9 May 2023
Dunne welcomes vital Energy Bill in Commons 2nd Reading debate

Philip Dunne calls on the Government to develop a 27 year plan to provide clarity how the UK will decarbonise our economy during the path to Net Zero. He welcomes nuclear competition for SMRs; emphasises challenges for renewable projects in accessing the grid, being explored by new EAC inquiry; and urges support for community energy.

Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Southfork—excuse me, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I was delighted to learn that he will support the Bill, and he is quite right to do so. I was pleased to learn that he reads the report of the Environmental Audit Committee. I commend them to other Members who have not had that opportunity.

I also support the Bill. As the Secretary of State said, it is a monumental piece of legislation—the largest piece of energy legislation in my political lifetime and that of most people in this House, I suspect. Energy is at the heart of our economy. It drives the competitiveness of this country versus our peers. As we have seen from the impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, when things go wrong, those countries that cannot account for their own energy security and resilience are left at the mercy of the autocrats. That is not a position that this country should be in, given our geographic position and access to resources.

The Bill is a vital first step in the journey to the vision that the Secretary of State set out in “Powering Up Britain”, but I may disappoint him slightly by saying that it lacks what is really needed: a vision to get us to 2050. We need a 27-year plan to establish how we will drive electricity generation and get it to the places that it needs to go, in order to achieve net zero Britain. I hope that during the passage of the Bill, if additional comments and suggestions are made to the Front Bench, they will take them in a positive spirit in that direction.

The scale of the challenge is enormous. We need five times the current electricity generating capacity to decarbonise our economy, ignoring any increase in GDP during this period. The UK is trying to do that in a globally competitive environment, as we just heard from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North. This is a time in which international investors, whether state-owned electricity companies or financial investors, are looking for the markets to invest in energy generation that will provide them with the quickest route to completion of the deal, whatever kind of a deal that is. One big challenge that the Bill seeks to resolve is removing some of the barriers to implementation and reducing some of the risk. That is where it has a great deal to offer. The key is to provide confidence to the international community and the domestic supply chain that this country knows where it is going, will facilitate the way to get there and will do it quickly.

I have three quick points to make in my six minutes. The UK has allowed our existing nuclear fleet to age without previous Administrations taking the necessary decisions. The Labour party was completely incapable of taking decisions about nuclear and, frankly, in coalition the Lib Dems were no better, and applied the brakes. I welcome the Government’s having made the difficult decisions to start the process of renewing our nuclear fleet.

I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today on the competition launched to identify two projects by November from a design perspective. I urge him and his nuclear Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie)—who is very welcome in his place—to ensure that the UK takes advantage of this opportunity to recover our leading position in nuclear technologies, by giving some clarity on what happens after the design competition has made its determinations. We need to maintain the development of novel technological solutions so that the UK once again becomes a nuclear energy hub of expertise.

I wrote to the Secretary of State last week on the subject of solar power. In connection with that, the EAC has launched an inquiry into the grid, which, as others have said, is not in a fit state to cope with the massive electrification of the economy. I encourage external observers and commentators to provide evidence to our inquiry into enabling the sustainable electrification of the UK economy, which will focus on the role of the national grid and reducing barriers to access. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North identified some statistics. Today, attaching an onshore solar farm to the grid in the UK takes 13 years. The queue is that long. As one can imagine, that is something of a deterrent to anybody thinking about doing that. We have to cut that significantly, and planning is a big part of that.

Cutting the time to provide consents while enabling communities to have their say is the Rubik’s cube challenge that the Bill seeks to address. Similarly, we must ensure that we have confidence in supply chains to supply the capabilities that we wish to introduce in this country. As has been said, finance is internationally mobile. The money is there to fund the projects but only if those projects can be delivered.

Finally, I have a quick note on community energy. I declare that I am a member of the Ludlow Hydro Co-operative, which is a very good, small-scale scheme providing electricity to local communities. Their lordships have made some suggestions to encourage other such schemes, and I hope the Minister will look upon them favourably.