On the Politics Show, Sunday 09 December 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, John Hutton.
JON SOPEL: The Minister responsible, John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, or BERR, is with me now. Welcome to the Politics Show. Thank you very much for being with us. So, is that right. There is going to be a major step change in the development of off shore wind farms.
JOHN HUTTON: Yes, there is and there needs to be as well. We’ve got a number of things that we’re trying to get fixed here John. I mean we’ve got the problem of climate change, which is immediate and pressing; so we’ve got to facilitate the shift to a low carbon economy and that means particularly low carbon energy generation, that’s a priority for us. But we’ve got to solve one other problem in the process too, which is we’ve got to be sure that the UK can be more energy self-sufficient. I do not want in twenty years time to find that, you know, whether the lights go on in the morning, is down to some foreign government or someone else. So I think with the expansion in renewables, that we’re announcing tomorrow, we are I think being able to make progress on both of those fronts. Cleaner electricity, cleaner energy, more secure energy for the UK.
JON SOPEL: So just give us an idea of the scale of this. How many more wind turbines need to be built, where are they going to be placed, how much is it going to cost, I mean just all of that and how much electricity, crucially, you have to generate by these things.
JOHN HUTTON: Okay, well tomorrow, what we’ll be announcing is the green light for the next stage of development of off-shore wind for the UK. Now this was planned several years ago, so it’s part of a sequence of events that has led to the announcement we’re making tomorrow. Essentially, there is the potential, we believe out there, using the resources that are around the UK to generate maybe all of the electricity that households need in the UK from renewable sources, from off-shore wind sources. So we should explore whether we can maximize that potential because it is obviously in the nation’s interests and the world’s interest for us to make sure that more of our energy comes from clean sources and I think if you put that in to context, at the moment, maybe only 2% of our energy comes from renewable sources. I think this will sort of get that figure significantly higher and make a contribution, as I say to, to our global responsibilities, to do everything we can in the UK to reduce carbon in to the atmosphere. But also meet our, I think our really, really important objectives, for making sure that the UK becomes energy self-sufficient, or as self-sufficient as we can be.
JON SOPEL: Well, it’s a very important announcement you’ve just made that you think that every domestic consumer could be getting their electricity from domestic – now I think we generate something like, I mean being technical and boring for a moment, 1gw I think comes from off shore wind farms at the moment. You’re hoping that it will be thirty four in twelve years time.
JOHN HUTTON: Yeah.
JON SOPEL: Yeah. That means about seven thousand new wind turbines.
JOHN HUTTON: On the basis of the current technology, yes that would be round about right but you know, I don’t want to put a figure for the number of turbines, cos I think that will depend very obviously on the next stage of development of off-shore wind turbine technology – there will be bigger turbines generating more electricity. I think what is important is that we maximize the contribution that renewable sources can make to electricity generation in the UK and off-shore wind is a major untapped resource for us. So, as I say, I’m green-lighting the next stage of development of off-shore wind power. I think, however, it is very important as well in this debate to be clear about one other thing, that there is no one single technology that is going to solve all of these problems (interjection)
JOHN HUTTON: we do need a balanced energy policy and that will include other forms of low carbon technology as well.
JON SOPEL: But that is going to change our coastline for good. If you’re talking about seven thousand wind turbines and we have something like three thousand two hundred miles of coast line, I mean roughly, one every half a mile.
JOHN HUTTON: It is going to change our coastline, yes for sure. There is no way of making the shift to a low carbon technology without there being change and for that change to be visible and evident to people. We’ve got a choice as a country, about you know, whether we rise to this challenge of change or whether we stick our head in the sands and hope it’s going to go away. It’s not going to go away. So change is inevitable, if we are going to respond to the challenge of climate change, but I think again, we’ve got another choice. You know, is easier to do in one sense, to have these developments off-shore than on-shore. When we’re talking about off-shore development, we’ve got to be clear about influences on shipping, we’ve got to be concerned about the natural environment (interjection)
JON SOPEL: This is a choice you’re wishing on our behalf.
JOHN HUTTON: … and
JON SOPEL: I mean, your government has got a choice, we haven’t.
JOHN HUTTON: We’ve all got a choice. You know, if you don’t like the choices I make or the government’s making in isolation, you can vote the other lot in and we’ll see what they can do. But we all have choices. But I think what we’ve got to do and what we’ve got to be clear about is that we can’t postpone making a choice. If we spend years and years arguing amongst ourselves about whether it’s going to be offshore or on-shore. Whether it’s going to be this type of technology or that type of technology, the climate would have deteriorated rapidly in the meantime (interjection)
JON SOPEL: But you’re changing.
JOHN HUTTON: and that’s why we’ve got to make this decision and we’ve got get on with it.
JON SOPEL: You’re changing the planning laws but ultimately, it’s going to be private industries who are going to build these things – private.
JOHN HUTTON: Yeah.
JON SOPEL: So if they don’t make the investment decisions you want, these wind turbines won’t get built.
JOHN HUTTON: Well we have a mechanism, it’s called the Renewables Obligation, which actually requires energy companies to source a given percentage of the electricity they generate from clean tech sources, from green sources and we’re looking to increase the amount of obligation as it were we impose on the generators. On this point too, I think it’s worth just reflecting on one other point Jon, other countries do it differently, some have different sorts of incentive mechanisms and so on, but the mechanism we have chosen in the UK, which has seen a doubling so-far of renewables, which will lead to a significant further expansion of renewables, has actually resulted in the cheapest electricity for UK consumers in the European Union. So we’ve got a mechanism that works, that is cost effective, which is a very, very important part of this equation as well. Which will allow us to (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Okay.
JON SOPEL: for consumers, do you think electricity will cost more.
JOHN HUTTON: I think, I think there will be increases in electricity prices; I think there’s no doubt about that, gradually over the years as we respond to the challenge of climate change, for sure. The question for us is, how do we keep that within a reasonable band. How do we make sure that the burden of change is not sort of felt disproportionately by ordinary retain consumers and business consumers; so cost effectiveness is important. That’s why I say, very clearly, that we should have a balanced policy, not just relying on wind, but we should look at other forms of low carbon technology, including nuclear.
JON SOPEL: Let’s just assume for a minute you make it, that all our domestic energy is being supplied by wind farms. It may be hard to imagine today, when there’s blowing Hooley outside, but there’s – suddenly there’s high pressure over Britain, ten days where the wind isn’t blowing and we’re getting this massive amount from wind farms, and suddenly the wind has stopped blowing for ten days. What happens then. It’s all right now when we’re not very dependent on wind technology, but when we’re suddenly very dependent, it’s a real issue.
JOHN HUTTON: Well this problem of intermittency of course has to be addressed and that’s why, as I keep saying, we need a balanced energy policy. We need other forms of power generation in the mix, including low carbon, capturing carbon from coal and gas in the future. Nuclear as well, playing a role. So we’ve got a mix of clean tech, low carbon technology, which will sort of span the requirements that domestic and residential consumers need.
JON SOPEL: Do you think we’re going to hit the target of 20% renewables by 2020.
JOHN HUTTON: That’s a target for the European Union as a whole. I very much hope so and we will be doing
JON SOPEL: Are you committed to it for Britain.
JOHN HUTTON: Yes. We led the debate in the European Council.
JON SOPEL: So why did Malcolm Wicks say that 10 to 15% might be more realistic.
JOHN HUTTON: I think he was, Malcolm was talking about what the UK share of that EU target might be and we are in discussions with the European Union about what the UK share of that target should be.
JON SOPEL: So you think it should be slightly less.
JOHN HUTTON: Well I don’t think it’s going to be 20% no because we’re starting from an incredibly low base line and I think the commission themselves is only 2% – they’re starting from. The commission themselves have acknowledged that and recognized that, but we will be making our full contribution to meeting the EU target and it will mean a sort of quantum change in how we generate energy in the UK and the announcement I’m making tomorrow is just the first installment I think of what will be a series of announcements as we gear ourselves up for the challenge of tackling climate change.
JON SOPEL: Just while I’ve got you here, I’d like to talk to you about certain matters to do with the Labour Party and the funding of political parties. The former Deputy Leadership candidate John Cruddas has said today that Labour should do nothing that weakens the financial link between Labour and the Unions. Is that where you stand.
JOHN HUTTON: I think our system of party political funding needs change. We’ve initiated the first round of change with legislation a few years ago. I think the events of the last few weeks make it quite clear, the Prime Minister was right to say this, that there needs now to be a debate about next round of change for party political funding. I think the link between the Unions and the Labour Party is an important one and it’s one that I value and I want to see continue.
JON SOPEL: I’m talking about the financial link. Does there still need to be a financial link between Labour and the Unions.
JOHN HUTTON: Well I think we should explore, yes, how we can improve the relationship, the financial transparency and the relationship between Labour and the trade unions and I think that is (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So what sort of solution.
JOHN HUTTON: Well, we are talking to people about what that solution should be. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I’m just wondering what
JOHN HUTTON: Well I’m, I’m not going to pre-empt the consultation, but I think it’s inevitable that there will need to be some reforms and some changes which will improve transparency and meet the concerns that the public clearly about the way we fund our political parties at the moment.
JON SOPEL: It’s a fair question to say, like what. I mean what would make it more transparent.
JOHN HUTTON: Well Hayden Phillips has set out one or two suggestions about sort of annual limits on, on contributions and so on, which I think we should explore and we want to hear the views of people on those proposals. But I think there is going to be change, there needs to be change, and we should have a debate between the parties and hopefully a consensus, where we can make those improvements that will satisfy the public about the way our parties are funded. But what I don’t want to do Jon today with great respect is say look, this is my particular view and these are my, my personal views on the subject. There should be a debate and we should try and get a consensus (interjection)
JON SOPEL: But nothing is off the table.
JOHN HUTTON: No, I don’t think so but I think in terms of the politics of, of where Labour and the unions are, I’ve always thought and I always believe, I still believe that the link between the Labour Party and the trade unions is a very important one and we should do all we can on our side to observe that. JON SOPEL: John Hutton, thank you very much indeed for being with us.
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9 December 2007
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