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Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I understand from my recent visit to Woking that provided that waste is combusted at a sufficiently high temperature, all those noxious chemicals can be burnt, and the residue is perfectly innocuous, with no serious gas emissions.

10.30 am

Mr. Chope: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says based on his visit to Woking. All I can say to him is that if he had attended the big public inquiry in Dorset last summer, which went on for many weeks—we have not yet received the inspector's report so I suppose it is, in a sense, sub judice—he would have found that there was tremendous scepticism and public concern about the prospect of having RDF plants in parts of the urban area surrounding Bournemouth and Christchurch.
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That stems partly from concern about incineration and the resulting noxious substances and partly from the fact that getting the waste to the place where it is burnt and made into refuse-derived fuel involves transport over long distances, storage and the building of substantial plants. That is a cause of great concern in my constituency and, I understand from reading articles, in many other parts of the country, although perhaps not in Woking. We should bear that concern in mind. Why does Government amendment No. 52 specify particular sources of energy but leave others out of the debate?

The main point that I want to make concerns capacity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst referred to that. I have already commented on the use of "sustainable energy" in the Bill's title as basically meaning anything that the promoters of sustainable energy want—anything other than nuclear. Similarly, many people outside the House will have been misled by the references in the Bill to microgeneration. When people talk about microgeneration they probably have in mind the sort of generating equipment that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is to put on his premises in, I think, Notting Hill, where he still lives. That windmill will generate about 400W of power.

The Minister is doing better than that because I read in The Daily Telegraph on Monday, I think, that he is minded to install on his premises a windmill that will generate 1kW of power. It looks as though the Minister has not seen that article, but if it did not come to him in ministerial press cuttings, he needs to get a new supplier of ministerial press cuttings. The article said that the Minister is to have a generator on his premises which will generate a maximum of 1kW of electricity. Obviously, that shows that the Minister's household uses a lot more electricity than that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I will not cast aspersions because of that.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope not because it is not relevant to the amendment that we are discussing.

Mr. Chope: I absolutely agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you will have noticed that subsection (3) of Government amendment No. 52 says that maximum capacity in relation to the generation of electricity is 50kW; in other words, the equivalent of a windmill 50 times the size of the one that the Minister is going to have on his house or of 50 windmills of that size in the Minister's garden. The Minister laughs, but in doing so he is probably trying to ridicule the notion that that amount of generating power in a domestic garden could be regarded as microgeneration, and that, of course, is exactly my point.

Why are we allowing the definition of microgeneration to include units that generate up to 50kW of electricity—more than 50 times what is needed for the Minister's house and more than 100 times, indeed 125 times, what is needed for the house of my right hon. Friend? When we start talking about microgeneration of up to 50kW, we are talking about very big developments—enormous windmills or whole series of windmills. Why should microgeneration be deemed to include electricity generation 50 times or more what an individual household needs? I cannot
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understand that. I support the principle of microgeneration and the idea of reducing the need for the national grid to operate and allowing more energy production to be, I think the expression is, decentralised. I cannot for the life of me see that if a household chooses to put up to 50kW of electricity-generating capacity in the garden or on the house that should be described as microgeneration.

I am disappointed that the Minister, when he came to look at the contents of the Energy Act 2004 and redrafted its provisions in the amendments that we now see before us, stuck to the figure of 50kW. I hope that he will explain how 50kW can genuinely be called, in popular parlance, microgeneration. I hope that my Front-Bench colleagues will think about this subject because if we are to get public support for decentralised power production, surely we need to gain the confidence of the general public. If somebody living, for example, in a seafront bungalow in Bexhill in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) could put up 50 windmills in their garden on the basis that it would be microgeneration and then sell almost all that surplus electricity into the national grid, and their neighbours could do the same thing, my hon. Friend would find that Bexhill, far from being a very attractive retirement area with south-facing views over the channel, would basically become an industrial landscape.

Mark Lazarowicz: If we get on to the next group of amendments, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) will be reassured that the Bill will not allow people suddenly to put 50 windmills in their back gardens in Bexhill, and that is certainly not the intention behind it.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that remark so far as it goes, but I had hoped that he would explain why he feels that microgeneration needs to be defined as anything up to 50kW rather than, perhaps, 1kW, which would surely be much more consistent with the popular understanding of microgeneration. Perhaps when the Bill reaches the other place we will have to ask their lordships whether there is a possibility of introducing into the Bill something called mini-microgeneration, which could be up to 1kW rather than up to 50kW. Whatever the promoter of the Bill says—we will come on to the debate about the planning aspects in due course—the Bill will say that 50kW of electricity generation is regarded as microgeneration. That defies common sense.

Mr. Forth: Does my hon. Friend share my worry that if we get this wrong, we will face difficulties similar to those surrounding another technology—telecommunications masts? If we get the exemption wrong, the level wrong or the capacity wrong, we will find that the equipment can be set up without sufficient local input or controls.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I warn the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) not to be tempted down the road of telecommunications masts.

Mr. Chope: I shall not be, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, when we discuss planning and development
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orders, analogies with telecommunications masts may well be in order. However, that will be a decision for you to make at the time.

There has been some levity and repartee, and I have seen letters from people who might be described as rather hysterical about the Bill, but there is a serious issue here. If we want public support for the principle of localised, decentralised energy generation, which is Conservative policy as I understand it, we should try to allay concerns by having a definition of microgeneration that is more in accord with what the ordinary person would regard as micro, rather than macro.

My comments on electricity generation also apply to the production of heat. Think of the size of the equipment, plant and apparatus that would have to be installed to capture enough solar energy to produce 45kW thermal. Can we really describe that as microgeneration?

Malcolm Wicks: Perhaps it will help the hon. Gentleman if I make it clear that the provision is designed to cover not only households, but community schemes. That is why the 50kW threshold was considered appropriate.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, but I am confused. Under clause 16, the maxima for the generation of electricity applicable to community energy schemes are not 50 kW and 45 kW thermal, but 20MW and 100 MW thermal.

Mr. Hollobone: My hon. Friend has stumbled across an important part of the Bill. If, for simplicity, we say that one house uses 1kW, amendment No. 39, in effect, provides that a group of 50 houses could be covered by a scheme; but clause 16 allows up to 20MW, or 20,000kW per scheme, which would supply 20,000 houses. Surely the point of the debate is to seek justification of the 50kW limit, when it would seem sensible to reduce the limit to 1kW or perhaps 5kW and thus seriously define the micro in microgeneration.

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