THURROCK MP rose on the floor of the House of Commons as part of a debate on coal-fired power stations.
Ms Doyle-Price said: “I will be brief, Mr Howarth. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Spencer on introducing this extremely important debate. A compelling case for coal has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, and the debate is all the better for that.
I fully endorse my hon. Friend’s comment that energy security is hugely important and that coal must play a major role in it. That said, I want to make a few points about the other opportunities for coal-fired power stations through reference to the Tilbury power station in my constituency.
Tilbury has been running for 50 years on its current site. Until March this year, it was a coal-fired power station, but thanks to investment by RWE npower, it is now becoming the world’s largest biomass-fired power station. That gives the opportunity of a new lease of life for some of our older coal-fired power stations, which will have to be decommissioned because of the EU directives. I therefore beg the indulgence of hon. Members today, while I give the story of Tilbury.
At its peak, Tilbury employed 750 people. Today it employs 250, in highly skilled jobs. It was facing closure in 2014, which would have left a big hole in the economy of Tilbury, which is quite a small town. The power station generates more than 1,000 MW—enough to power 1 million homes. It has never breached its environmental licence, in 50 years of operation. Looking at the debate from the point of view of climate change and environmentalism, it is worth bearing that in mind, particularly as the general manager tells me that when sulphur emissions in the locality have been measured at dangerous levels it is not because of the power station but, generally, when there is traffic congestion on the A13 and the M25. That raises the question whether we are looking at the right things, in our rush away from coal.
RWE npower, which runs the station, originally intended to construct a new cleaner coal power station at Tilbury and its plans were far advanced, but it had to reconsider the decision in November 2009. That was because of the cost, in the economic climate at the time, but also—and this reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood—because of the unclear regulatory status of investment in cleaner coal. It is important to lay the foundations to establish a clear regulatory picture so that companies are prepared to make the investment. Considerable amounts of money are involved.
Having decided not to go ahead with that plan, the company was still wedded to the site at Tilbury—it is a very responsible company and wanted to maintain the relationship. It decided to investigate the burning of wood pellets instead of coal. There was a lot of scratching of heads, but the management decided to have courage and invest money in trying it out. It was a great success.
In March this year the power station burned coal for the final time. I lament that, but what is happening now is very exciting. The company is converting the existing station to burn wood pellets for the remainder of the hours that will take it to 2014; it also intends to invest in creating a new biomass generator beside it. The new arrangement is not quite as efficient at generation as coal. In comparison to the previous figure of 1,000 MW, the wood pellet scheme reaches 750 MW, but it is still an efficient system and it will contribute massively to the national grid—much more than the wind turbines that we have been hearing about, in relation to investment.
The power station will begin generating and contributing to the grid from December. I encourage the Minister to visit the plant. It is exciting and groundbreaking, and gives an opportunity of a new lease of life to some coal-fired power stations. RWE npower deserves to be congratulated on having the courage to make the investment and see whether it would work. It has proved the process, which means that other power stations will find it much less risky.
I endorse the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House about coal, which must play a role in this country’s future energy supplies. I reiterate that we should do everything we can to encourage investment in the carbon capture technologies that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood so lucidly articulated.