Energy Prices – Severn Barrage

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his revelation that The Sun is now the house journal of the Liberal Democrats. It does him and the Government no credit that their attitude to Labour’s price freeze has veered wildly, initially denouncing it as Marxist, which was a revelation to all Marxist disciples, and now misrepresenting it with a patronising approach that belies the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and the leader of the Labour party have been proved right all along on this policy, as they will be proved right in the future.

One of the best vehicles for keeping energy prices low is the Severn barrage. This huge infrastructure investment boost makes the Severn barrage a no brainer, not least because it requires no Treasury funding. The £25 billion construction cost will be financed entirely privately, mainly from sovereign wealth funds and other large-scale institutional investors, because they would have a guaranteed revenue stream over a period of 120 years or more. The project will create 20,000 jobs during its nine-year build, and with multiplier effects another 30,000 jobs, making a total of 50,000 jobs and a £70 billion boost to the economy. Many of the jobs will be located in communities in south Wales and the south-west of England, which are crying out for such a boost of investment and high-skilled jobs. Some 80% of the spend will be in the United Kingdom, unlike wind power where 80% is spent abroad because countries such as Germany and Norway have stolen the lead on wind turbine manufacture.

The scheme would harness one of the world’s largest potential sources of renewable energy: the huge tidal range of the Severn estuary—the second highest in the world. Building an 18-kilometre barrage between Brean in England and Lavernock Point in Wales would be one of the world’s largest privately funded global engineering projects.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. I must reluctantly intervene on the right hon. Gentleman. This debate is about energy prices, not energy generation from things like the barrage. He needs to relate his comments to the impact on energy prices and passing on reductions to the consumer.

Mr Hain: I was about to do that, but I need—obviously with your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker—to describe the project in order to do so.

Most importantly, the barrage would produce the cheapest electricity in the United Kingdom—half the cost of alternative sources such as gas, nuclear and coal, as well as other renewables. Previous consortia interested in the project have looked to a period of consumer subsidy lasting less than 25% of its life—very small compared with other renewables. After that initial subsidy period, promoted by previous consortia backing the barrage, it would generate electricity at £20 per MWh for at least a century, less than half the wholesale market price that the economy has been used to.

The latest project backer does not want the consumer subsidy of contracts for difference, a point which I hope the Secretary of State will note. In meetings with him, I have discussed support for the barrage, which he has not been able to give. The barrage has attracted widespread criticism from wildlife groups, but it has considerable other benefits, including low electricity prices over its entire life if the current project is taken forward in this way. In addition, it would have other important effects on the economy. The 1,026 turbines required, each the weight of a jumbo jet, would be built at two factories in the region, most probably at Port Talbot and Bristol. The planned caisson-casting yard at Port Talbot deep-water docks could afterwards be converted into a port for ultra-large container ships. It would also enable us not just to keep prices low, but to export the technology and expertise in tidal barrage construction around the world. So it would keep prices low, which consumers desperately need, and it would support flood protection. Some 90,000 properties and 500 square kilometres of Wales and the south-west, including the Somerset levels, would be supported, and it would act as a barrier against storm surges. Therefore, prices would be kept low and there would be many other benefits from the project.

In conclusion, this is the biggest single investment project coming from the private sector, needing no consumer subsidy at all in contracts for difference, according to the latest backer of the project, which I hope the Government will meet. I hope that people will see this as something that should have been backed already, and that now all parties will back it as a—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.