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House of Lords

Wednesday, 26 January 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

Wind Power

Lord Tombs asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the total installed capacity for wind power up to the year ending December 2004 is 890 megawatts, of which 766 megawatts is onshore and 124 megawatts is offshore. In 2004, 240 megawatts of new wind capacity were installed and, in 2005, we expect a further 600 megawatts of wind power capacity to be commissioned.

To illustrate the scale of the challenge that we have, to achieve the 2010 target of 10 per cent electricity coming from renewables we need to build on average the equivalent of 1,200 megawatts of new wind capacity each year until the end of the target period. From those figures, it can be seen that capacity is now being built up at a rapidly increasing rate, but we still have a long way to go.

Lord Tombs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. I believe that it is becoming clear that the 2010 target is, to say the least, fragile, but we wish him every success in the attempt to meet it.

Is the Minister aware that there is a widespread misconception in the country to the effect that wind power is competitive with other forms of electricity generation? That is clearly incorrect, from figures that he has given me in response to previous Questions—notably, the fact that the subsidy for wind power to the Government's horizon of 2020 will be £30 billion. Can he take that misconception on board, in order to have a reasoned public debate and devise means of displacing it?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I hope I made it clear that while I believe the target to be very difficult to achieve, it is perfectly possible that we can achieve it. At the end of 2004, we estimate that 3 per cent of the UK's electricity was produced by renewables, and by the end of 2005 we estimate that the figure will be nearer 4 per cent. There is 4,000 megawatts of capacity in the pipeline, half of which has planning permission, which if it is built has the potential to produce 4 per cent of electricity. There is also the second round of the offshore wind
 
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proposals, which could produce 7 per cent of the UK's electricity supply. Half, or 3.5 per cent, could be delivered by 2010. So it is perfectly possible, though very difficult, to achieve the target.

As for the cost of wind power, we have always made it clear that it is more expensive than the electricity being generated, which is why we have the renewables obligation. It should also be said that it is the cheapest of the renewables, and if we want to do something about climate change, this is one of the cheapest ways in which to do it.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, much as I wish my noble friend well in his targets, does he agree that those targets are remarkably long on optimism and remarkably short on realism, particularly when one considers that the 2010 target must then be doubled again by 2020? If we fail on either of those targets, it is imperative that we have non-carbon producing electricity generation, which requires the sustenance and maintenance of our nuclear capacity so that we are in a position to do that by 2020.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I was speaking about the targets for 2010. It is of course true that the target for 2020 would be achievable only by bringing in other sources of renewable energy. That is why between 2002 and 2008 we will be putting more than £500 million into emerging renewables and low-carbon technologies. As I have said before in this House, we have not ruled out the nuclear option, and if we are not going to be able to achieve those targets we shall consider nuclear power again.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the policy of my party that local communities must have a say in where wind turbines and wind farms are placed? Given that, could he possibly comment on the fact that the Prime Minister has supported and listened to his local community in helping to stop four wind turbines being sited near Sedgefield? Given that, how is anyone ever going to meet their targets?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, obviously the question of getting planning permission for wind turbines is a considerable issue. However, it is quite right that across the country, including in the Prime Minister's constituency, there should be the ability to object to this as part of people's democratic rights. All wind turbines have to go through the planning process—that seems to me totally right. That does produce problems in getting planning permission, though it is interesting that 80 per cent of people who have a wind turbine within five kilometres of where they live are actually in favour of wind turbines.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, how do the Government propose making good any possible shortfall in the renewables target? When would they propose reaching decisions on that?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, clearly that is something that we keep under review. The two methods
 
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that we have for affecting the situation are the renewables obligation and the exemption from the climate change levy. In the period up to 2006, we shall be reviewing the renewables obligation and shall introduce any further changes to that in 2006. As I said, it is not at all clear that we cannot achieve the target but, if we cannot, there are other ways in which we can incentivise people to produce it.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, given the very long lead times in nuclear generation, can the Minister say whether the Government have any serious fall-back position before we wait until 2010 to do anything about it?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I said, we will constantly review this. If it becomes clear that we are not going to be able to achieve our goals, the nuclear option will still be there. As for planning for it, the major close-down of nuclear power stations begins in 2020. I think that we still have time to deal with the situation and have a proper review of it.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, how many planning applications have been submitted so far and how long after their submission is it taking for them to be either granted or refused?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not have those figures. If we have them, I will be very happy to write to the noble Lord to let him have them.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, whatever the objections may be to wind-power farms in the Sedgefield constituency, I guess they are as nothing compared with the environmental objections to a huge proposed wind farm on Shap Fell in Cumbria. It is totally unacceptable. Will the Minister encourage the Prime Minister to object to that one, too?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I think that the Prime Minister has better things to do than to go all around the country objecting to wind turbines. If we are going to talk about environmental damage, we should just ask ourselves what the environmental damage will be if we do not do something about emissions. The flood and coastal defences study which we have just done under Foresight suggests that, in extreme situations, the annual bill for flood and coastal damage would rise to £20 billion from the current figure of £1 billion. So let us be clear that no solution will be cheap. On the other side, if we get it wrong, it will be extremely expensive.

Bovine Tuberculosis

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government would be prepared to consider culling badgers as part of an integrated bovine TB control programme, but only if the available scientific evidence supported it as a cost-effective and sustainable option. We are, of course, aware of the recently published results of badger culling research carried out in Ireland. We have referred that work to independent scientists to advise on the relevance of the findings to the disease situation in Great Britain.


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