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Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I welcome the Bill. It urges the Government to encourage individuals and communities to play their part in using the Earth's natural resources more efficiently, and in doing so to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That will reduce the rise in global temperatures, whose devastating effects we are already seeing, particularly in high temperatures but also in relation to foodin China, for exampleand eventually in sea levels. Higher sea levels mean that coastal communities are much more susceptible to the kind of earth-shattering events of the past month.
The Government should use the Bill to show how Parliament is supporting their mission to highlight climate change during the G8 presidency and the EU chairmanship. I am very pleased that the Bill constitutes practical support by the House of Lords to endorse the unanimous and cross-party recommendations of the two House of Lords committees that urged the Government to take seriously the examples and practical developments of Woking Borough Council and other local authorities, which have introduced community-based combined heat and power systems.
The Greater London Authority has now appointed Mr Allan Jones from Woking to its climate agency and is now pursuing those policies. While the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, moved the Motion, I saw some noble Lords on other Benches shake their heads disapprovingly but there is very strong cross-party support for the measures. Greenpeace has also written to make some of those points.
It was remarkable that in Woking Borough Council's own facilities, after 15 years of sustained effort it reduced energy consumption by 45 per cent and carbon emissions by 70 per cent. Use of combined heat and power and other renewable energies was one aspect of the programme, but it also required a new approach in the distribution of electricity by going off the National Grid and using its own grid. That enabled it to use other renewable energy systems more effectively and indeed to reduce the cost of electricity in the borough by a proportion that is 20 per cent lower than in other areas, and to make their electricity more reliable. When the lights went out in the rest of the south of the UK in August 2003, they did not go out in Woking. An intelligent approach to long-term funding was also a vital part of the council's success.
I think that the other point is fairly obvious. There is much greater public involvement in Woking, which one might not imagine as the world's greatest revolutionary centre, in this extraordinary programme, showing therefore the point also made by the mover of the Bill that it will require a great deal of public involvement to be effective and is a very good first step.
As regards the detailed clauses, I have already emphasised that a local authority having targets is clearly an important way forward, as in Clause 1. Perhaps that may be refined to require local authorities to meet more stringent energy efficiency targets across their estates. Interestingly, the Scottish Executive has committed £20 million to energy efficiency measures that it
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calculates will generate £70 million of savings over three years. That again makes the point about the economic benefits of that approach.
It is important to lift planning permission for microrenewables, as the mover of the Bill emphasised. Changing the planning permission will stimulate a culture change where, instead of divorcing energy users from energy generation, they already think about the energy source.
Clause 3 on metering is also extremely important. There is a strong case for promoting net metering as part of a comprehensive and user-friendly retail package, so that people who are introducing new energy-saving methods can see exactly what they are doing. The Government are very keen on targets and measurements in every aspect of their programme. Energy should not be excluded. Joined-up government should go down to the individual household.
Greenpeace is concerned, as are a lot of other NGOs, to see renewable energy policies properly integrated with a sustainable design and construction agenda. There have been some Questions in this HouseI have tabled someabout the need for building regulations to be integrated with energy policy.
The renewables heat obligation in Clause 4 is also important because it should emphasise the importance of thermal energy in the United Kingdom using all of the resources that we have availablefor example, from biomass and geothermal energy. Currently, these policies are perhaps not working as well as they should. I understand that there is anecdotal evidence that we are importing bulky biomass from other countries as opposed to using our own. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, often talks about biomass. He is also a noble kinsman of mine, so I need to make that point.
Finally, the House should take this Bill seriously and support it. The Government should advertise that this is the kind of Bill that has been considered in the House and by Parliament. The Government have not done a particularly good job so far in their programme of climate change in emphasising the practical steps that have been taken in the UK. They quite rightly emphasise the kind of research done at the Hadley Centre and universities, which is fine, as is the Prime Minister's conference in the first week in February. I shall probably be there. But they should also be talking about Woking: I have not heard the Prime Minister talk about Woking yet.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, it has been suggested that a debate on wind would not be complete without a contribution from these Benches. We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for promoting the Bill. The sheer volume of Questions asked in your Lordships' House on the various aspects of energy policy indicates the very wide concerns that exist in all parts of the House. The Starred Questions have sometimes seemed a bit repetitive; this Bill and debate have an entirely fresh and innovative feel to them.
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The Bill is about the microgeneration of electricity, but the wider concerns on energy policy provide a powerful context for it. UK energy policy and use are undergoing something of a revolution. From an easy availability of indigenous fossil fuels and a policy to generate up to a quarter of our electricity from nuclear power, we are seeing a growing reliance on natural gas and imported natural gas. The DTI estimates that, by 2020, around 70 per cent of our electricity might be generated from the burning of natural gas, up to 90 per cent of which might be imported, often over considerable distances.
That reliance on the burning of natural gas raises many obvious concernssecurity of supply and ever-rising costs, for example. Of course, it is a key part of the UK's strategy to meet its Kyoto obligations because the burning of natural gas generates only about 40 per cent of the carbon dioxide that is released by the burning of coal per unit of electricity. It is also relatively clean in other ways, but it seems rather short-sighted to burn so much gas to generate electricity. Future generations may well look back in astonishment at the profligate use that we are making of such a splendid and adaptable natural resource.
The need to replace our nuclear generating capacity as plants are decommissioned is adding greatly to the pressures on UK electricity supply and our attempts to meet our Kyoto targets in particular. I wonder whether a future energy mix with no nuclear component is credible. Be that as it may, those and other factors provide a powerful rationale for the Bill.
I would marshal my support under three headings. First, the level of dependency on imported natural gas, to which I have already referred, cannot be sensible. The Government, in their Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy, issued last August, called for a,
"prudent use of natural resourcesby reducing the nation's reliance on everdiminishing supplies of fossil fuels".
Prudence requires as diverse an energy mix as is reasonably possible. What diversity will mean in practice is not entirely predictable, given the uncertainty of relative costs and other factors in the future. So I see a greater encouragement and facilitation of microgeneration of electricity as simply prudent as part of a policy of having as much diversity of supply as possible.
I recognise that the Government have already taken various initiatives in this area, as set out in the speech by the Minister of State for Energy at the launch in September 2004 of the Green Alliance's microgeneration manifesto, although it was clear from his speech that the Government's thinking had yet to develop into a fully-considered strategy. Microgeneration at a basic level is just part of the prudent diversification that must be a cornerstone of our energy policy.
Secondly, the microgeneration of electricity has important environmental aspects. Obviously, any generation of electricity from renewable sources will assist the UK to meet its Kyoto and renewable obligations. Here, as is well known, we started from a
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very weak base. We have seen too much reliance on natural gas combustion to reduce our CO2 emissions and large wind turbines to meet our renewables obligations. Understandable as that has been in the pressing circumstances that we have faced, I look for a much broader mix in overall UK energy policy.
There has, of course, been much debate over the possible adverse impact of wind farms with their huge wind turbines. Time will tell how that debate runs, but I think that the overall environmental impact of smaller-scale electricity generation from small wind-driven propellers to small-scale harnessing of water power, photovoltaic panels and so forth, will not cause undue problems, precisely because they are small scale.
The sight of photovoltaic panels or thermal panels on roofs, of small wind-driven propellers on houses or in gardens, of small hydroelectric plants on rivers and streams may come to be seen as enhancements of our environment rather than problemslike the windmills of old.
That leads me finally to my third point; that is, the broader cultural aspects of the microgeneration of electricity. Last summer, our family holiday was spent in Denmark, where my wife has many relatives. Denmark, of course, has a considerable start on the UK in its development of renewable energy. By 2000, it was already generating 17 per cent of its electricity requirements from renewable sources, and its target for 2010 is nearly 30 per cent. The bulk of Denmark's generation is from wind, although biomass is also important.
It was interesting that, in addition to concentrated wind farms, it was common to see in Denmark wind turbines dotted across the land in ones, twos and threes. They are an accepted feature of the landscape in a country that prides itself on a high standard of design in urban and rural landscapes alike.
I was also struck by the way in which a greater environmental consciousness pervades Danish society compared with Britain, for all the strides that we have made in recent years. One could see that not only in the Danish approach to the recycling of goods, for example, but also on the roads. I would estimate that the speed of the average car on an open road in Denmark is at least 10 miles per hour less than that in Britain, and yet speed cameras and traffic police are hardly to be seen. From the perspective of both fuel economy and road safety, it is simply accepted in Danish society that a lower speed is betterfor the environment and for road safety, as well as being cheaper and easier on the nerves of drivers.
Today's debate is more about fuel economy than road safety, but I observe that more than 10 times the number of Britons likely to have been killed in the recent Indian Ocean disaster will be killed on our roads during the current year. Just as we need a much higher consciousness of road safety issues, which will come only when our society faces up to them, so the energy-related aspects of our environmental crisis need solutions that will galvanise the whole of our society.
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This is where the case for encouraging the microgeneration of electricity has a wider cultural relevance. I am not sure precisely what ultimate potential exists for its contribution to the targets we are setting ourselves, but I am sure that we have yet to achieve the necessary level of consciousness of their importance in society as a whole, despite the good work that goes on in our schools and elsewhere.
So much of our lives are lived in rather artificial and abstract ways, dislocated from the realities of life in the down-to-earth, physical world that we inhabit and share. I recall the old joke of a school child being asked where milk comes from, and replying, "From the jug in the fridge". I had a recent illustration of that dislocation in my own home. I keep a few hens. They are organic and free range, although sometimes rather more free range than I intend. I took a group of school children who were at a garden party at my home down to see the hens. I showed them the boxes where the hens lay their eggs. A newly laid egg was there, still warm. I offered it to the girl at the front of the group to take home for her supper. "Oh, no", she said. "I couldn't eat that". For her, real eggs come from the supermarket, or perhaps from the fridge in the kitchen, with a little lion stamped on them.
Dust we are and to dust we shall return. Human beings are part of the earth, and whatever view we take of our ultimate significance, we are creatures of flesh and blood. In a consumerist and economically expansionist world, we need urgently and constantly to find new ways of living in greater harmony with our world and our environment. We are making ever greater impacts upon the physical environment, and the closer we can live our lives to the world in which we are set, the better. More local, small-scale electricity generation surely has an important part to play in the broader education and evolution of our society in the years to come.
For all those reasons, I hope that the Bill receives a fair wind as the Government consider their strategy for the microgeneration of electricity.
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