Coal and nuclear will keep lights on, says Hutton

Saturday 22 October 2011 21:37

Britain must press ahead with new coal and nuclear power stations to keep the nation's lights on, Business Secretary John Hutton said today.

He told the Labour Party conference there was an "international battle" for energy security, with much of the world's resources in "unstable" regions.

Mr Hutton rejected the criticisms of the environmental lobby, who have protested against a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants, insisting the Government took its climate change responsibilities seriously.

He said: "Coal is a critically important fuel for the UK. Flexible. Available. And it will help us reduce our reliance on imported gas.

"Some people claim that if we consent to new coal fired power stations it would make our climate changes targets unachievable.

"But the inconvenient truth is that our carbon emissions are capped by EU agreements.

"Additional emissions will have to be offset by reductions elsewhere.

"So stopping the building of new coal fire power stations would make no difference to the UK's total carbon emissions, but I think it would damage our energy security.

"So there is no sense in our turning our backs on coal. Let's keep cleaning it up, not ruling it out."

Mr Hutton said by 2020, some 80% of the UK's gas will have to be imported, "much of it from the most unstable regions on the planet".

In a reference to the turmoil in global markets, he said: "Our ambition must be more than weathering the economic storm unsettling the world; we must make the changes now so we emerge stronger and fitter.

"That means dealing with one of the most important threats to our long term competitiveness, indeed our sovereignty as a nation, and that is the new international battle for energy security."

In a speech watched from the conference platform by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr Hutton called for a "renaissance" in nuclear energy as well as an expansion in renewable generation.

He said events in Georgia and fluctuations in the price of oil underlined the need for the UK to have a secure supply of energy.

"In response to this new reality abroad, we must set a clear course at home.

"To put UK energy security at the centre of our plans for Britain's economic future. To make it a first thought, not an afterthought.

"Because the battle for energy security is going to define the fight for Britain's future. .

"To put the brakes on our growing reliance on imported gas.

"And never to be indifferent to how much energy we produce here at home. Helping us, in the process, in the fight against climate change.

"The next decade will mean a new era for renewable energy in the UK with a seven-fold increase in clean energy from our abundant natural resources, on land sea and air.

"It will mean a renaissance in nuclear power. Low carbon, reliable, secure energy."

Mr Hutton predicted a "tough fight" to bring billions of pounds of investment to the UK but said there was the potential for a million "green collar" jobs in renewable energy generation.

He was speaking after a report today by US engineering giant Westinghouse forecast a £30 billion boost to the economy from the development of a new generation of nuclear power plants.

In an attack on opposition parties, Mr Hutton said: "Tories say no to new coal and send mixed messages on nuclear; Lib Dems say no to new coal and nuclear.

"No coal plus no nuclear equals no lights. No power. No future.

"We need to make sure that the choice for the country in the months ahead is equally simple: leadership for the long-term challenges facing Britain with Labour, or posturing and economic risk under the Conservatives."

His firm stance comes a day after he was accused of "dilly dallying" on the nuclear issue.

A conference fringe meeting, organised by the nuclear industry, drew support from a number of MPs as well as union leaders representing workers in the sector.

MP Paddy Tipping (Sherwood), chairman of the all party group on energy studies, said he was fed up with the "endless" white papers the Government had introduced on energy.

"We have an agenda, what we don't have is action. We need to have early decisions to bring new nuclear on stream."

Dougie Rooney, national officer of the Unite union, told the meeting: "Nuclear has a major role to play in future energy generation but if there is any problem it is that we are dilly dallying. We need to get on and do the job."

In his speech Mr Hutton also pledged that Labour had taken a "balanced approach" to business, addressing fairness and competitiveness.

"We have taken this balanced approach because we know how important wealth creation is to Britain."

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