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Marine Renewable Energy

7. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): What support her Department is giving to the marine renewable energy sector. [203420]

The Minister for Energy and E-Commerce (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We have announced a £50 million marine renewables deployment fund that will provide continued support to wave and tidal stream technologies. That builds on the £15 million of research and development support granted to the sector since 1999.

Mr. Challen: Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain has the skills, the ability and the resources to become a world leader in wave and tidal energy technologies? The opportunity must not be frittered away as previous Governments frittered away our opportunities with wind power. In that context, will the Minister do everything he can to speed up the delivery of the £50 million? I understand that there is some disappointment in the industry that the funding is subject to further consultation, which does not end until next August.

Mr. O'Brien: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that this country has the skills and resources necessary to become a world leader in the area of wave and tidal technology. I plan to put forward a consultation paper in January, but the consultation will be short, lasting only about four weeks. We hope to make an
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announcement at Easter and to start to deploy the funds shortly afterwards. I do not know where my hon. Friend got the month of August from, but it is wrong, as we plan to deploy the money well before then.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Minister will be aware that one of the greatest supports that could be given to marine renewable energy would be to have transmission charges that encouraged rather than undermined renewables in the north of Scotland. He will also be aware that last week Ofgem delayed a decision on transmission charges, saying that further work needed to be done. Obviously, without knowing the level of transmission charges, it is very difficult for renewable operators to plan ahead. Will the Minister give us some idea of the time scale for taking a decision on those charges?

Mr. O'Brien: We have had discussions with Ofgem about its view on the transmission charges regime and it assures me that it still hopes to be able to hit the original target date of April for putting the better system of transmission charging in place. We hope that the transmission charging system will operate effectively. There has been some further delay and further consultation on the part of Ofgem in relation to determining the right mechanism for charging. As I said, though, Ofgem assures us that it still expects to hit the delivery date of April.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): One of the challenges of offshore power generation is indeed the cost of transmission charges to the mainland grid. I wonder whether any joint talks have taken place between those planning offshore wind generation and those planning offshore wave and tidal generation? It would seem to me to be common sense to use common transmission networks.

Mr. O'Brien: Since the Energy Act 2004, which came into force in July this year, there have been considerable consultations between both offshore and onshore organisations and companies, and Ofgem. A report is expected to be published shortly on how best to make progress on the issue of transmission. It is important to get it right, so it is important to conduct the consultation in a way that takes account of the needs of both offshore and onshore wind transmission.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): In a genuine and constructive effort to help the Government avoid being just all talk and to accelerate the realisation of a UK marine renewable energy source, will the Minister agree to meet me and my constituent, Mr. Alex Southcombe, who has invented WaveMaster—an outstanding innovation currently being successfully trialled? On the basis of my research, it provides one of the best early prospects of commercially enhancing this important marine renewable.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituent.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: I am delighted to hear that and look forward to doing it quickly.
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Does the Minister therefore concede that banking everything on wind turbines, especially on land, which attract such understandable hostility because of their effect on local communities and amenity, is heading Britain in the wrong direction? Does he agree that the development of the widest mix of renewable technologies is now, more than ever, a matter of urgency, given the reality of climate change and the Prime Minister's humiliating admission yesterday that his Labour Government are projected to fail to deliver on their manifesto pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010?

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am just trying to remember quite where the Tories were on funding wave power or renewables. Their funding was pretty well non-existent. The Government are on course to overshoot our Kyoto target of 12.5 per cent. of the basket of greenhouse gases. We are on target to achieve 14 per cent. We have additionally set ourselves a higher target of getting to 20 per cent. by 2010, and we have always said that it would be tough to hit that target, but we have six years to go. We cannot insulate the UK from the impact of climate change, which affects the whole northern hemisphere, but we are putting a range of funding into the renewables exercise and certainly are not committed to just one funding package. There is £500 million for low-carbon technology—including £50 million for marine technology—as well as £66 million for biomass energy, £31 million for solar photovoltaics and £170 million for offshore—not onshore—wind farms. We are also funding research into the hydrogen economy. What the Tories completely failed to do, we are delivering on.

Renewable Energy

8. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): What steps she is taking to ensure that wind energy makes a full contribution to her renewable energy targets. [203421]

The Minister for Energy and E-Commerce (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We aim to generate 10 per cent. of electricity from renewables by 2010. The renewables obligation, together with the climate change levy, will create £1 billion per annum in financial support for renewables by 2010, including £117 million in capital costs for offshore wind farms, £10 million of which will be for Scroby sands, off the coast of my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Blizzard: If we are to stand any chance of meeting our renewables target, is it not vital that wind energy developments that are commercially available now proceed as quickly as possible? We have gone offshore because of the slow pace of onshore wind farm development, but is not there a risk that offshore developments could be obstructed by unreasonable objections? For example, although there is no evidence that wind farms adversely affect birds, some environmental organisations are gearing up to take a strong line. Will my hon. Friend ensure that unreasonable objections do not obstruct the development of offshore wind farms? Do we not all have to learn to co-exist if we are to reduce CO 2 emissions and tackle global warming?
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Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend is right to say that we all have a vested interest in ensuring that we tackle the problems caused by climate change. It is also important that discussion of wind farms be based on facts rather than myth. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has advanced some concerns and we are studying them so that we can obtain a factual basis and people can be sure that they make decisions on wind farms on the basis of the reality rather than fears and concerns.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): There is plenty of evidence, not just from this country but from California, that wind turbines are the cause of death of many birds. Would not it be better if the Government concentrated on redoubling their efforts on energy conservation? A small increase in energy conservation would far outweigh the huge subsidies paid for the useless and inefficient wind turbines littered throughout the country.

Mr. O'Brien: My great concern is that the Conservatives are getting themselves into a position in which they are running down the whole concept of wind turbines, which are the only feasible way in which we can hit the 2010 target of achieving 10 per cent. of electricity from renewables. The Conservatives are creating a massive credibility gap for themselves. By offering a local veto on planning decisions, they are not recognising that there is a national as well as a local interest. In effect, they are offering little or no response to climate change issues, which is bad not only for the Conservative party but for serious political debate on climate change in this country.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the best places for renewable energy sites would be existing generation locations, especially nuclear and former nuclear power stations on the coast? Will he look carefully at licensing arrangements with the new Nuclear Decommissioning Authority so that we can loosen restrictions to ensure that wind and other renewables can be tied into those stations?

Mr. O'Brien: We have just issued new planning guidance, which sets out a long-range strategy for dealing with applications for renewables, not just for wind technology but for a series of other renewables, and will enable various opportunities to be realised and deal with various concerns. Our objective is to encourage growth in renewables and my hon. Friend's point about identifying the areas where renewables would be most appropriate is a good one.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): As the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) said, one problem with wind farms is the high cost of their connection to the grid; another is that they can connect to the grid only through overhead transmission lines, which are costly, environmentally unfriendly and lose an enormous amount of electricity. How does that square with the Minister's renewable energy policy?

Mr. O'Brien: The creation of a new transmission infrastructure is a key issue on which Ofgem is consulting. Following the enactment of the Energy Act
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2004 in July, Ofgem started a wide consultation on how we can ensure that we have the right transmission systems for both onshore and offshore wind generation. The same applies for renewables in the broader case, where we are building up micro-generation and considering how even homes can feed back into the grid the extra energy that they might create.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North) (Lab): Although I agree that we need to develop renewable energy sources, does my hon. Friend agree that, where there is a cluster of applications such as those that completely surround the site of special scientific interest at Thorne Moors in my constituency, they should be looked at as a whole and not on a site-by-site basis?

Mr. O'Brien: At present, the planning rules require that various applications be considered on their individual merits. We are looking at how we can ensure that cumulative applications, where a series of applications is in situ, can be considered in terms of their overall impact on an area. In some situations, that can be done with one inquiry, while in others there will be individual inquiries for different applications, but it should still be possible to consider the cumulative effect of all the applications in those individual inquiries.

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