security. Does he share the concerns that I have and that have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about the operation of the capacity market? That is costing us a great deal of money and it is manifestly failing to bring on new gas, which is its central aim.
John Redwood: As I have been trying to explain, the reason we end up with dear gas is all the other subsidised interventions we have been making. We cannot run gas flat out and get the benefits of running it in the most economical way possible. Yes, I would rather have a much simpler market. The market worked a lot better in the 1980s and 1990s when we first set up a pretty open competitive market and power prices came down a lot. We had roughly a 25% margin of extra supply so that we were secure and we never had to worry that, if there was a cold day with the wind not blowing when industry was doing quite well, we would have to tell industry to switch its machines off. We did not get to such a position under that regime.
Now that we have a grossly intervened regime with all sorts of subsidies and priorities that do not reflect the economics of power production, we get to exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies, when we have to bid quite high to get people to provide gas-based power because we cannot guarantee full access to the market on a continuous basis. Of course, the more interventions there have been over the years of Labour and coalition and now the Conservatives, the more changes are needed in that intervention regime as the Government tinker or try to change it to make it work better, and the higher the prices tend to have to be because people become more suspicious if Government have so much power and if Government keep changing their mind.
So it is quite easy to get from a relatively free, successful market to a badly damaged, rigged, subsidised market. It is quite difficult getting from a badly damaged, subsidised market where the interventions are not very helpful to one that works better, because there is suspicion in the minds of investors, and they need longer contracts, bigger guarantees and higher prices to give them some kind of offset as they fear the Government may tinker unnecessarily.
This debate is about the amendment. I support the Government in their view. I want the Government to get on with removing the subsidies to onshore wind, as we said we would do. I hope the Opposition and the other place will not delay that further. We gave plenty of notice of this, and the sooner we do it the sooner we will get a bit closer to having a less damaged energy market.