Aberconwy MP and Wales Office Minister Guto Bebb spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on energy in Wales.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered energy in Wales.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, though I am a tad disappointed that it is the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) who will respond on behalf of the Government. If the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy truly wanted to spread wealth across the whole of the United Kingdom, and if energy and the industrial strategy were the central plank of this Government’s approach, I would at least have expected an Energy Minister to come along today. However, the Under-Secretary is a very good friend of mine—he helped me with many projects even before he became a Member of Parliament—and I know that he understands the subject of energy in Wales.
The purpose of this debate is to take stock of energy in Wales, to press the reset button—that is a polite way of telling the Government to get their finger out on certain projects—and, although it might not sound like I am doing so, to recreate a consensus. I stress the word “recreate” and will come to that in a moment. My contribution will look fairly at the good, the bad and the frustrating in energy policy, including some very welcome consensus in the late 1990s and the noughties, right through until about 2012.
Wales has enormous potential in energy. It has the potential to drive the energy policy of the whole United Kingdom and, indeed, its industrial strategy. We have natural resources, human resources and skills in the energy sector; welcoming local communities to host many of the proposed projects; and a forward-looking Welsh Government.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we need the UK Government to commit to big projects? Whether we are talking about the electrification of the railway to Swansea or the tidal lagoon, such commitment to Wales has been missing from this Government.
We are at a crucial time with the UK Government. As I said in my opening remarks, if BEIS, in particular, and other Departments are serious about spreading wealth across the United Kingdom, they need to look at Wales in a more positive way.
Following on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), if the Government were to invest in electrification and the lagoon projects, much-needed jobs would be delivered throughout south Wales, as well as in north Wales and Ynys Môn. Such commitment from the Government would help with some of the longer-term unemployment issues that some parts of Wales have had for a number of years. Ii would also improve the skills agenda in Wales.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When we talk about energy projects, we are talking about building infrastructure, helping the environment, climate change, jobs and skills. They are important and linked to the other projects he mentioned. Wales not only complements the United Kingdom, but can lead the United Kingdom and rekindle a pioneering spirit in many projects.
Since I entered this House, I have been interested in energy. I used to work in the energy sector. One of my first jobs was in the oil industry: for many years I was a galley boy on an oil tanker going around the middle east. During the 1970s I saw some of the big issues of the oil crisis at first hand, when people talked about developing renewable, solar and other technologies because of the crisis. Sometimes it takes a crisis to focus attention and to concentrate minds. Afterwards, however, we went back to oil and coal, carrying on as normal in many ways.
I am proud that we now have the Climate Change Act 2008. I was proud to vote for it and I think I am the only Member present in this Chamber who did so. It was a pioneering Act that showed that the United Kingdom was a lead nation in looking after the environment. To complement the Act, to ensure that we reduce carbon and improve the environment, we need low-carbon projects. There have been some good results.
As the Minister knows, I am pro-renewables, pro-nuclear and pro-energy efficiency, and I see no contradiction in taking all three views, if we are to achieve the targets we all want. Even ardent climate change deniers now acknowledge that the climate is changing and accept—humbly, some of them—that mankind is contributing to that. We need to dispel the idea that the climate is not changing and that we need do nothing. We have to do something for this and future generations.
I repeat that I was very proud that under the previous Labour Government, but with the support of all parties in the House, we passed the Climate Change Act. We need a rich mix of energy technologies, to ensure that we reach our targets. When I sat on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, we produced a number of reports on energy in Wales and they were very good platforms to build on. I have also been on the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change and am now on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, and we are considering the issue. I have scrutinised Governments of both colours—of three colours if we include the coalition, which was a mix of Conservatives and Liberals—but, to be fair, in the early days there was a consensus on how to progress.
We need to push the case for new renewables, new nuclear and new opportunities for jobs and skills in the future. I welcome the initiatives of previous Governments. The renewables obligation was introduced to help kick-start solar and wind, the development of which is now producing lower-cost clean energy. That was because of subsidy, which is not a dirty word but an essential tool to get firsts of a kind going. We need the help and support of subsidy. We rightly subsidise our buses and trains; we should be subsidising the development of renewable and future generation technologies.
I repeat that I welcome the consensus between the two major parties that promoted and developed a low-carbon economy. In 2001 and 2003, during a review, I lobbied the Labour Government to introduce new nuclear and to push the wind agenda to offshore as well as onshore. The Conservatives adopted that policy and supported the Climate Change Act. There was a great period of continuity from when the Conservatives were in opposition and Labour in government, to when the coalition came to office and the stewardship of the then Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, to whose name we will no doubt return. That continuity gave essential certainty to investors, which is important because such projects are long term and cannot be done in a single parliamentary cycle. In many cases, we need to consider working over two or three Parliaments.
That was the good part. The bad part was the populism of the coalition, with some of the Conservatives dancing to the tune of The Daily Telegraph and many others, pulling projects because they were not popular. The wind industry was coming to the end of its subsidies anyway, but the Conservative-led coalition turning against it hampered investment in the sector. Offshore wind is now back on the agenda; many of the projects started in 2006 and 2007 are now coming to fruition and producing the wind energy the country needs. Wind is important. I know it has its critics, because it is intermittent, but that means it can be switched off when demand is at a certain level. We can have continuous demand and supply, but also demand when needed.
We moved from a good period to a frustrating period because of external factors—the global financial crisis—when external investment became difficult to obtain. I understand that, but we need a stimulus. We needed it then, and I argued that the stimulus could have come in the form of investment in the energy requirement. That would have created the jobs and skills necessary to boost a flat economy that is on its knees.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should ask the Government to secure a price per unit for wind energy for a year, rather than price variation?
I will come to price mechanisms in a moment, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need certainty. Investors need to know what the price will be and what return they will get in the long term. I think that everyone accepts that economies of scale enable lower-cost energy production, and that should be reflected in subsidies. The governance framework needs to be a little tighter. The contract for difference, which I will come to, is a good principle. Many people do not appreciate that with a strike price, if prices fluctuate, big developers do not get the money; it comes back and stays with the Government, so we get certainty about how much the Government spend. That is good.
Major energy policies are reserved. I appreciate that the Wales Act 2017 devolved control over projects up to 350 MW, which reflects the larger scale of projects, but we require a partnership between local communities, local businesses, devolved Administrations and the UK Government, within—remember that we are still in the European Union—the European framework.
I acknowledge that whoever won the 2010 general election would have had to reform the electricity market. I sat on the Committee that discussed the relevant legislation before it went through. I did not agree with everything in it, but I did agree with the principle of reforming the electricity market to ensure certainty for investors and value for money for the consumer. Energy Ministers have changed frequently—that has been a problem with both Labour and Conservative Governments —so we have perhaps not given energy the attention it deserves. I support the contract for difference principle and the need for a capacity market mechanism, but during the period of populism I referred to, the oil price and energy prices went up, and that became a big political issue. We were significantly reliant on oil and gas prices, because we were not developing the renewable, new nuclear and low-carbon technologies we should have been.
Wales is still heavily reliant on oil and gas as part of our mix, so we need to move forward. It is ironic that Wales and Scotland are huge producers of energy, yet household and business bills are higher in those areas than in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is totally unfair that a consumer in Wales pays extra for their energy. They might be close to a power station that generates energy for the grid but, because of the transmission and distribution mechanisms, they end up paying more for it. I would not say that the energy market is completely broken, but it is fractured and those issues need to be addressed. Wales is still reliant on gas and coal, and it needs to wean itself off them. I am disappointed that combined storage schemes for coal and for oil have not progressed in the past five to six years. We could have retrofitted many of our power stations so that we had clean coal and oil production as we transitioned to renewables, but we did not do so.
Let me turn to some of the technologies. I will start with marine technology, which is important. We have a history in Wales of small hydro schemes. The Dinorwig pumping station in many ways revolutionised storage. We need to consider storage, and here is a scheme that was developed in Wales many years ago that pumps electricity up at night, when energy prices are low, and stores it.
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the potential in Wales for hydro schemes. Dinorwig is a fantastic example of a larger hydro scheme. Does he agree that smaller hydro schemes—the potential of which we perhaps have not fully realised—are just as important for our energy mix in Wales? He also talks about the UK and Welsh Governments working in partnership. We desperately need to look at the revaluation of business rates, which is affecting many hydro energy schemes, particularly community energy schemes. Does he agree that we have an opportunity to fully realise the potential of hydro in Wales by addressing that revaluation?
Order. I remind Members to keep their interventions as short as possible.
I welcome the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) to the House—this is the first opportunity I have had to do so. He is a new Member and he will get used to making shorter interventions as he gets going.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we need to look at barriers and at whether the rates system deters such schemes. We are going back to basics with some of these smaller hydro projects. Many farms and small communities had their own hydro projects many years ago. We get an awful lot of wind and rain in west Wales and the west of the United Kingdom, and we need to harness that. Many of the windmills that produced food in the past were driven by both hydro and wind; we are only returning to that.
Wales and the UK’s west coast have enormous marine energy potential. Their tidal ranges are some of the best in the world. The Welsh Government and the UK Government have done numerous studies in Scotland, west Wales and the west of England, yet although prototypes have been set up, many have not been developed. Indeed, I visited Strangford lough in Northern Ireland to see some of the pioneering schemes there, but those have not reached the necessary commercial scale because of a lack of investment. There is a blockage, and it is in all our interests to undo that blockage and ensure that such schemes are successful.
Minesto, a Swedish company in my constituency, is moving forward a project, which the Minister knows about, 8 km off the coast of Holyhead that links with the port of Holyhead. Not-for-profit organisation Menter Môn, which the Minister also knows about, is involved in the grid connection there and will benefit from that. That project is up and going.
This Parliament and the Welsh and Scottish Governments have talked for some time about tidal lagoons; we now need to move forward with them. We could have a cluster in Wales because of the tidal range from Colwyn Bay to Swansea Bay—the potential is absolutely there. I am sure that colleagues will want to elaborate on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, but I mention it because it has been identified as a first-of-a-kind project that could go forward. The Government have taken it seriously and a lot of development work has been done on it.
This Government set up the electricity market review and capacity mechanisms that I talked about, and they also set up the Hendry review, which reported at the beginning of this year. Reports take time, and I understand the Government’s frustration when they get external issues. Brexit is dominant, and we had a two-month election period that everyone wanted—apart from the Conservatives themselves, when they saw the results. That election cost the taxpayer £140 million, excluding the figure for Northern Ireland, which we have not yet seen. That money could have been invested in some of these projects, which could have been moving forward as I speak.
Tidal lagoons could generate 250 MW to 350 MW of electricity. The tidal range allows some 14 hours of generation per day—it is huge. That would enhance the area, since it could be used for tourism as well as for producing much-needed low-carbon energy. Of course, we need great connections, which are controversial. I will come to connections for transmission and distribution; we need to handle them properly and have them underground so they are not unsightly.
I urge the Minister to give us a response to the Hendry review. It is no good the Government saying, “We’re looking at it”—they have been looking at it for many months. The civil servants were not involved in the election campaign; they were diligently doing their work in the BEIS office. They should come up with recommendations for Ministers, and Ministers should have the grace to make their mind up and come back to the House to say where they are going. Investors need certainty; they do not need the Government to abandon decisions after setting up a review. In my humble opinion, the only thing holding the project back, having looked at the potential mechanisms and the price—the first of its kind will be expensive—is the political will of the Government. It will be the job of the Minister to convince the House that that is not the case. The only way he will be able to do that is by announcing the date of an announcement. The Government should stop prevaricating and do that immediately. The Orkney isles, the west coast of England and south Wales have the potential for marine technology.
Let me turn to new nuclear, because it is important that we keep these projects on track. Again, this is older technology that has been modernised for the 21st century. In my constituency, the Wylfa power station site generated safe nuclear power for a record number of years, which created jobs for many decades. In fact, it is the only industry I know where classmates who left school at the same time as me worked in the same high-quality, high-paid jobs in one industry, thereby contributing to the local economy. The supply chain is huge and the technical skills are high.
We need to move forward. The project that started in 2007 to 2009 is on track. We now have new developers in Hitachi with proven technology and capacity, and I know that, working with the Welsh Government, the local community, local government and the UK Government, we can move forward on the project and produce high-quality jobs. There is some £12 billion of investment, which I remind Members—I have raised this enough times—is the equivalent of the London Olympics being invested in north-west Wales. There is huge potential to develop the economies of Anglesey, Conwy, Gwynedd and the whole of north Wales. Indeed, it is the biggest project in Wales in terms of jobs—construction jobs and ongoing jobs as well.
The Minister is aware of this, but I also want to talk about small module reactors and the potential for them. I met with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield and have also visited. It has got all these companies together so that we can forge the modules for nuclear reactors with British steel in the United Kingdom and deliver the kits to different locations. Trawsfynydd is ideally located for that. It has a welcoming community that would play host, and it has the infrastructure in place. What we need, once again, is for BEIS to stop sitting on reports and papers and to start making announcements. That is what the business world and local communities want to hear: the trade unions and business working together to develop these high-skilled jobs.
I could also talk about many other projects. Orthios wants to develop an eco-park in my constituency. It was not successful in the auctions—the auctions are cumbersome, and it did not meet the criteria. We need to simplify those criteria. The threshold of 299 MW has, I think, been reduced to 150 MW, so it did not qualify.
We also have great offshore wind projects. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) may interject, or he may wait—he is now a patient Front Bencher and statesman—and respond in his speech. Many people opposed the offshore project, including the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who I remember lobbying the Welsh Affairs Committee when we went to north Wales, saying, “Save our shore,” because the project was not wanted. It has now developed and was a flagship of the Conservative-led coalition Government in which he served. He suddenly changed his mind on that and then flew the flag for wind farm development. My point is that sometimes these projects are controversial and appear costly when looked at, but they are a worthwhile investment because they produce low-carbon energy off stream and jobs in localities. Celtic Array Rhiannon, just off my constituency, would have been the biggest offshore wind farm. That was aborted in many ways because of the mechanism as well as technology developments, but the potential is still there.
I am conscious that I have taken a lot of time, but I want to talk about distribution and transmission. Hon. Members will be aware that British Gas hiked its gas prices and that many other companies, including Scottish Power, have highlighted that the high cost of distribution and transmission has pushed bills up. I am sure, Mr Paisley, that you are diligent and look at your bill either online or in paper form, like I do. When we look at it, we see that 25% is for distribution and transmission costs. That is a huge amount of the bill.
If we are serious about reducing and capping energy prices, we need to look at distribution costs. The national grid is a monopoly—there is no competition in it—and it almost holds developers at ransom. I know it is regulated, but it does not work. Had there been a different result in the general election, the Labour party would have nationalised it or introduced a not-for-profit model, like we have for water in Wales. We are used to not-for-profit organisations, which reinvest all their money into infrastructure. Welsh Water—Dŵr Cymru—is an excellent example of that. Instead of paying directors in the United States of America and shareholders, it puts the money back into the communities in which it works.
The proposal for pylons across Anglesey and north-west Wales is controversial: 1950s-style pylons are to be attached to 21st-century nuclear power. National Grid needs to listen to the communities it is working with and look at undergrounding and subsea rather than pylons.
Finally, we need to deal with energy prices. As I have said, Wales has high bills compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. Transmission is cited as one of the reasons for that. There are also higher levels of fuel poverty in Wales and pockets of fuel poverty. I know there are issues elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but we do need to address that. When we invest properly in new technology, we are creating a better country and high-skilled jobs. If I had more time, I would go into energy poverty issues, but we do need to deal with them.
The coalition Government changed the criteria for measuring fuel poverty. They were archaic in many ways—the Queen was in fuel poverty because a high percentage of Buckingham Palace’s outgoings were on energy—but the serious point is that many people in Wales, in areas that produce a lot of energy, are paying a higher price and are in fuel poverty. The Welsh Assembly and devolved Administrations have done good work in that area, and I hope that the Government are listening. There needs to be more work on that as we go forwards.
I called for the debate because I believe there is huge potential for Wales to be a huge contributor to the United Kingdom’s industrial strategy when it comes to energy and manufacturing. We have successful projects going forward, which is good for Wales, for the United Kingdom, for Welsh businesses and for the consumer. They will reduce carbon emissions into the environment and help to deal with climate change. The skills issue, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), is essential. These projects create clusters of high-skilled science parks and faculties for research and development, which link into higher and further education institutes. This is a win-win situation.
I support the Government’s principle of an industrial strategy. They talked about nuclear and energy as being part of that. Electric cars are a good thing, but we need to get on with it. We need to press the reset button and get these projects going. We need to invest in them and work together to produce the low-carbon economy that the Minister, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and everyone in the Chamber wants to see. Wales can be the pioneer, creating the jobs, the technology and the energy that the country needs.
I hope that the Minister is in listening mode and that he has some answers for us. If he does not, I hope he will pass these points on to the BEIS Minister, who may have the grace to come to the next debate with “energy” in the title. Wales is part of the United Kingdom and part of the industrial strategy, and Ministers need to be aware of that. Wales is a forward-looking country when it comes to many things, including energy. We want the best for the people we come here to represent and we want a better, clean environment, clean air, and climate change to be dealt with. We want to play a leading part in that.
Thank you very much, Mr Paisley. It is a great pleasure to follow the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). As the Minister will know, within the next few weeks the Government will launch their clean growth plan. I very much hope that he will use all his energies to ensure that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, the tidal lagoon planned for north Wales and rail electrification to Swansea will be in that plan. Without trying to be rude to him, he is a Minister in the Wales Office: my great fear is that it is a small Department with very little bite and, arguably, very little bark. We hope that he speaks up for Wales on green energy.
I have to say that my other great fear is that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon and rail electrification to Swansea are set to burn on the altar of Brexit fundamentalism. I say that because the Government now face a bill from the EU of perhaps more than £50 billion, which translates to thousands of pounds for every family in Swansea and in Wales. The Government are now dashing out forward looking, long-term green plans—whether rail electrification to Swansea or the Swansea bay tidal lagoon—and prioritising London and the south-east once more, where they are not needed. They are looking at the short term, not the long term, and thinking about how they can pay that bill so that they can keep on pushing forward with a project that people now realise does not resemble anything like what they voted for.
I stood in the general election on a platform of saying that I will defend the 25,000 jobs in Swansea bay that depend on access to the single market, promote rail electrification and keep it on track, keep the lagoon moving forward and oppose fracking. On that basis, my vote went up by 50% in both share and number. I will stick to my pledges and will use this occasion to again promote the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. The tidal lagoon has been talked about for years. George Osborne, the then Chancellor, announced in his November 2014 autumn statement that he thought the lagoon was a fantastic idea and that he wanted to get work on it moving. David Cameron echoed that, and then the Hendry review gave it and its costings a clean bill of health.
However, we now have uncertainty and prevarication, which is making investors, who came around the table to support this important, pioneering project in good faith, wonder will happen next. We face uncertainties owing to Brexit, but people in Swansea and in Wales need the certainty that we will make these investments. On costings, the Treasury is obviously looking around and saying, “Oh, well how does the unit price for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon compare with the spot price for oil?”, but one has to remember—as I am sure you do, Mr Paisley—that 80% of fossil fuels that have already been identified cannot be exploited if we are to avoid irreversible climate change, sustain our commitment to the Paris agreement and fulfil our obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. In the medium term, the price of oil will go up if we are not allowed to exploit it, while the value of green energy will be much greater. We need to pioneer forward.
Economists’ evaluations of the Swansea bay tidal lagoon showed that, if there is a marginal increase in the actual units of electricity produced—we are talking about a relatively small amount of global energy from this particular lagoon; enough to power 120,000 households —the actual cost is very small for market entry into what could be a global marketplace in a green future. The short termism of the bean counters at the Treasury, who ask about the cost over the next few years, is therefore completely counterproductive. We are looking to have a portfolio of lagoons around Britain and then beyond, to start off an export market during tough times. We know that the lagoon is in fact cheaper than new nuclear and, as I have said, it will be cheaper than oil in the future.
We want a green future for Wales and for Britain, and we want our fair share of infrastructure investment. We should be getting our fair share of HS2, for instance, which would be £2 billion that could be invested in infrastructure, whether that is rail electrification or helping to support the green energy of the future.
I am proud to say that I sit on the Welsh Affairs Committee, and we will produce reports on rail electrification and the lagoon. It is useful to have these exchanges, but the Minister needs to know that other Ministers, from energy to rail, will sit in front of us and will have to answer these questions, rather than flipping them away in the main Chamber in two seconds. We will issue responses to those. Infrastructure investment is important for lifting productivity in Wales, where, as the Minister knows, gross value added is only 70% of the UK average. We are delivering on skills and education to lift productivity, but we need to deliver on infrastructure, which we are not. That is why this is so vital.
On a green future, like my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), who has just left, I think there is also a case for investing in and supporting Ford’s attempt to generate batteries to support a new generation of electric cars as part of a plan to push forward with electric infrastructure across Wales. Investors need to know what is happening; there has been a lot of uncertainty, and not only with Brexit. While it is a long way away, I understand there was no consultation with industry on the announcement of the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars after 2040, which I welcome. We need to work with industry in setting our objectives in the clean growth plan to show our ambition. They should be ready for action, and we should put our money where our mouth is.
The question for people in Wales has always been “How green is my valley?”, and we very much hope that it will be a very green valley. We are here to ask the Minister to do everything he can to support both the Swansea bay tidal lagoon and other green energy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn said, and an integrated green future that provides productivity, prosperity and hope for all of us for the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing the debate. In March last year, I stood in the main Chamber and spoke in the St David’s day debate about how accustomed to waiting for things we are in Wales. We waited so long for rail electrification, which is now merely another broken promise from the Government, and we waited for the Welsh national team to reach the European championships. That one was worth waiting for.
We beat Northern Ireland as well.
No comment. We were also waiting for Charles Hendry’s review on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which was published 10 months later. It was conclusive, and it provided the assurance that the Government sought on whether tidal lagoons could play a cost-effective role in the UK energy mix. It recommended moving forward with a pathfinder lagoon in Swansea bay
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”.
That was eight months ago, and once again we are still waiting.
Since the review’s publication, the Government have made no concerted effort to proceed. The Conservative party’s manifesto for the 2017 general election merely touched on renewable energy in Wales, with a promise to
“explore ways to harness Welsh natural resources for the generation of power”,
but failed to make any commitment to the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. By comparison, all other major political parties committed in their manifestos that it should happen as a priority. Since the election, we have heard nothing more from the Government about any plans to develop the project.
We all know that the tidal lagoon is the way forward; it harnesses natural power from the rise and fall of the tides, so offers an entirely predictable year-round supply. It is a guaranteed power source for generations to come, and the long-term cost benefits speak for themselves. The Welsh Labour Government, local councils and city regions all support a tidal lagoon in Swansea. Welsh businesses, community leaders and the people of Wales and Swansea support it. Swansea is ready for this now.
There are many benefits that will have immediate impacts on the economy and the community. The lagoon will bring an estimated 2,000 new jobs to the region, and there will be a demand for approximately 100,000 tonnes of locally sourced steel. The tidal lagoon already has 1,300 British businesses registered on its supply chain database. This is a golden opportunity to use British resources to develop British industry in Wales. Why are we stalling?
In his review, Sir Charles Hendry said:
“We can either stand back and watch other countries take the lead…or we can decide that we should do what the UK has done so well in the past—spotting an opportunity, developing the technology and creating an industry.”
As Britain moves into a post-Brexit world, we need to ask whether we want to be leaders or followers. Today, I ask the Minister that very question. Are we ready to be world leaders and develop this new energy source in south Wales, or are we going to be left behind waiting, this time for someone else to steal our lead? We cannot afford to let this slip through our fingers. We need an answer. We need the lagoon, and we need it now.
I call Tonia Antoniazzi.
Thank you, Mr Paisley. You have indeed improved your pronunciation of my name. I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for securing this debate.
With the Government pursuing an ill-advised and short-sighted attack on renewables, the UK is set to miss its target. To put that into context, the EU is set to meet its target of producing 20% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. The UK is missing even its own unambitious targets. That has not happened in a policy vacuum: it is a direct result of the Tories scrapping subsidies for onshore wind farms, solar energy, biomass fuel conversion, and killing the flagship green homes scheme—I could go on, as they have made many more decisions as part of their sustained attack on renewable energy.
In my constituency, we have a company called Gower Power that develops renewable energy projects and specialises in putting them into community ownership. That project will provide enough energy for 300 homes and create more than half a million pounds of funds for developing other community eco-projects. The Gower Regeneration project has been supported by the Welsh Government. It would not have been supported by the Conservatives. It serves as a telling case study into the contrast between a Labour Government’s support for new, renewable forms of energy and the Conservatives’ slashing of support for them.
The Welsh Government are completely committed to renewable energy and, despite significant budget cuts passed down from Westminster, have supported projects such as the Gower solar farm through their Energy Wales plan. Energy Wales is a framework and delivery plan for how Wales will transition to becoming a low-carbon country. Only a few years after its inception, solar farms such as the one in my constituency are springing up as a result of the Welsh Government’s foresight on this issue. Gower offers the perfect environment for a wide range of renewables, including the impressive onshore wind farm in Mynydd y Gwair.
In this harsh climate for renewables, new solutions and radical ideas are needed. We are talking about the Swansea bay tidal lagoon today, which is supported by parties of all colours. It is particularly notable that Conservatives from Swansea took to the seas this summer to support the tidal lagoon. Welsh Tories are behind it, so what is going on? The conditions around the Swansea bay make it perfect for a project of this nature. Both the River Tawe and River Neath enter the sea there. The proposal would build 16 hydro turbines and a six-mile breakwater wall around the area, generating enough energy to power 155,000 homes for the next 120 years. Where the Government’s short-sightedness has created a huge hole in our capacity to power our country in future years, the Swansea bay tidal lagoon offers us a way forward.
The benefits are not just environmental. West Wales was found by the Inequality Briefing to be the poorest region in northern Europe. Large infrastructure projects are few and far between. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon offers a rare glimpse of UK Government-provided hope in an area too often forgotten about by those who currently run Westminster.
My hon. Friend, who is a great advocate for the lagoon, will know that the constitution of the Welsh Government contains a commitment to sustainable development. With talks about changing powers post-Brexit, does she agree that this is the time to move the power to take leadership of green projects with the resources from Westminster to Wales, so that we can get on with the job of delivering a green future with our lagoon?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have to move forward, and we need the infrastructure commitment from Westminster to be able to do that.
The tidal lagoon has a projected £1.3 billion capital spend, the majority of which will be spent in Wales and across the UK. The construction period is expected to contribute £316 million in gross value added to the Welsh economy and £76 million a year thereafter. In an area still struggling to recover from the loss of mining and manufacturing industries, the Swansea bay tidal lagoon offers a bright future for Wales post-Brexit.
Despite the money invested so far and the Government-commissioned Hendry report calling for the project to be signed off as soon as possible, where are we? The Government have now been sitting on the Hendry review for longer than it took Charles Hendry to conduct it. That is not acceptable. Investors’ money will not last forever, and we need to move on.
Labour’s Welsh Government and First Minister Carwyn Jones are delivering for Wales. We have Labour’s Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart delivering through the city deal. Everybody is behind it, but when the Conservatives in Westminster have a chance to deliver for renewable energy, for investment and for my constituency of Gower, they dither and delay.
Ultimately, it is not just my constituency that would feel the benefits of this project. Swansea bay tidal lagoon is a pathfinder project; we all know that. It offers a completely scalable blueprint for the programme, opening up the opportunity for a fleet of tidal lagoons across the country of varying sizes. Economies of scale apply, so the proposed follow-up larger lagoons could provide an even cheaper energy price. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon is therefore the litmus test for a renewable energy revolution across the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your esteemed chairmanship, Mr Paisley. May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this important debate? He coined the phrase “energy island” to describe his constituency. His dynamism and personal energy are recognised far and wide, in the Chamber and across Wales. In fact, I think if National Grid were to plug a couple of power cables into him, it could probably power the whole of north Wales—that might be painful, though.
My hon. Friend made a comprehensive speech, lasting half an hour—and thank God he did, because I think the debate will run short. He touched on many big projects, such as Wylfa Newydd and the tidal lagoon project for Wales, but also smaller projects, including small solar projects, Dinorwig pumping station and clean coal as a transition. It was a wide and comprehensive speech, and once again I congratulate him.
Wales as a nation is blessed with natural geographical and geological assets, which have contributed to the energy of these islands for centuries. Our coalmines supplied the energy for the industrial revolution; as we all know, the first industrial revolution in the world was in the United Kingdom. That energy was supplied from south Wales coalmines. They supplied the steel mills, the factories and the steamers that traded around the world. I pay tribute to the brave miners who dug black diamonds from the earth. As the saying goes, the earth does not give up its treasures lightly. Many miners lost their lives. In fact, there were 200 mining disasters and 6,000 men died. The first disaster was in 1766 and the last in 2011.
I pay tribute to the miners. The loyalty of and sacrifice by those brave men was rewarded by the previous Conservative Governments’ pit closure programmes in the 1980s and 1990s. The Minister may laugh, but the constituencies and communities affected are still suffering to this day.
There is this myth about the closure of mines by Conservative Governments. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that more pits closed in Wales under the leadership of the Labour party, under Labour Governments, than under any Conservative Government?
The big difference between what occurred under Labour and under the Conservatives is that the communities were left high and dry under the Conservatives. It was a political decision to close those mines. It was spite because of the industrial action by the miners. That was the big difference, and those communities are still suffering today. I want to move on to more modern times, but I thought I would just give the historical perspective.
I hear this argument from the Conservatives about closures under the Wilson and Callaghan Governments. Those mines were exhausted; there was no coal left—that was one reason why they closed them —or they were dangerous and flooding. That was why they closed them down; it was not for political reasons, but for economic reasons.
I will move on now, Mr Paisley.
We now live in greener, cleaner times, but the Conservative Government’s attitude to energy, and especially renewable energy, in Wales has not changed. I was privileged to open Wales’s first offshore wind farm—in fact, according to Wikipedia, it was the UK’s first major renewable power project—which was located off the coast of my constituency, off Rhyl and Prestatyn. North Hoyle was a pilot, test-bed project for this new industry in the UK. It had the full support of the Welsh Government, the UK Labour Government, the local MP—me—and Ann Jones, the Assembly Member. Can I ask the Minister whether he supported that project—the wind farms off north Wales—when it was proposed?
The hon. Gentleman asks whether I supported the project. The project in question was completed well before I was elected to this place.
Gwynt y Môr?
In relation to Gwynt y Môr, I was on the beach in Llandudno, insisting that the Gwynt y Môr project should ensure that there would be a local supply chain, and I am very proud of the fact that the further education college, Coleg Llandrillo Menai, is supporting the training of people to work on that site. The hon. Gentleman tries to score a cheap point, but fails again.
I am pleased that the Minister is able to say that, but as has been said, there were Conservative Members in County Conwy who did not support the project.
Is it not the case that the diktat for some of the wind farms was opposed by every single councillor in Conwy, including the Labour leader of Conwy Council at that time?
The leadership in Denbighshire was totally different, but again, we move on.
The North Hoyle project was an outstanding success, and I pay tribute to npower renewables, which has donated £80,000 a year since 2003 to local charities in the communities of Rhyl and Prestatyn. It was a blueprint for other renewable companies to embed themselves in those communities. Again, the support for these projects came from Labour politicians.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. The Minister has had two bites of the cherry. He will have bags of time at the end as well; he can expand as he sees fit.
When the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, was a candidate for leader of his party, he tried to curry favour in Wales. He visited the Tory party conference in Llandudno, pointed to the turbines outside in the sea and described them as giant bird blenders.
The hon. Gentleman must give way.
The Minister will have a chance to respond. David Cameron then went down to Notting Hill and put a giant bird blender on top of his chimney. [Interruption.]
It was an example of the way the Conservative party has crudely used renewable energies to change its image. As well as the wind turbine on the Prime Minister’s house, there was “Hug a Husky”, but we all know that it was superficial. As soon as the Conservatives got into power, the worm turned—the winds of change turned. The Minister will know that many in his party were climate change deniers. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn pointed out that some of them have come around, but there is still a deep, ingrained resistance to green, renewable energies in his party.
I would like to compare and contrast the position of the Conservatives with the support that Labour gave, both in the Welsh Assembly and in Westminster. Labour supported this nascent renewable energy, wind energy, and it was a great success. We are seeing the benefits of that support today—last week, in fact—with prices per kilowatt-hour tumbling as the economies of scale take hold, research improves and manufacturing costs are reduced. It was a sound investment then, and we are looking for sound investments now and in the future in renewable energies.
Labour attempted the same level of support for the solar industry in the UK. In 2009-10, we set feed-in tariffs, in conjunction with listening to Japanese and British manufacturers, at a level that would result in investment in and actual manufacture of solar panels in the UK—not in China, but in the UK, and specifically in Wrexham in north Wales. There was a plan by the Japanese manufacturer to build the biggest solar panel factory in the whole of western Europe, but when the Conservative-coalition Government got in, they reduced the feed-in tariff rates and the Japanese factory pulled out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn said several times that what these new industries, and established industries, need is continuity—certainty for the future. Industries that will require billions of pounds of investment need consensus and continuity, to ensure that their investments will be sound and solid and the plug will not be pulled on them with a change of Government or on a whim.
We see the same measures being employed right up to today with tidal lagoons. The Labour politicians in south Wales, the Labour Welsh Assembly Government, are engaging with those companies because they realise that of the six tidal lagoons proposed for the UK, four will be in Wales. One is proposed off the coast of my own constituency, off Rhyl and Prestatyn, and one is proposed off Conwy as well. I have had a briefing from the two companies that want to take the project forward. It will be fantastic: it will create jobs and tourism; it is futuristic; and it will have a road all the way round it. That is the type of project that needs to be supported by the Government.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) and, even though he is from 200 miles away, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn, who talked about tidal lagoons in his speech because he recognises their importance.
There is the tidal pilot project planned for Swansea bay. That will be the first purpose-built tidal lagoon in the world and it needs extra care, nurturing and attention, because it could change the way energy is delivered or harnessed on the whole of the planet. That is worth investing in. The investment that we put into wind in 2003-04 looked as though it was a bad investment at the time, because it was at a high rate, but we are reaping the benefits now, 13 or 14 years later. That is the kind of long view that we are looking for from the Government for lagoon energy in the UK, because good things will flow from it.
I am talking about research, building skills and manufacturing expertise, and all those could be exported around the world. The Government have shown little enthusiasm for this sector, and it is beginning to dry up. There is lots of enthusiasm all over Wales and especially around the Swansea area. Can I ask the Minister a question?
He says I cannot, but I am going to ask it anyway. Will he declare his love for the lagoon? There is a local campaign called “Love the Lagoon”—it involves Conservative councillors, Conservative politicians and Conservative Members who are keen to expand that because they can see the benefit for their community. Does he love the lagoon—if that is not a personal question?
Let us look at some of the arguments that the Government have put or may put forward for weakening their support for tidal lagoons. Will they be saying that prices for wind power have dropped so much that it will make lagoons unviable? The success of wind energy is down to early political and financial support, and we want the financial support that we offered then to be replicated now by the Conservative Government to make sure that these proposals go ahead.
The Swansea lagoon, like North Hoyle, was a test bed—a pilot project to test the effectiveness of lagoons and to learn from that experience. The cost of funding the Swansea lagoon—the pathfinder—is equivalent to the cost of a pint of milk a day for every household in the UK. That is a sound investment, as far as I am concerned. If it works, we can expand it to Cardiff bay, Liverpool bay, Colwyn Bay and England, to make sure that we stay at the forefront of this great, new, green technology.
The Welsh Government have given their full support to tidal lagoons. Senior Cabinet Ministers from many Departments have met Charles Hendry and fully engaged with him. The Welsh Government have invested in the skills demand and supply report for the proposed Swansea bay lagoon development, and have provided a £1.25 million commercial loan to the tidal lagoon company.
I acknowledge the support that the Welsh Government have provided for the tidal lagoon. The National Assembly also declared by resolution its support for it, cross-party.
Absolutely, there was cross-party support. I think that there are even Conservatives who support it down there. In the meantime, we have prevarication and procrastination by the UK Government on the matter of lagoons. Welsh Government Ministers wrote to their UK counterparts in April and June of this year, and I believe that the June letters have still not been responded to. Will the Minister look into that?
Tidal lagoons also have an added benefit in that they will protect the coastlines where they are located from flooding. Both Denbighshire and Conwy have suffered terrible floods. The Minister will remember the floods in the early ’90s in Sir Anthony Meyer’s old seat, Clwyd North West, in Conwy county. Five thousand homes flooded. We had floods as recently as two years ago in my constituency. There has been coastal flooding from waves and the sea. That would be prevented if we were able to establish these tidal lagoons off the coast of Wales.
Will the hon. Gentleman quickly give way?
This is the last time.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for quickly giving way. His point on the flood defences is really important, but does it not highlight the fact that tidal lagoons are often about more than just energy generation?
That is the point that I am trying to make. They are about tourism, flood defence, manufacturing, skills and research. That is why Welsh Ministers from different Departments have engaged on the issue, and that is what we want to see from the UK Government. We want to see Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other UK Departments engaging positively with Charles Hendry, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly to make sure that these projects go ahead.
One of the arguments made—perhaps not by the Minister, but by others—is that with wind power and solar power, the wind is not always blowing and the sun is not always shining. With tidal lagoons we can predict down to the minute when the energy will be created over the next 125 years. It is all down to the moon and the movement of tides. That could create a predictable baseline of support for our national energy mix, on top of solar, wind power and nuclear, so that we have a good baseload of support.
All these renewable energy sources also become more viable with the advent of batteries. The lagoon will produce energy throughout the night, and if that can be stored in batteries it can benefit the rise of the battery-powered car industry in the UK. I ask the Minister to take these issues way and to consider them carefully. Hopefully, cost will not be an issue. I believe that £700 million will be saved by the cancellation of the electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea route. Can some of that money—just a fraction of it—be used to prime the Swansea economy and to support it?
I move on now to Wylfa Newydd. At £12 billion, it will be single largest investment project in Wales over the next 10 years. It has the potential to transform the economy of not only Ynys Môn and Gwynedd, but the whole of north Wales. Again, the Welsh Government have been working flat out to secure this development. It is their No. 1 priority as far as the economy is concerned. Successful delivery will involve many Welsh Government Departments if we are to maximise the economic benefit and reduce any negative effects on the environment and culture in Wales, so there is total engagement.
Big issues need to be addressed, such as the new power station’s access to the national grid and the building of a third crossing over the Menai strait. All those ducks need to be put in a row before this project starts. Again, we are looking for engagement and consensus between the Minister, MPs and Departments in Whitehall and the Welsh Government. There are many stakeholders, including local authorities; the company itself, Horizon Nuclear Power; the North Wales Economic Ambition Board; and the national Government. There is a good mix of groups and organisations, and we need to gel them together to get this renewable energy up and running in Wales.
I do not mean to take my hon. Friend off track, but I will just take him back to what he mentioned a moment ago about the cost of rail electrification to Swansea being put somewhere else. I just make the point that there are many of us across Swansea who want to hold the Conservatives to David Cameron’s promise to bring about electrification, and to keep that money in that project and deliver electrification for Swansea bay.
Order. I call Chris Ruane. I encourage you to bring your remarks to an end and to start to wind up. I want to give the Minister time to respond.
I will do that, Mr Paisley—absolutely. Our No. 1 fight in Wales at the moment is to ensure that electrification from Cardiff to Swansea takes place. We have not given up. We will still be pestering. We tabled questions last week and this week, and are organising meetings. We have not given up on that.
In conclusion, we have two great opportunities to return Wales to her former glory as a provider of the nation’s energy, this time with cleaner, greener technologies that will last hundreds of years, create tens of thousands of jobs and, most importantly, save the planet. I urge the Minister and his Government to rise up to the challenge, do their bit for Wales, the UK and the planet, and get these projects moving.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Paisley.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on a wide-ranging, detailed speech, which is nothing less than I would expect from him. He has always shown a great interest in the energy sector in Ynys Môn, and his enthusiasm and hard work in Anglesey is well understood by myself, from both before I was elected to this place and since. I suspect that he was very pleased that in June the people of Ynys Môn acknowledged that hard work when they provided him with the largest majority that he has enjoyed since he was first elected to this place in 2001. I congratulate him on that comprehensive success.
I considered the hon. Gentleman’s speech to be very wide-ranging and thoughtful. It was made in his typical manner—he always tries to be consensual and cross-party in his approach. I believe that is one reason for his recent success. It is fair to say that some of the speeches then fell into party political point scoring. That is a great shame because, as many Members have said, there is cross-party support for energy developments and opportunities in Wales. There is cross-party support for the nuclear sector in Anglesey—perhaps not from all parties in all parts of Wales, but certainly from all parties in Anglesey. There is cross-party support for the concept of a small modular reactor in Trawsfynydd, and for the concept of a tidal lagoon.
It is important to deal with the issue of the tidal lagoon at the outset. People want a tidal lagoon to be developed at Swansea. They can see the potential of the technology, and that the lagoon offers an opportunity for economic regeneration in Swansea and other parts of Wales. All Members in this place should support that. As the hon. Gentleman and other Members have mentioned, it is important to ensure that we have a cost-effective energy supply, prevent fuel poverty and avoid a situation in which businesses struggle to compete internationally due to energy prices. I therefore make no apology that this Government have commissioned the Hendry review and are taking it seriously.
My point, as the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) conceded in his speech, is that the funding of a tidal lagoon is a complex calculation that must be done by Government. He is absolutely right that we do not have to go back to the floods that struck Towyn in my constituency, for example, to understand the importance of flood defences in north Wales; there was flooding in Deganwy fairly recently. The construction of a tidal lagoon has the potential to deal with those issues, but I argue that flood defences are a devolved issue, not an energy generation issue.
A complex set of calculations need to be undertaken. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd also said that the cost, equal to a pint of milk a day, was eminently affordable. A pint of milk a day is £3.50 a week, or £14 a month. Before being flippant about £14 a month, he should remember that not all pensioners in Wales enjoy the salary of an MP. I would expect a Labour Member, of all Members of this House, to understand that £14 is a significant sum on a pensioner’s bill.
If I did say £14 a month, I apologise. The figure should have been £14 a year; I hope that the Minister will take that in the spirit in which it was meant. Also, can he give us a date when the Government will respond to the Hendry report?
I believe that it was the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) who commented that good things are worth waiting for; that was certainly the case with the Welsh football team’s appearance at the European championships last year. I would rather have a good decision made in time than a rushed decision. This debate has highlighted the previous Labour Government’s decisions to invest in all sorts of concepts in Wales, but it is fair to say that by the time the coalition came into government, we were paying the price for how the Labour Government dealt with public money. It is much better to have a decision made on sound grounds, which is what we will provide, than an early decision.
The Minister is engaging in the knockabout that he said earlier he did not like. What I was arguing in my contribution was that we must make difficult decisions and investments in first-of-a-kind technology, to get that technology going. We did it in solar and wind, and we are reaping the benefits; I believe that we can do it in tidal as well, and the review says so. We have a competent Minister in Charles Hendry, who delivered it. He knows his onions. What we are getting from this Government is prevarication and pushback.
I welcome that intervention, but the hon. Gentleman would be entirely unreasonable to state that the Hendry report included a comprehensive financial review. It is only fair for the Departments in question and the Government to take the issue seriously.
I am sorry, but I need to establish this. I have been trying to tie this issue into the electricity market reform and the mechanisms set up by this Government. The Hendry review fits into that. We have cost-effective mechanisms and capacity mechanisms. For joined-up thinking, we now need a decision from Government.
That is the same question that I have been asked several times in Welsh questions and in this debate. The answer is the same: we will provide the right answer in due course, but it is important that we take our time to consider all the implications.
No, I will not take another intervention on this issue. I would like to move on to the main elements of the debate—the issues raised by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn. As he rightly said, there has been an element of political knockabout towards the end of this debate, but it is important to highlight that we in Wales have an opportunity to contribute significantly to the energy mix in the United Kingdom, and to lead on energy generation. To those hon. Members participating in the debate who commented that we have not provided that leadership or that opportunity, I highlight recently consented projects in Wales: the Brechfa Forest wind farm, the Clocaenog Forest wind farm, the South Hook combined heat and power station, the Hirwaun power station, the internal power generation enhancement at Tata Steel and the North Wales wind farm circuit connection, which has benefited both my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd. We have had the Brechfa Forest connection; the Glyn Rhonwy pumped storage system, also approved recently; and the Wrexham energy centre at the Wrexham industrial estate.
If we were to believe the comments of the Labour party—
On a point of order, Mr Paisley. Is it in order for the Minister to refer directly to a comment that I made about the Government’s prevarication over three or four years about the cost of energy, which has created massive uncertainty in the business community, but not to allow me to intervene on that point?
You have made a point, but I do not believe that it is a point of order.
I highlight again, therefore, in response to the comments that this Government have not supported energy generation in Wales, that the facts speak for themselves. The opportunities for further development have been discussed by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn and other hon. Members. I turn particularly to Anglesey’s potential for nuclear.
I think that everybody who is committed to the economic regeneration of north-west Wales is aware of the potential in nuclear. The hon. Gentleman has been rightly applauded by colleagues from all parties for the work that he has done to ensure that the development of nuclear does not happen in a vacuum but is fully integrated into the further and higher education sectors. We in north Wales can only be proud of how the HE and FE sectors are investing, in advance of any decision on the nuclear station on Ynys Môn, in order to ensure that the economic opportunities that come along with it are available for local people as well. We should be proud of that integration. Similarly, he highlighted that renewable energy is a success story in Wales. One of those successes, as I mentioned in an intervention, is the way that the FE sector in north Wales has tried to ensure that work opportunities servicing wind farms off the coast are open to local people.
North Wales is taking an integrated approach. The Government—both the Wales Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—recognise that as a positive sign of an area that is looking constructively at how we can contribute to the UK energy mix. Nuclear offers great opportunities as well as great challenges. This Government are the first to have commissioned and agreed to a new nuclear power station, but that was also a long-drawn-out process, because the sums involved and the implications of the investment are significant. The same will be true of the new Wylfa Newydd. It is imperative, in my view, that we reach a successful conclusion. In Horizon, we have significant partners willing to work with Government, but the decisions have to be right.
As a Minister in the Wales Office, I am pleased. I take with a pinch of salt the view of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn that I should not be in my place today, but I would have attended this debate regardless. Since taking my position at the Wales Office, I have been pleased to visit the current Wylfa station before decommissioning started, I will be pleased to visit the new proposed site and I have been pleased to visit Trawsfynydd, because the Wales Office knows full well how the energy mix in Wales can contribute to our economic redevelopment. That is why so many Conservatives in south Wales support the lagoon.
The small modular reactor opportunity is also an exciting prospect. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn mentioning the cabling systems that will be required to transfer electricity from Wylfa Newydd; my understanding is that the potential site of a small modular reactor in Trawsfynydd already has enhanced connectivity to the national grid. I take seriously the opportunity to build a small modular reactor in Trawsfynydd, and I am pleased to say to the House that I will visit there on Tuesday with a Minister for the northern powerhouse. We understand that although the consequences of a decision on Wylfa Newydd or a small modular reactor in Trawsfynydd would benefit the economy in north Wales, they are far more significant than that. As hon. Members have said, they have the potential not just to transform the economy of north Wales—as other projects could in south Wales—but to have an impact on the wider supply chain within the United Kingdom.
Contrary to Opposition Members’ comments, the Government have invested in city region deals for Cardiff and Swansea, so I must ask why we are accused of ignoring the Swansea city region. One reason for the Welsh and UK Governments’ keenness to see a cross-border north Wales growth deal is the energy supply chains. The energy opportunities in north Wales are not confined to north Wales; they are dependent on cross-border connectivity.
In the short time available, will the Minister say whether he has any idea when the decision will be made on the lagoon—not what it will be, but when it will be made? Will it be part of the clean growth plan?
I am surprised by that question, because the hon. Gentleman represents Swansea East—
I apologise; I meant Swansea West. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Swansea city deal includes a number of projects, but the tidal lagoon is not one of them, although it has certainly contributed to the development of the city region. I would have expected him, as the local MP, to understand what was within the deal in question.
I was asking about the timetable, not the city deal.
Order. The Minister has not given way, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Thank you, Mr Paisley. The tidal lagoon was not part of the Swansea region deal, as the hon. Member for Swansea West should have been aware.
I should also address the possibility of moving forward with the small modular reactor—as I said, we will visit Trawsfynydd very shortly—and the renewables issues that hon. Members have raised. Our track record on renewables is positive. I fully accept that wind farm costs have fallen quite significantly as a result of investments made, but I think the comments of the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd about the success of our renewables project since we have been in government were unreasonable. There has been more than £52 billion of investment in renewables since 2010—not an insignificant sum.
As for expected energy generation, we are now on track to deliver 35% of the UK’s electricity demand through renewable sources. Far from being a failure, that is a success story that we should be proud of. I am surprised by the accusation that the Government have not been proactive in our investment within the renewables sector. The evidence points the other way. It is all very well talking about projections, but in 2015 we achieved 25% of energy generation through renewable sources.
These are successful outcomes of an integrated Government policy that should be supported. Their success is reflected in the fall in the cost of renewable sources of energy. Opposition Members talk about failure to support developments in Wales, but it is worth pointing out that 49,662 sites in Wales are generating renewable energy—another success story that we should be proud of.
That point brings me on to an issue raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake). I have not responded to him in this Chamber before, so I welcome him to his place. He is absolutely right that one of the success stories of north-west Wales has been community hydro projects. My constituency has a few such projects, and I know full well that there are similar projects in the constituency of the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), who is not here today. Community energy projects are really exciting, because they generate electricity locally and give a financial benefit to the locality. The Government support such developments, which are crucial to our energy policy, but we need to highlight to the Welsh Government how they are taxed differently in Wales from in Scotland and England.
The Welsh Government have been very constructive on energy generation in many ways, but the taxes on community projects—on equipment used in small hydro plants, for example—are not beneficial to the development of further community projects. That can be contrasted with the situation in England, which is a result of the UK Government’s decisions, and in Scotland. The Barnett consequentials of the decisions made in England could be applied in Wales; certainly the funding has gone to Wales.
We have a good story to tell on renewables. It is a success story that has really touched the grassroots, but we need to make sure that it continues, and that requires action both from the Welsh Government and from Westminster.
I apologise that I am running out of time, but I would like to allow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn time to conclude. He mentioned marine energy opportunities beyond tidal lagoons. I fully understand why tidal lagoons have dominated the debate—the hon. Members for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Swansea West have a real interest in the issue, as do Members throughout Wales, because we understand the potential—but there is a real opportunity for innovatively designed marine energy proposals in Wales. I know that for a fact, because I have visited potential developments off Holyhead and off the Pembrokeshire coast. This is an opportunity for new technology to be developed to put Wales at the forefront of renewable energy opportunities.
The Government are looking carefully at these issues. We want to be supportive, which is why I have visited sites in Pembrokeshire and Ynys Môn and met Anglesey developers. We want to see renewable technologies operating in Wales, but within the context of an energy policy that is fair to the consumer and the business user and supports the development of the energy sector in Wales and the job creation that goes with it.
I thank the hon. Member for Ynys Môn again for bringing the matter to our attention. I apologise if I did not respond to every issue he raised, but 15 minutes is 15 minutes, and I am more than happy to write to him with further guidance on any specific issues. To hon. Members who are concerned about the wait for the tidal lagoon decision, I say that the Wales Office continues to argue strongly for that decision to be made, but—as has consistently been stated—it must be right for Swansea, for people who support the tidal lagoon there, and for our energy policy and its costs. That is the decision that the Government will deliver in due course.
At the beginning of the debate I thought we might run out of speakers. We clearly did not; Members were very energised. Will the Member who moved the motion, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), give us a two-minute wind-up?
I will not take two minutes, because Members who are here for the next debate missed my opening remarks; they would be at a loss if I came to a lengthy conclusion.
Welsh Members of Parliament are passionate about energy in Wales. We have a good record; we pioneered many technologies in the past, and we want to do so in the future. I take on board what the Minister said about the continuation of renewables policy, but the heavy lifting was done by the previous Government. This is the time and the opportunity for the Government to show their credentials. They started the Hendry review; it is time for them to respond positively to that review and to move forward.
I give the Government nine out of 10 on new nuclear. We need to move forward on small module reactors. We need to be pioneers. I want Wales to be central to the industrial strategy, which it can and will be if the Wales Office, BEIS and others work with the Welsh Government, with business and with the community, so that Wales is at the forefront of energy in the United Kingdom.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered energy in Wales.