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Energy Bill [Lords]

Energy Bill [Lords]

Column Number: 325

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 15 June 2004

(Morning)

[Mr. Jonathan Sayeed in the Chair]

Energy Bill [Lords]

8.55 am

The Chairman: Before we begin our debates, may I remind the Committee that, as the fans are on, it would assist Hansard if hon. Members spoke into the body of the Room and, in particular, if those at the back spoke up?

Clause 94

Consents for generating stations offshore

Amendment proposed [8 June]: No. 170, in

    clause 94, page 73, line 12, at end insert—

    '(11) Consents shall not be granted until such time as the applicant can demonstrate that there will be no threat posed to the navigational, maritime and shipping interests also using these waters.

    (12) Any proposal for an Offshore Wind Installation shall include details about the procedures to be followed in the event of a collision between a vessel and the wind farm.

    (13) In the event of a change to an existing site being proposed, bodies representing the navigational, maritime and shipping interests also using these waters shall be consulted.'.—[Miss McIntosh.]

    Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment No. 186, in

    clause 100, page 77, line 36, leave out 'may' and insert 'is likely to'.

Clause 100 stand part.

Amendment No. 164, in

    clause 101, page 77, line 41, at end add

    'in consultation with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.'.

Clause 101 stand part.

New clause 17—Collision within a renewable energy installation—

    'The Secretary of State for Transport shall set out procedures to be followed to prevent a collision taking place within a renewable energy installation, and procedures to be followed in the event of a collision within a renewable energy installation.'.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr. Sayeed, on the opening day of Royal Ascot. When we last met, we heard a substantial speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), who went through every possible reason for retaining clauses 100 and 101. You would call me to order, Mr. Sayeed, if I attempted to emulate that speech—not that I could—but I shall remind the Committee of certain aspects.

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Clauses 100 and 101 refer to the problems that might be encountered for shipping and navigation if we build wind farms in the sea. We have heard, both in this Committee and in outside debate, that it might be more acceptable to build wind farms in the sea rather than on land. There are many environmental objections to building wind farms on land, but that is also true for building them in the sea. My hon. Friend outlined a number of those problems, the most important of which is the possible danger to shipping. She also mentioned the problems for recreational activities, such as yachting and fishing.

Last year, while attending the Conservative party conference in Blackpool, I had an interesting meeting with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is still the largest membership charity in the country—the Minister is nodding, so that must be right. Its members wanted to discuss the problems that might be caused to the common scoter by the proposed site off Morecambe bay.

There are many issues as to exactly where wind farms should be built in the sea. When we look to the skies we may see aeroplanes, but it is not true that they can fly anywhere. In the same way, it may seem that the sea is a vast area, but there are problems associated with building wind farms just anywhere.

The issue was previously considered by the Transport Committee, which stated:

    ''Clauses 100 and 101 must remain in the Bill.''

My hon. Friend talked about the Chamber of Shipping, the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association and UK Major Ports Group, which all have concerns about the issue. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry stated:

    ''We do indeed intend to retain the substances of those clauses.''

That is open to interpretation; it depends what she means by ''the substances'' of the clauses. No doubt the Minister will tell us what she means.

Furthermore, the Chairman of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), stated on Second Reading:

    ''The Committee believes that at some point a major problem such as a collision is inevitable.''—[Official Report, 10 May 2004; Vol. 421, c. 46-92.]

Those are strong words indeed. I would be grateful if the Minister addressed my points and, more importantly, the substantial points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York a few days ago.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): I listened at great length to the hon. Member for Vale of York during the previous sitting. She said that the question of navigation and shipping, which is covered by clauses 100 and 101 and amendment No. 170, is a red line issue. By the end of her speech, I could see what she meant, but I would put it rather differently. The debate on this part of the Bill is the key test of whether members of the Committee really are committed to renewable energy and the targets set out by the Government.

Clause 100 does not just say that navigation interests must be taken into account; it says that wind farms may not be established where there is

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interference. In effect, it is a veto clause and amendment No. 170 is a wrecking amendment. The hon. Lady said that the amendment is intended to be constructive, but it is obstructive. It offers no further definition of certain terms contained in clauses 100 and 101. Clause 100 simply talks about interference. It is not clear whether that interference is a risk to safety or something that merely requires an alteration to a sea route, rather like a footpath diversion. That can be a purely commercial matter.

Clause 100 also refers to recognised sea lanes, but is not clear whether they would be defined as those habitually used or those that exist purely as a matter of historical record. It might be more reasonable if they were defined as something regularly controlled or managed by dredging. Are we to define them according to the density of traffic? It appears not, according to the hon. Lady, because at times she seemed to be referring to just one or two pleasure boats.

Clause 100 refers to lanes that are recognised as being ''essential to international navigation''. Are we then to consider the density of international sea traffic? Again, the hon. Lady went further than that and it was reinforced this morning by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who talked about recreational sailing and so on, which goes far beyond international sea traffic. The Opposition appear to want to give any navigational interest an absolute veto over any wind farm development.

Amendment No. 170 would be even more of an obstruction to offshore wind development than the fairly widely drawn clauses 100 and 101, because it talks not only about interference, but about a threat. It talks not just about navigation, but about shipping interests, which is an incredibly wide term. The entire burden of proof would be placed on the offshore wind developer. The hon. Member for Vale of York did not answer the question I asked on Thursday about what an offshore wind developer would have to do to demonstrate no threat. That is a pretty hard test.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he believes that the public right of navigation should be overridden by the power to place wind farms at sea?

Mr. Blizzard: I am saying that we have to take a balanced approach to this. There is a legitimate shipping and navigational interest, but we have to balance that against other important matters such as the need to develop renewable energy through wind farms offshore. Our debate on the clauses and the amendment is not about balance, but about introducing an unreasonable veto. If the debate was about balance, the amendment would not be necessary because wind farm legislation already has to comply with the United Nations convention on the law of the sea.

As part of the process for establishing those wind farms, each development must already have an environmental impact assessment—a rigorous and

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demanding procedure that must give weight to navigational interests and set them in the context of other interests. The proposals we are debating would privilege shipping above all other interests, and those hon. Members who tabled them did so not purely for shipping, as they have a deeper motive. Shipping is being used as a convenient tool to undermine offshore wind development.

Honesty is needed in answering the question, ''Are we all committed to renewables?'' Everyone says that they are, but I was amazed to read in Hansard reports of debates in the other place involving outright hostility to offshore wind farms, which was also evident on Second Reading. The argument is that offshore wind is unreliable and expensive and that the Government are ignoring other renewable energy sources, but wind is a renewable source that is reasonably technologically advanced—enough to allow commercial development. Other technologies are not yet in that position, although I expect tidal current to be there in about five years. If we are committed to renewable energy and to meeting the target we need to set for it, it must be wind—now.

Let us bring further honesty to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen), the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) and other members of the renewable and sustainable energy group visited Germany to examine wind development. We went to the German Energy Agency and learned that the Germans are about to move into offshore wind development in a big way. We heard about none of these problems from the Germans, but they asked us why we are going offshore when we have so much capacity onshore, as it is harder to develop wind power offshore than onshore. The honest answer is that it is difficult to make progress with onshore wind, whether we call that nimbyism or something else. Onshore wind development has become bogged down in the planning process and is often rejected.

Offshore wind development probably is more expensive, but by going offshore we thought that some of the opposition met by onshore development might be escaped. The heart of the opposition to onshore is that people do not like the idea of windmills being sited too near their property because they think that will devalue it. That is not unreasonable, but it makes wind farm development very difficult.

The proposals are a new way to try to block wind farm development. Shipping is a legitimate interest, but why is it being elevated and exaggerated in this debate?

 
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