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10 Feb 2011 : Column 186WH—continued

Biomass generation is criticised because of the transport implications and sustainability issues. Waste incineration is criticised-it goes on and on. All I shall say is that we
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cannot create the energy mix that we often talk about, from both Front Benches, with little wind turbines on chimneys-although fair do's to the Prime Minister for having a darned good try. I am sure that he is not assuaging his middle-class guilt, as the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) put it. He is making a contribution, as we all do with photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, deep geothermal and whatever else we do. My sister-in-law in Ireland has a massive field full of geothermal capacity. That is fantastic. All those things contribute, and so does onshore wind in some ways.

I want to respond to the points that have been made. First, the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire gave a very passionate and eloquent critique of onshore wind, describing a tug-of-war between local and national interests. That is where much of the debate has focused. She made the point that we cannot rely on wind. No, we cannot rely entirely on wind, but I strongly suggest that we have to rely on wind as a contributor to our energy mix, in the same way that we have to rely on marine and tidal power and on getting over the investment hump in relation to that. They will all play their part. Wind is not the entire answer and certainly nuclear is not the only answer, either.

The hon. Lady referred to the former CBI director, Richard Lambert, saying that nuclear is the answer. It is indeed part of the answer. We are joined up on this: we have to get on, look for the new generation of facilities and deliver them on time, because they will provide a significant amount of our capacity. I think that the mood in the country has changed towards that. It has taken some time for us to get there, but we have, although nuclear is not the only way forward.

The hon. Lady went through a range of areas that other hon. Members have covered. Those included intermittency or variability of wind quality, the need for interconnectivity and the costs that come with that, and the need for price support. I shall simply say, as has been said in the comprehensive spending review, that it is not only wind that needs mechanisms for support, both for the initial capital investment and for the ongoing revenue costs of operating. It is not alone, by any means. The hon. Lady sees the Localism Bill, as many do, as a way to put power back into the hands of the people. It has been claimed that we could see a massive growth in onshore wind turbines as a result of the Localism Bill, but others said that they expected to see a slowing down in their development. I am not sure which it will be, but I am sure that the Minister will respond to that point.

In an intervention, the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) said that legally binding targets are questionable. I would ask whether the Minister agrees with him. Those are legally binding targets. We are fully signed up to them, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is as well. We need to deliver on them, not walk away from them. I hope that the Minister does not intend to revisit them, revoke them or try to argue his way out of them. Both Front- Bench teams are committed to them; by that I mean both Liberal Democrats and Conservative, and Labour.

Stephen Barclay: Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that, in trying to meet those legally required targets, we start from a much worse place? Instead of being at 10% in 2010, which is what the Labour Government signed up for, we were below 8%. The permanent secretary
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to the Department of Energy and Climate Change said that we would be at 8% by the end of 2010, and that we would not reach 10% until the end of 2012. We will have only eight years left to ensure that a further 21% of our needs are met by renewable energy.

Huw Irranca-Davies: In response to the hon. Gentleman's well-observed intervention, the question is how to accelerate our drive for renewables. Part of it will come through the work being done by the coalition Government in driving for offshore energy, and part of it will come through microgeneration. We often banter from the Front Benches on this question, but the wind ports competition, with its £60 million investment, was set up by Labour. This Government have delivered-well done-and Gamesa, Siemens, Mitsubishi and others are coming in with jobs on the back of it. We also have to do it with onshore wind.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the logical extension of his argument is that, unless he says no to onshore wind, onshore will have to make a contribution. We have to find a way through the Localism Bill to make that happen. As has been said, we need to see a mushrooming of local communities saying, "We can now see the community gains. We are going to go for this, and we'll do it for ourselves." That would be great. I hope that hon. Members are right, but we have to see what the Minister has to say about it.

The Minister was asked whether he is considering bringing locally determined projects up to the 100 MW level from the current 50 MW. There has been much debate on that over the years. I do not think that he is considering that, but perhaps he would clarify the situation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) spoke passionately not only for his constituency but for his constituents. I was with him there on an occasion of great trial and disaster at the time of the Cumbria floods. He spoke eloquently. West Cumbria is a beautiful area, with great people. He was right to speak of the contribution that can be made by other energy mixes, including the Solway Firth barrage and the potential for new nuclear build.

I guess that the trick and the theme of this debate is the balance between the local, the regional and the national. I think that all Members here today agree that we need to do three things-to develop nuclear energy security, to do so in an affordable manner for UK plc and for Mrs Miggins, who lives at the top of one of the valleys, and to hit our low-carbon targets. The theme of our debate is who is to bear that cost, and who will benefit from the jobs that could be created from green technology.

The hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) shares his name with one of the most well known rapid reaction generation facilities, the co-stoked biomass Drax power station. It is beyond today's debate, but it raises the question of carbon as we move forward with our electricity market. He asked whether we needed onshore wind farms in order to keep the lights on. I hope that I have made it clear that we do. He also spoke of listening to the community's concerns-he said that if the community says, "We don't want these here", their voices should be heard. It is vital that communities' voices are heard, but we need a balance. He made an interesting point about common sense in connection with the Localism Bill, so I look forward to the Minister and his team drafting common sense into legal statute.

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The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) took a technocentric approach, putting great faith in our engineering, technical and scientific capacity, particularly for developing our nuclear future. He also spoke of his opposition to local wind farms, as did many Members.

The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) despaired of the Secretary of State's warm words for larger wind turbines. I am sure that the Minister will relay those thoughts to the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman spoke unfavourably of the market mechanism. There are possibly more market mechanisms to come that could incentivise low-carbon or renewable technologies. Indeed, they are necessary if we are agreed on having a lower-carbon future.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) said that we would see much more onshore wind energy as a result of the Localism Bill, as communities across the land grasp the opportunity of community engagement. I am not sure that that is quite what Members here today were hoping would result from the Bill; we shall hear what the Minister has to say. Like several hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman asked whether the Minister is considering increasing the distance of turbines from homes to 1.5 km or more.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made a passionate speech. He is not in his place, but I am sure that he will read Hansard. He said that one of the biggest scandals is wind energy. I could not disagree more. If we look purely at megawatt costs per hour, we will get one solution to the question of the way we should be going. It may be the French solution, it may be something else, but the UK has the potential to be at the cutting edge globally of green technology, design research and jobs. There is more to it than megawatt per hour costs. In response to what the hon. Gentleman said about international competitiveness on price, I am sure that the Minister will confirm that we are competitive throughout the EU on our basic energy prices-with the exception of petrol-including compared with France and Germany. The critical factor in that mix of energy security and low carbon is whether it remains affordable, as we drive towards a low-carbon future.

The hon. Member for Daventry spoke of his opposition to schemes in his area. He touched on microgeneration and the feed-in tariff review. There is a real job to be done there. That has caused some consternation, as was dealt with at the Dispatch Box today. However, that issue is for another day.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) spoke about minimum distances in England and the issues in his area. The hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) spoke on a wide range of issues, including compensation, which came up again and again. Again, I ask the Minister to say whether he is considering compensation. Traditionally, requests for compensation have not been acceded to. Is he now considering it? He also asked whether the Minister would consider PPS22 and the minimum set-back distance.

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) called for balance in this debate, and I welcome that. It was the first time that I have heard a Government Member start a speech by saying that we need some balance. He recognised the need for wind to be part of the mix.
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He called for fairness for developers, not least in putting up wind-testing devices, and to ensure that the information is shared with residents. He welcomed the Localism Bill.

I am rapidly running out of time. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) announced that he was a big supporter of renewables. He mentioned Siemens and Gamesa, and the investment on the back of the £60 million wind ports competition. However, he was not inclined towards onshore wind. He saw energy coming from the offshore sector, but that sector cannot do it alone. The hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire also called for localism and the revocation of targets for wind generation.

As I am running out of time in this intense debate, I will just ask the Minister how he is getting on with Renewable UK's balanced and considered view of the Localism Bill. On the idea of a local referendum, Renewable UK says that it should have an important part to play, but decisions need to be based on qualified professional advice. Other issues that it raises relate to pre-determination, pre-application consultations, the abolition of regional spatial strategies and the community infrastructure levy. The organisation has been restrained and controlled in what it has said. It has not tried to object to the Localism Bill, but, as the Minister knows, it is quite concerned that the measures could slow down the development of onshore wind farms. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness will be disappointed if onshore wind farms cease to happen because of the Localism Bill. I ask the Minister to tell me that that will not be the case.

5.10 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Walker. We could not have picked a better debate to have in this Chamber this afternoon. We have had a passionate debate, with displays of knowledge, strong opinions and good humour. The speeches, of which I did not agree with every single word and paragraph, have shown this House in a very good light because of its determination to deal with such a challenging issue. I absolutely join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing and delivering this debate.

Most of us, I think, share the same objectives. We believe that renewable energy is necessary for our energy security and for environmental reasons and that the view of local communities is vital in deciding where wind farms should be located. I want to look at both sides of that equation, to address what I think has been the democratic deficit and to show that wind farms can bring real benefits to communities as long as they are in the right place.

There is no doubt that the UK must become a low-carbon economy. We must decarbonise our electricity supply, which will be a massive challenge for us. It will cost us something in the region of £200 billion over the next 10 to 15 years. Our old coal plant has to close not because of CO2 emissions but because of sulphur emissions. Our old nuclear plant is coming to the end of its physical life and running out of fuel, so we have no choice but to rebuild our energy infrastructure. Much of
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that work and the decisions on investment will need to come in the course of this Parliament. I completely support the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) and for South Northamptonshire that this would have been a much easier challenge had we not had this legacy of failing to secure more of that investment over recent years. However, that does not mean that we have to pull back from such a challenge; we must show a determination to take it forward. There will be a dramatic change in the way in which we generate electricity, and that will bring challenges and disadvantages. We must ensure that we drive forward with this agenda if we are to secure our climate change and energy security goals.

We must consider the time scale. If we push the button today to start the construction of a new nuclear plant, and EDF decided that it wanted to go with Hinkley Point, it will still be towards the end of the decade before the plant can come on stream. We have allocated £1 billion to carbon capture and storage, which is more than any Government anywhere in the world have given to a single plant. However, it will still not be commercially at scale until the end of the decade. The technologies that others have talked about, such as the roll-out of offshore wind, have significant costs. The costs may come down, but as we go further out-I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness accepts this-waters become deeper and the installations more challenging, which, in turn, will push up costs. Although we want to see a broad mix of technologies, we must recognise that there is a real urgency to construct plant now, so that we can meet the challenge of the old plant that is coming out of commission.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) was right when he talked about the need for common sense-sadly, he is not here to hear my response. Common sense tells us that we need a balance of technologies; we need to ensure that we have new nuclear within the mix. We have continued much of the work that was started by the previous Government. We need to have clean coal and a broad mix of renewable technologies. This is not a case of saying that we should only have onshore wind. There will be a real drive for offshore wind and for biomass. We will take forward renewable heat issues. For example, ground source heat pumps, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, will be an integral part of the renewable heat incentive.

Common sense dictates that we should consider our own natural resources. We have the strongest wind resource anywhere in Europe. To turn away from that and say that we should not be using it would be a serious mistake by Government, and one that we are not prepared to make.

Mr Graham Stuart: Will my hon. Friend the Minister give way?

Charles Hendry: We have had many contributions, so I hope that my hon. Friend understands that it will be difficult to respond to them fully if I start taking interventions.

Common sense also tells us that if we are to make the right decisions on our energy security and ensure that future generations look back and say that we did the
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right thing, we have to put new plant somewhere. During the debate, we have heard a lot of calls about why constituencies are not right for certain types of new development, but, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), I have not heard anyone saying, "I don't want wind turbines, but I do want something else." No one has volunteered for a new nuclear plant. No one has volunteered for a new gas plant, a coal plant with carbon capture or a biomass plant. If we do not put them anywhere, we cannot survive on invisible electricity. We all want the switches to work when we push them on, but we do not think that we need to see where the energy is being generated. Energy plants need to be sited in appropriate locations, and common sense tells us that that is the right way forward.

We have carefully considered the contributions that different technologies can make. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will understand that much of the cost that we are considering-the increase in costs for consumers-is based on an oil price of $80 a barrel. Everything changes when oil is $100 a barrel. The central strategy of the American Administration is based on oil at $113 a barrel. At that price, the move to a low-carbon economy brings real benefit to consumers because fuel costs would be lower than they would have been had their supply been based purely on hydrocarbons. We should be in no doubt of the important contribution that renewables can make towards our security of supply and low-carbon objectives. There is a range of different ways in which we can meet the challenge. After this debate, people can go on to the DECC website and look at our 2050 pathways calculator. We can tap in for ourselves and see what keeping our lights on does to carbon emissions. We are not wedded to one approach on the various technologies, but we do want to create an environment where people can see for themselves what will be the best technologies.

As for the suggestion that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire made, we will not simply go down the route of targets. Targets alone do not deliver anything. Government must have a determination to show how targets will be met, which is why we will put in place road maps so that people can see what is happening and how it is taking place.

We will be taking forward this matter in the most robust way. We also recognise that as a result of the investment that has already been made in wind turbines, some 5.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions were avoided in 2009. That is the equivalent of the total annual emissions of the bus transportation fleet in this country, which starts to show the contribution that such technology is making.

Many of my hon. Friends have talked about the intermittency of wind, but that is an issue with which technology can increasingly deal. It is not about having a whole fleet of coal-fired power stations standing by to be pumped up into action when the wind does not blow. Let us consider the scope for pumped storage-an electricity interconnector to Norway, perhaps, or a new one into France that builds into its nuclear capacity-and the work that is being done on battery technologies and on a whole range of new technologies that will mean that the power can be there when we need it rather than when the resource happens to blow. That will be one of
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the big changes that we see coming through in this decade. The issue of intermittency will become one that can be fully addressed.

Regarding security of supply, we also need to recognise that when Sizewell B-our most modern nuclear plant-did not operate for seven months last year wind was powering 800,000 homes in this country during that time. So it is not a case of one technology or another. The core to a sensible energy strategy is ensuring that we have the right balance of different technologies within it.

However, we must change the way we go about achieving that balance and that is what I will focus on for the rest of my remarks. We have heard very sincere views expressed during this debate and I completely understand the views that my hon. Friends and others have expressed. But let me reaffirm the Government's commitment to reform the planning system to ensure that communities have more ability to determine the shape of the places in which they live. Many of the changes will come through the Localism Bill, which has been discussed in Committee today.

We will abolish the regional spatial strategies and their top-down regional energy targets. Members have talked today about how planning applications have been overturned on appeal and granted on appeal. It will be much more difficult for applications to go through on that basis if the regional energy targets are taken out of the mix. Responding to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire, I would say that people can already look to the cumulative effect that exists. However, I do not think that we want to go down the route of saying that each constituency should be generating energy only for its own needs and no more, because that would conflict with the principle that these facilities should be put in the areas that are most appropriate.

We are introducing provisions for projects to be submitted to local planning authorities, so that developers will have to show that they have worked with communities to develop their planning applications. That will help to develop a better approach regarding these applications, so that more of them can go through with planning consent being given locally rather than having to go to appeal.

We are introducing neighbourhood planning, to enable communities to draw up neighbourhood plans to shape the development in their own locality and to permit development without the need for planning applications. In addition, we are of course abolishing the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

I do not think that it is right to go down the route of having specific distances between onshore wind farms and residences. The way that such distances have been interpreted in Scotland and Wales is not actually the way that they have been enforced in those countries. However, the challenge that I face with regard to that issue is that very often we would find brown industrial land-a brownfield site-that we would all believe was an appropriate place for a wind turbine, but if one were to say that the presence of one house near to that turbine, within a distance of 1 km or 1.5 km, could stop that development from happening that would prevent us from using some brownfield sites, which could be well used in that respect.

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The new planning framework will be a concise and more strategic document, which will bring together much of the work in this area to provide much greater clarity. It will provide much greater transparency, to ensure that local authorities can take well-informed decisions.

We are also looking at some of the other issues that have been raised today. We are reviewing how noise is monitored and how flicker is assessed, and we will publish the results of those reviews during the next months so that work on addressing those issues can be developed.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the Minister give way quickly?

Charles Hendry: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me but I will not give way, because there are important points that I need to make in the final moments that I have left.

We have brought forward the review of the renewables obligation certificates, because ROCs are an important way of ensuring that we can see investment in renewable technologies. However, we must ensure that those technologies are not put in place in unsuitable locations. The review will make sure that developers of wind farms are encouraged to go to the windiest locations, because the principle of ROCs is that if a company does not generate electricity it does not receive any payment. Therefore, ROCs are a better mechanism than some of the suggestions that have been made today about requiring planning committees to identify how much electricity can be generated by a particular development. We will develop that work on ROCs during this year.

We are examining the cost of grid connections, because often that cost means that there is an incentive to put wind farms close to where the electricity is needed rather than where the wind resource is strongest. That is why Ofgem's fundamental review of how transmission charges are levied is so important and it is also why we have made it clear to Ofgem that its review of the transmission charging system must deliver security of supply as well as low-carbon generation.

We intend to go further by rewarding local communities, so that they have a real say about how their communities should develop. As part of the coalition agreement, we have announced that business rates from renewable energy developments will be retained locally. In parallel with that, I am pleased that the wind industry itself is looking at establishing agreed minimum standards for the contributions that wind farm developers will make to local communities. Financial contributions by developers might include, for example, investment in energy efficiency measures to reduce electricity bills, or cheaper prices. Of course, the most powerful reward for a community is to have a direct stake in a project. That is why we are keen to see this work happen.

In conclusion, we have had a helpful debate today. I hope that we have been able to show that we believe that wind energy onshore has an important contribution to make. What we can also do is to ensure that wind farms are put in the right locations, where the resource is strongest; that we have a funding mechanism that drives that process; that we have a transmission system that makes the development of wind energy achievable, and a planning system that shows that where communities decide they will consent to such a planning development they will derive a real, direct benefit from having it in their locality.

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Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire for securing such an important debate.

5.25 pm

Andrea Leadsom: Thank you, Mr Walker, for your chairmanship. Well, you heard it here-this is where the rubber hits the road, or more likely where the peregrine falcon hits the turbine.

We have heard some very impassioned speeches today from a number of hon. Members, none of whom are the sort of fashionable green activists who look at the theory of it all and think, "Onshore wind is the answer and you're just going to have to lump it". There has been a series of speeches from MPs who are speaking out for their constituents. I know from my own constituency that people cry over this issue and spend huge sums of their own money and hour after hour after hour of their own time to try to defend the community that they live in.

Onshore wind farms are rather unique in the renewables sphere in terms of the amount of intrusion that they create. Other renewables do not create so much intrusion, they are not as widespread and, as many hon. Members have said, they do not come back time after time after time. Communities do not end up with four hydroelectric plants, up and down the valley, one after the other. Therefore, Members here today are speaking out with genuine urgency on behalf of their constituents, and those on the Front Benches should take note of that.

Another important point to make is that nobody in Westminster Hall today is speaking out loudly in favour of there being more onshore wind in the energy mix. There is a very important issue here, which is that we already have 3,000 wind turbines in this country and 6,500 more are either under construction or in planning. That is an enormous number of new turbines and any new legislation that we introduce at this point is likely to come too late to deal with them. We could have three times the current number of onshore wind turbines
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before people can start to benefit from changes in legislation that might say, in fact, that their area was not appropriate for a particular number of turbines or that the turbines could not be put in a particular location. Those are important points to remember.

The hon. Member for Ogmore, who is the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, was extremely good-natured and good-humoured during the debate, and he made very generous remarks to us. However, I still feel that his view is that of his party, which is that onshore wind development must happen to the exclusion of the views of local communities. He spoke out passionately in favour of onshore wind and did not apologise for the fact that his party embarked on this race for onshore wind when it could have looked instead at developing far less intrusive forms of renewable energy.

This is the key point-if we did not have this renewable target for 2020, would we now still be saying, "Let's continue going for onshore wind", or would we be looking at alternative forms of renewable energy that are much less intrusive? Those alternatives have been mentioned today: hydroelectric; marine and tidal developments, which will all be coming on board in 2022 and beyond; ground source heat pumps; photovoltaic cells, and other possibilities that would be far less intrusive for communities. Potentially the time frame that we are operating under will leave us with very little opportunity to pursue those alternatives fairly.

I thoroughly welcome the Localism Bill. It is going in completely the right direction and our Front-Bench spokesmen are making great strides to plug the energy gap, and to meet both our energy security needs and our renewable targets. We hear a lot of talk from our Government about fairness and localism, two principles that I subscribe to very strongly, and I urge our Government to uphold those principles for the sake of all our communities.

Question put and agreed to.

5.29 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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