Scottish Energy in the 21st Century

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Mrs. Liddell: I have met the Faroese and Old Norse is closer to the language that they speak.

Mr. Carmichael: The islands are still governed by the Danish Government, so I should imagine that the right hon. Lady talked to them.

There are also enormous spin-off potentials for communities in the northern isles. We already have a direct sea link by virtue of the Smyril line that comes into Lerwick and the Faroes. Indeed, there are moves in Shetland to permit Atlantic Airways, which now operates a direct service between the Faroes and London, to use a Shetland stopover. That is a good example of the benefit that an expanded Faroese sector, using Shetland, would give to the communities that I represent.

The Secretary of State said that the oil industry was global and that it exported our expertise. That point was made to me repeatedly last year at the Offshore Europe exhibition in Aberdeen. I remind the Secretary of State that owing to the nature of the industry, we will be among the first to gain expertise in the decommissioning of installations.

A few years ago, we thought that that would be the future potential for work from the offshore oil industry. It does not have the immediate potential that we envisaged, but it has medium and long-term potential. There is much decommissioning work to be secured, and Shetland would be ideally placed to

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tender for that. If we can secure the small amount of work that is currently available, there is potential for us to present ourselves as market leaders when big money may be made from decommissioning. I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister to bear that in mind.

12.20 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I welcome the opportunity to debate energy in Scotland. Hon. Members have concentrated on diverse key policy aspects. I draw the attention of the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to renewable energy. That area requires considerable co-operation between United Kingdom Ministers and Scottish Ministers. Our approach should be built on the real partnership between the Parliaments. We must work together to support safe new ways of supplying energy, sustaining our environment and reducing carbon emissions.

Britain is committed to renewable energy targets, and Scotland's rich renewable resources will go a long way toward achieving those. Thirteen per cent. of Scottish electricity will come from renewable energy by next year, and the target is to reach 18 per cent. by the end of the decade.

The study on renewable resources that was conducted by the Scottish Executive demonstrates Scotland's huge potential. The United Kingdom's installed generation capacity is 80 GW. The study shows that by 2010, as much as 60 GW of new renewable energy capacity could be available in Scotland and offshore Scotland. That would cost less than 7p per unit.

Onshore wind is clearly the most economic resource, and could provide 11.5 GW of energy at less than 3p per unit. Scotland's targets for renewable energy could be met almost wholly by onshore wind, but we must go further in leading the United Kingdom on the promotion of renewables, which will mean substantial connection to the electricity network. More than 1.5 billion W of capacity could be connected if the grid were upgraded in north, west and south-west Scotland. However, such improvements would cost as much £200 million.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State has consistently maintained a keen local interest in planned interconnectors across his constituency, as have other hon. Members. The Northern Ireland interconnector and the Anglo-Scottish interconnector are planned to be operational next year. We must consider seriously export by wire of renewable electricity in future years, although I recognise that that would involve considerable investment in infrastructure. I urge the Secretary of State and the Minister to give the matter active consideration in discussions with the industry and their colleagues. This demonstrates the crucial importance of research and development in renewable energy. Scotland's great potential will be delivered only if we are also at the cutting edge of advances in the field.

I welcome the Government's strong continuing commitment to research and development. In three years, over £55 million will go specifically to the

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Department of Trade and Industry's new and renewable energy programme. In total, £260 million is allocated to encourage the take-up of renewable technologies. Research councils are funding excellent projects throughout Scotland. Guidelines are being developed at Glasgow university for prudent and secure maintenance of offshore wind farms. A team at Heriott-Watt university is considering the possibility of producing solar cells on textiles. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funds £3 million of energy-related research in Scotland. Funding of £35 million is provided across the UK. That means that universities in Scotland get their fair share of research grants, but we must ask for significantly more in the future. Scotland must lead the United Kingdom in research and development on renewable energy. I urge the Government to accept their responsibilities and to face these challenges.

12.25 pm

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): I appreciate that time is running out and that many hon. Members wish to contribute, but I want to make a few points.

I welcome the debate secured by the Liberal Democrats, especially as it is taking place prior to the publication of the performance and innovation unit's report. Scotland faces an energy review and power stations such as Peterhead, Cockenzie, Hunterston, Longannet and Torness are due to be decommissioned during the next 30 years.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) and I share an interest in the Chapelcross situation; that power station faces an immediate problem with regard to the connection to the English market, and the regulator has made proposals that put it in jeopardy.

There has been a cross-party consensus about the need for renewable energy, but one word has been missing from the debate; balance. The contribution of the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) was unrealistic. He suggested that Scotland would be able to produce sufficient energy for the next 30 to 40 years without needing to replace some of the nuclear power stations that are due to be decommissioned over the next 20 years. However, his party are vociferously opposing wind and wave developments the length and breadth of south-west Scotland, as the Minister for Industry and Energy said. I have a particular interest in the wind development scheme at Windy Standard; people in that area are signing petitions that are as long as my arm in objection to that scheme.

Mr. Weir: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that people should not be allowed to express an opinion on such matters?

Mr. Peter Duncan: The hon. Gentleman has teed the ball up nicely for me, and I will happily smack it down the fairway. I am delighted that people put their objections to such proposals on the record; that is the purpose of the planning process. However, it is two-faced of his party to suggest that 60 or 70 per cent. of

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Scotland's energy can be contributed by wind and wave power in the foreseeable future when, on the ground, it is opposing such developments.

I am delighted that the Minister of State will shortly meet with the Ministry of Defence. He can expect a long and strong letter from me prior to that meeting, because the Ministry of Defence is putting a brake on the development of wind power in Scotland by suggesting that the construction of wind farms will make it unsustainable to train pilots in low flying. It is incongruous to claim that pilots whom we are sending to the Balkans and other parts of the world cannot be asked to contemplate an environment that includes wind farms. That obscure argument is causing great problems for the development of the industry.

The Minister and the Secretary of State are aware of the innovative development of natural power at Dalry in my constituency. That project lays to rest the spurious argument that wind power developments cannot create jobs. They can create quality employment, as they have done in my constituency.

There is a problem in the regulation of infrastructure investment in Scotland, especially in relation to how we deliver quality power supply to remote communities and in relation to wind or wave power generated in those areas. Put bluntly, power systems are trying to invest in south-west Scotland but are being prevented from doing so by the regulator, who believes that there is no demand for increased reliability of power services to that area. It is a flaw in the regulation of the system that it cannot permit investment that would change lives in south-west Scotland. I ask those with some influence in the matter to refer the agencies involved to public demand in south-west Scotland.

Energy resource for the next 30 or 40 years—the next generation—will require balance. Time is short. I have not yet reached mature middle age, to use the term used by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). By the time I do so, we shall have had to make some significant decisions about energy policy that will not involve ruling out nuclear power for the foreseeable future.

12.31 pm

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles): I shall concentrate on the west coast sub-sea cable, which has already been mentioned and which is so important to my constituency. The first context that is relevant to the project is the potential for developing renewable energy in the north and west of Scotland; not only the Western Isles, but Orkney and Shetland and the west coast of Scotland. Hon. Members have already said that Scotland has the best renewable energy potential in Europe; the north and west of Scotland have the best renewable energy in Scotland. I illustrate that with one telling fact. AMEC, the company that is planning to develop the 600 MW wind farm in my constituency, told me that because of the constancy of wind, which colleagues who have visited my constituency will have noticed, and its strength, developing wind turbines in places such as the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland

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or the far west coast is twice as cost effective as planting wind turbines anywhere else in Scotland or the United Kingdom.

There is enormous potential for renewable and cost-effective energy in the north and on the west coast. The problem is getting it to the markets that need it. The traditional problem in the highlands and islands is how to access the markets that need such energy. The big markets are in the south of England. Scotland and the north of England do not have enough demand.

The second context is that, if we do not develop the transmission network and infrastructure to take our renewable energy down to those big markets, other parts of the UK and, indeed, Europe, will supply that market. Most Members will be aware of the interconnector that runs from France to England, carrying about 2,000 MW of power. No doubt as the English market develops, that capacity will be built on, too.

Members may not be aware that National Grid is working on plans to run a sub-sea cable from Norway to England with Statnett, the Norwegian transmission company. It will cover some 400 miles, cost some £500 million to accomplish and take three years to lay the cable. It is a major engineering project. By 2005, hydropower will run from Norway to the markets of the south of England. That is not all. The National Grid Company is planning to run a sub-sea 1,000 MW cable to carry power from Holland to the south of England, too. There will be a Norwegian sub-sea cable to accompany the French sub-sea cable and probably a Dutch sub-sea cable, too. There is no reason why we in Scotland cannot accomplish what the Norwegians and Dutch are planning and supply our energy to the south of England.

The Government are looking at the overland routes of getting power from Scotland to the south of England. The Minister for Industry and Energy said that it is hoped that the planning delays that have afflicted the Anglo-Scottish interconnector in the past will not be as prolonged. However, uncertainty still exists. We must bear in mind that the Yorkshire interconnector has so far taken 12 years and two planning inquiries but, hopefully, it will be in place at the end of the year. There must be some doubt about the developing the overland network. I am not saying that we should not encourage it, but we should not do so at the expense of looking realistically at the potential of the sub-sea cable on the west coast. I hope that the Government will be pushing that. If we are to generate capacity of 5 GW to 7 GW of renewable energy and carry it down to England in the future, there will be plenty of space for scope.

12.37 pm

 
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Prepared 13 February 2002