Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
WEDNESDAY 26 MARCH 2008
MP, SIMON VIRLEY
Q420 Dr Turner: The draft EU Directive
would mean guaranteed access to the Grid for renewable generators
and priority access for their output. How will that Directive,
assuming that it is implemented, affect your plans for dealing
with the Grid problems?
Malcolm Wicks: We are reflecting
on the issue about priority access; I do not think we are convinced
by that. We need to look at that very carefully. It sounds attractive
but, as we were discussing earlier with your colleague, we need
to get the balances right here between base load energy and how
we manage this new world, really, of quite a heavy reliance on
wind energy and complications maybe with the Severn Barrage one
day as well in terms of that, so I do not think we are going to
commit ourselves at this stage to saying that is the right approach.
It is slightly more difficult or technical.
Q421 Dr Turner: So you will not implement
Malcolm Wicks: We are discussing
Mr Virley: Negotiations are under
way about what "priority access of renewables" means
for the moment. It is a very detailed and technical area and we
would expect those negotiations to continue for the best part
of a year.
Q422 Dr Iddon: With or without that
Directive, in order to take the frustration out of the renewables
industry where they are queuing to get access to the Grid, would
it not be sensible if the Government, irrespective of that Directive,
as I said, persuaded the current generators to share present capacity
with the renewable generators?
Malcolm Wicks: I am not sure I
quite understand the question, sorry.
Q423 Dr Iddon: As I understand it,
the renewable readiness which is there now, 9.3 gigaWatts in Scotland,
cannot get access because the current generators are taking full
capacity on the Grid. Can we not persuade the current generators
to share that capacity with the renewable generators?
Mr Virley: There are complex issues
there. We do have a market-based system and a system of connection
that is managed by National Grid. They have published proposals
for reprioritising the queue as it currently exists in Scotland,
and we do expect those proposals to have some effect. Obviously
it is a big concern for us to make sure renewables can have the
access they need.
Q424 Dr Iddon: Turning now to management
of the Grid, when we have substantial amount of renewable capacity
connected, people talk about intelligent management of the Grid
and about demand-side management, which I do not think they have
at the moment, at least not to cope with the large amount of renewable
capacity coming in. What plans are there for better management
of the Grid in future?
Malcolm Wicks: As I said in answer
to your previous question, we are working with National Grid at
the moment about future scenarios where you could have a considerable
amount of demand management and a considerable amount of heat/electricity
storage on the system which could change the dynamic in terms
of energy demand in this country. So that work in terms of long-term
scenarios is under way with National Grid and Ofgem at the moment.
Q425 Chairman: Just coming on to
planning, Minister, which is a major issue, in evidence to the
BERR Committee you stated that the National Policy Statement for
energy would contain a list of offshore wind sites suitable for
development. Will those sites be subject to environmental impact
studies? How is that process going to work?
Malcolm Wicks: They will be subject
to environmental impact studies, they are now, and indeed in a
way we draw a bit from the environmental assessments we made when
giving licences for offshore oil and gas drilling, so the Department
has quite a history of managing those environmental assessments
and they will, of course, continue, yes.
Q426 Chairman: So it will not just
be left to the developers?
Malcolm Wicks: No. We have expertise
in the Department on that already.
Q427 Chairman: Projects of less than
50 megaWatts will be decided by local authorities rather than
the Infrastructure Planning Commission, that is the arrangement,
yet 30-40% of the renewable electricity projects will fall below
that threshold. Can you explain the reasoning behind the 50 megaWatts
Malcolm Wicks: The Planning Bill
and the new Independent Planning Commission is designed to tackle
what has often been quite considerable delays in terms of very
large scale infrastructure projects. I repeat what I said earlier,
it is not just in the energy field, so I guess it comes down to
a definition of what we mean by "large scale", what
falls above the line and under the line, but the Department did
not feel that every planning application should go to the new
Q428 Chairman: No, but the point
I am making is that you mentioned earlier, and it was a staggering
fact, that 18 gigaWatts of electricity is either within the planning
system, most of it220 wind farms are within the planning
systemand yet we know, and we have heard from many witnesses
we have spoken to, that in fact the local authority planning system
is what is bogging down this whole process. They just cannot get
them through the planning system at all, and yet this very significant
30-40% of what is proposed is going to depend on that. In other
words, how on earth are you going to make progress if we are going
to have the current system as simply a NIMBY system applying to
many of these new applications?
Malcolm Wicks: I could introduce
you to some of your NIMBY colleagues on this, and I do not say
that flippantly, of course, because I know many parliamentary
colleagues who one day will make great speeches about the importance
of climate and renewables and then in their own back yard, often
perfectly properly, will be on the side of local residents campaigning
against the wind farm. I have had many adjournment debates on
thatand I will not say from which benches, Mr Willis, but
you can guess. But I would not call it NIMBYism; I would say that
perfectly properly there is local opinion about this, some for
and some against, and on some of these larger projects, because
at the moment they come to us, sometimes I have agreed with them
going ahead but sometimes I have disagreed, and I would have thought
that is what planning should be about. I hope that the planning
statement on renewables, the fact we do training with planning
inspectors to bring them up to scratch on these issues, will see
more projects come to light, but I would not myself say we should
remove this from the local authority and that local opinion should
never have its say, otherwise the tide will turn against wind
Q429 Chairman: The point is that
if you reduced it from 50 megaWatts to, say, 20 there would be
a significant difference, would there not, where you have relatively
small wind farms which, in fact, the local authority has every
right to be involved with?
Malcolm Wicks: Yes.
Q430 Chairman: These are big projects,
the 50 megaWatts?
Malcolm Wicks: Yes, but the IPC,
the Independent Planning Commission, is set up to deal with very
large scale, although obviously it is a matter of judgment where
you draw the line.
Q431 Dr Turner: There is a different
issue for marine projects, not that there are water NIMBYs because
it is much less of a problem, but the 50 megaWatt limit is an
obvious problem, or will be for the next few years, because they
are not at the state of development to deploy 50 megaWatts or
more at a time, and you will be aware that a very significant
percentage of the cost of the SeaGen project was attributable
to the environmental impact study. It is just as intensive, takes
just as long and costs just as much to produce a 1.2 megaWatt
installation as it would if they were installing 50 or more megaWatts,
so can I put it to you that the 50 megaWatt limit is not appropriate
for marine installations? Would you be prepared to reconsider
Malcolm Wicks: I am willing to
put that question, that concern, to my colleagues in DCLG. I do
not feel I have the expertise to comment on it except to say that
the marine environment and the seas are becoming a crowded place,
there are many different concerns and many different users of
the sea, there are ecological issues and it is always a question
of trying to weigh up and balance all of these factors, but I
think it is perfectly appropriate that marine technology, like
any other bit of kit in the sea, should be subject to an environmental
assessment, but I will relay your concern to my colleagues in
the other department.
Q432 Chairman: Could we ask you to
relay another couple of concerns, just going back to the on-land
planning system? Planning policy Statement 22 is what gives the
general policy advice to local authorities, yet we have heard,
particularly from a company RWE Innogy, that different local authorities
interpret that planning guidance in extreme ways. Now, surely
it is a sensible move for the Government to say: "Let's give
very clear guidance in terms of that particular policy statement"?
Also would it not be possible for there to be a screening mechanism
before local authorities consider applications, so that they are
not, in fact, dealing with very speculative applications which
bog the system down?
Mr Virley: I think the National
Policy Statements that the Minister mentioned earlier will be
very important here in terms of setting the framework for local
authorities, and then they will be translated into local and regional
strategies, so that clear guidance will be coming in the form
of the National Policy Statements.
Q433 Chairman: When?
Mr Virley: During the autumn of
this year we will be consulting on the draft of the National Policy
Statement for renewables.
Q434 Chairman: We do have a small
group of questions on skills but I would like to write to you
on that matter, if we could. Thank you very much indeed for your
presence this morning.
Malcolm Wicks: It is nice to be
back, Mr Willis.