§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What is their policy on coal-based technologies which can contribute to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
§ Lord Triesman
My Lords, the Government's recent energy White Paper recognised that, for security of supply reasons, coal still has a role to play in the UK's energy mix. Coal will continue to play a major part in energy production in countries such as China and India which offer business opportunities for British companies.
However, in order to meet the strict environmental requirements, coal-fired power generation must be much cleaner than it is today. To encourage this, the DTI is developing a carbon abatement technologies strategy which will take forward and expand the work 772 of the current Cleaner Coal Technologies Programme. We plan to publish the new strategy in the summer. In the mean time, we have recently published a final call for research and development proposals under the current programme, which must be worth about £4 million of government funding.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that response. Does he recall that in Grand Committee on 12 February, in response to an amendment I moved in support of new coal technologies, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:Rather than encourage an increase in coal-based technologies we are looking to reduce the use of coal through various mechanisms"?—[Official Report, 12/2/04; col. GC 562.]In the light of the noble Lord's Answer to my Question on the Order Paper, will be confirm that that should not be taken to mean that the Government are in any way going back on what was stated in the energy White Paper in support of clean coal technologies?
Is the noble Lord aware that the United States is spending 1 billion dollars to develop a large coal-fuelled plant with near zero emissions?
§ Lord Triesman
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for reminding me of the discussion, held relatively recently, in Grand Committee. I confirm that we have not resiled in any respect from the energy White Paper. It was fully supportive, as the noble Lord reminded us, of cleaner coal technologies and recognised that, to exist in a low carbon world, emissions from coal use must also be reduced considerably. The Government are working with the industry to look at technologies to tackle that problem. We are still pursuing the Cleaner Coal Technologies Programme and the fourth call offering of about £4 million in support was announced in January.
I am aware that in the United States, and indeed in some other countries, large sums are being spent in the cleaner coal technologies area. My understanding of the matter, which will in no sense match the understanding of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is that their strategic reliance on these fossil fuels remains very much greater than ours.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, does not the question in fact go wider than that? Has the noble Lord seen the report that last year—in 2003—the emissions of carbon dioxide actually increased by some 3 per cent, representing approximately 4.5 million tonnes more from burning fossil fuels than in 2002? Is not part of the problem the fact that the Government have now set their face against fossil fuels—and I recognise that—to the extent that they are denying help to processes like coal mine methane and combined heat and power on the grounds that these are fossil fuels, while pouring all the money into wind farms? Yet those other two technologies will reduce CO2 a great deal more than the programme of wind farms. Have the Government now got their priorities wrong?
§ Lord Triesman
My Lords, the priorities must be right. Coal emits about twice the CO2 emissions of a natural, 773 gas-fired plant. That is plainly disadvantageous in the present circumstances in an emissions trading regime or in a regime where we are trying to protect the environment in the way that the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir David King, urged in a recent speech in Seattle, which I think was referred to in your Lordships' House only yesterday.
These are important factors. Wind generation emits none of these toxic substances into the atmosphere. These technologies are plainly directed at trying to improve the environment, which is at the moment subject to serious harm. That does not rule out the undertakings that I have given that the arguments in the energy White Paper for cleaner coal use will be sustained.
§ Lord Livsey of Talgarth
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is that the technology does exist, albeit that it is being developed in countries other than the UK? Emissions can be much lower. Surely, the point is that the coalfield communities in particular have been absolutely devastated socially over the past 20 years or so. We need new developments to stimulate those communities, which in some places are now on their last legs.
In Wales, the landscape is being devastated by wind farms. Our coalfield communities are still suffering. Surely, now is the time to make a decision. We should not delay with further research and development, when the technology already exists.
§ Lord Triesman
My Lords, my understanding of the economics of the proposition that has just been made is that many of these technologies are not yet in a finely developed form and that they are relatively expensive. That has been somewhat of a sheet anchor in each of the instances where people are developing them. That is not an argument for not trying to develop them, but it is an argument about the relative cost of doing so. Appropriately regulated markets that can respond to changing prices in electricity should ensure that generators provide sufficient electricity to meet our needs and make rational choices about the methodology for doing so. It must be right to look at new technologies thoroughly—I fully accept that argument—but for future generations, we must balance the economics and the environment correctly.
Lord Clark of Windermere
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission. I remind my noble friend that wood is a renewable, and that many of the technologies needed to burn wood are similar to those used for burning coal. Can the Minister assure me that some of the advice and some of the assistance that comes from the DTI will also apply to wood-burning power stations?
§ Lord Triesman
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the question. I hope I have indicated on behalf of 774 the Government that we are keen to ensure that there is a diversity of sources of supply of energy, and in that light, I think that the assurance can be given.