This country faces a serious threat of black-outs unless we undertake a major programme of building new generating capacity to replace the existing plants that are coming to the end of their lives or that will no longer be legal under EU directives. I strongly support measures to streamline the planning process so that that construction programme can go ahead and, in particular, to encourage the development of nuclear after 12 wasted years in which there was a failure to move ahead with the nuclear programme.
We will be able to avoid the black-outs only if all our effort is put into this unprecedented construction programme. I do not believe that the country can afford, in addition, to build generating capacity that has no real use. That is what a lot of these measures are about. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said in a recent article that the measures he is introducing will deliver “secure, affordable energy”. They will deliver neither secure nor affordable energy. Renewables are not secure. The sun does not come out at night, it does not come out in the winter very often, and it does not come out when it is cloudy. It is not available when we most need the energy.
Wind is intermittent. The recent Stuart Young report stated that wind plant operates at less than 20% of its capacity over the country as a whole for half the time, less than 10% for a third of the time and barely 1% for one day every month. For each of the four highest periods of peak demand in 2010, it operated at only 4.7%, 5.5%, 2.6% and 2.5% of capacity. Precisely when we needed it most, wind was not there.
For some reason, people ignore the lessons of the past. The great Victorian economist Jevons wrote back in 1865:”“The first great requisite of motive power is that it shall be wholly at our command, to be exerted when, and where, and in what degree we desire. The wind, for instance, as a direct motive power, is wholly inapplicable to a system of machine labour for during a calm season the whole business of the country would be thrown out of gear.””
Those who seriously believe that we can run this country on wind power are living in a dream world and are harking back to the middle ages.
Nor will this programme produce lower costs. The Secretary of State said that it would keep bills lower than they would be if we stuck with the existing arrangements, but I find that statement completely indefensible. We cannot lower the cost of energy by requiring people to use more expensive types of energy. If we replace low-cost energy with high-cost energy, we will not and cannot reduce the costs, yet that is the whole thrust of the programme. The Renewable Energy Foundation and the Committee on Climate Change agree that it will cost £100 billion in subsidies to 2030, which is equivalent to more than £200 a household a year, to support renewables.
We know, fortunately, that the Government do not really believe they will bring down costs or that renewables costs will rise less rapidly than those of hydrocarbons. If they did believe that, there would be no need for subsidies. They would not be forecasting £100 billion of subsidies if higher hydrocarbon costs or reduced costs of renewables would make the latter economic without subsidy. Sadly, the Secretary of State does not live by the logic of his own position but instead puts forward rhetoric that is neither defensible nor supportable. I wait to hear in his winding-up speech whether the Minister can explain how we can get lower costs from higher-cost energy.