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My second question is naturally related to all this. How much of the money promised in the Budget 2009, Building Britain's Future and in other sources for research and development of renewable energy technologies has been allocated and what is planned for the future? It is imperative that we get on with these technologies and support the many world-leading groups and companies that we have with expertise in this sector. I recognise that the Minister may not have an answer immediately available, but I would be grateful if he would let me have an answer in due course.

5.13 pm

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, like everybody else, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the debate and what he had to say. I welcome the report. The timetable of all this was set in the Planning Act 2008, and in the Climate Change Act on a roughly similar timescale. Of course, here we are in the dying days of a Parliament, with hopelessly inadequate time to consider these issues properly and seriously and in detail, and for amendments to be considered properly, and so on. What is the real scope for change if we really feel that change is necessary? I am bound to say that I find the documents themselves very interesting and helpful in many ways, but very inadequate in others. I wish that I did not feel that the Government were holding my back to the wall and saying, "You've got to pass these documents, because the state of national energy security for the future is such that we need to get on".

The IPC is already in existence and waiting for applications. It cannot get applications because no applicant can make an application without these documents to guide him about the processes and the detail that he is required to supply. We have our backs against the wall. If I feel as though my back is against the wall, I have some sympathy for the Minister because I feel that his back is also against the wall because the reality is that we should have dealt with this subject five years ago when there would have been time to deal with it in detail and to take the process through. We no longer have that luxury. Welcome as this discussion is, I am a critic.

We have known about this problem for many years. The life cycle of power stations is finite and known, and the Government have been reluctant to face this issue until now. The position is aggravated-if I can use that terminology-by the generally, although not unanimously, agreed concern over global warming. Despite what my noble friend Lord Reay said, the need to decarbonise the economy is still there. The current concern about the adequacy of some information does not threaten the central thesis that is driving the move to decarbonise society. No one has been able to challenge the core issue of the carbon dioxide proportion

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of the atmosphere. It is there, and the scientific consequences can be calculated. That is the background to this issue.

What really bothers me about these papers is that, as so many noble Lords have said this afternoon, they consider only short-term issues. These are tactical documents. There is insufficient recognition of the strategy that will be required to reach 2050. Indeed, some of the decisions that might be taken as a consequence of these papers could prejudice the 2050 position, as has already been said. The lifetime of a modern power station is 40 years. A power station application now will take six or seven years, so any new power station constructed as a result of these new processes will be in existence after 2050.

The Government have made much of the possibility of carbon capture and storage being a solution to the problem. They will require every new coal-fired power station to decarbonise only a certain proportion of its possible output. If you build a 600 megawatt station, only 350 megawatts will be required to be decarbonised. If the lifetime of that power station takes us beyond 2050, and it will, the whole of its output will be required to be decarbonised. There is the subsequent problem that most of the systems extract only 90 per cent of the carbon, not 100 per cent of it.

There is possibly an even greater threat in going down the coal-fired power station route: the question of the cost of the process. I have managed to find only one written report on the possible cost of carbon capture and storage. This comes from the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, set up by the Prime Minister of Australia, which is backed by $100 million from the Australian Government. I quote from the statement I have here:

That is an Australian unit of currency.

"The institute says CCS will increase electricity prices by up to 78 per cent".

I venture to suggest that almost all the other forms of alternative sustainable energy will be able to compete easily with that, so our reliance on carbon capture and storage may be rather risky.

That deals with that particular issue. I have three other questions that need to be answered by the Minister. The first concerns the relationship between energy planning decisions and the effects of the EU environmental directives. At present we have an instance of this in the nuclear power stations paper where the Dungeness power station, which already exists, is rejected as a site for further power stations because of the possible environmental consequences of taking over more of a particularly significant beach area.

We need to be a bit clearer in our thinking. If we fail in our efforts to decarbonise and the failure is global, and if the sea levels rise and the environment changes, as it certainly will-you can see the changing environment every spring now in this country; things that normally would flower in the middle of May are now flowering at the end of April, birds are nesting earlier and so on, so we know that the climate is different; and I am a farmer and I have lived with nature all my life-

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Obviously in Birmingham it is different. The cold weather that we have had means, alas, that the spring flowers are not yet out; we have been used to them coming out much earlier.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the Minister is falling into the same trap that so many people fall into in making the mistake of judging weather as climate.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: It was the noble Lord himself who started to comment on these issues. I was just pointing out that this year does not seem to be true to form.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I have been here long enough-not here in this House, but in this life-to remember the winters of 1947, 1963 and so on. We all have that experience. Exceptional winters have always arisen, and we should not believe that they are the norm.

The question is that if the process that is universally, although not entirely, accepted by science is taking place, and if the environment is going to change and destroy these places, is it right to use that as an argument for possibly deferring or displacing a decision to put in another carbon-free power station? That is relevant to estuarial barrages, a subject that is dealt with peculiarly in EN-1 itself. It is particularly relevant to the Severn estuary.

Paragraph 3.4.3 on page 23 of the report is a rather odd paragraph that deals with various forms of sustainable energy. Towards the end of the paragraph under "Wave and tidal" it says:

"Para 1.3.5 explains how this NPS relates to wave and tidal generation".

Paragraph 1.3.5 states:

"The generation of electricity from renewable sources other than wind, biomass or waste is not within the scope of this NPS".

So the question is: where is the NPS for those systems that include not just tidal but tidal stream, which might produce a great deal of energy, particularly in somewhere like the Pentland Firth? This goes back to my original statement. We know that these policy statements will require immediate supplementation or immediate revision. The Act provides for that. We need to be aware that that is on the cards.

I apologise to the Committee for mislaying my notes. I shall stop now as I am wasting time.

The real problem is that we are rushed and the Government have not given sufficient time to deal with these issues. With 6 May looming, we have a very difficult situation. It is possible that a successor Government will have to deal with this issue, if it is not dealt with before the election. Personally, I would prefer to see it dealt with so that any successor Government would know what they had to get on with. If an incoming Government have to deal with this issue, it will be extremely difficult for them to know what to do. We are where we are and my back is against the wall, as is the Minister's. I hope that we can finish with the Minister saying that we will get some real decisions on this within the timescale that exists, not the timescale that we wish for.

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5.29 pm

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee, president of the British Trust for Ornithology and a trustee of the Wildlife Trusts. I am also a former chief executive of the RSPB and the Environment Agency, which covers nearly all the bodies that sent me briefings.

Casting our minds back to the long nights on the then Planning Bill and the equally long nights on the marine Bill, we all knew that the national policy statements would be pretty crucial in providing a framework for the IPC's work. We really need to get them as right as possible, and this is our first opportunity.

I recognise that re-engineering the energy supply and distribution network of this country quickly to meet the challenges of the Government's low-carbon transition plan is no easy job, and that the aims must be to remove as many barriers as possible and to stimulate the market to deliver propositions to the IPC. However, we have to be careful that we do not risk throwing the baby out with the bath-water, or steering the IPC into a process that says that meeting climate change challenges is so overwhelmingly important that some other adverse impacts on the environment are completely justifiable.

I am therefore absolutely and diametrically opposed to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, here-and will indeed oppose any amendment which he brings forward to give primacy to the climate change challenge. It is increasingly the tendency to say that climate change, if you are not a refusenik on it, is so important that it trumps everything else. I do not believe it is beyond our ingenuity in this country to deliver both on carbon reduction and on other environmental outcomes.

Sustainability is becoming a kind of unfashionable word; it used to be in every second sentence in the environment field, but I hardly see it at all now. However, the principles still exist. It should be possible to develop new energy generation distribution systems that will deliver on the challenges of climate change, on economic development, on social welfare and on other environmental outcomes at the same time-without falling into that undesirable trap of seeing it all as a trade-off against each objective, with them all being subservient to climate change.

Looking at the national policy statement, I alternate between thinking that it is either an admirably flexible document or a horribly limp document; I have probably come out on the limp side at the moment. However, I want to talk about its limpness not in terms of whether it will deliver carbon reduction sufficiently quickly but whether, in its very limpness, it runs other risks for the natural environment and whether the decarbonisation process that it outlines is insufficiently structured to make sure that the natural environment is protected.

I want to raise a number of points. My first, on the issue of spatial explicitness, has already been raised by other noble Lords. The nuclear NPS is rather more of a model in that respect than this overarching national policy statement for energy. It makes an attempt-quite rightly, in view of the controversy surrounding nuclear

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decisions-to be much more spatially specific. We could learn from that because, in the absence of co-ordination and alignment with spatial plans, we have this real risk. If the IPC and the NPS do not align their work spatially with regional strategies, local development frameworks and marine plans-after all, this process replaces the local and regional government planning process for major energy infrastructure-investment decisions by people promoting developments and IPC decisions will be made in isolation. That would result in sub-optimal outcomes for the natural environment, as well as for energy security and emission reductions.

I hope that the Minister can encourage the IPC to work with a process that the DCLG and DECC have undertaken, looking at the strategic capacity assessment regionally to help facilitate regional spatial integration. That would help to deal with the cumulative impacts of a range of proposals on the natural environment. We have heard today about some of the places that will be rather popular for energy generation proposals. Our estuaries will be popular, as will our coasts, particularly in the east, and Cumbria, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. We need to be sure that the IPC is not dealing with proposals piecemeal but is taking a spatial approach to dealing with these in an integrated way.

The NPS needs to be much more spatially explicit. It cannot just rest on clarifying existing policies; it ought also to be identifying areas that are or are not suitable for specific types of development of energy generation and distribution. It might even be persuaded to go as far as identifying specific local locations for development, as the nuclear NPS does.

The second area where the NPS worries me in its limpness is its tone. The fact that it is technology-blind, needs-blind and very much market-led, not making specific commentaries about favouring technology or identifying the decarbonisation impact of proposals, means that there could be a general woolly admonition to the IPC that reducing carbon needs to happen so quickly, and meeting the challenges of climate change is so pressing, that we will seem to be saying in a kind of woolly, grey-goo fashion that we need lots of new energy developments, lots of different technologies in lots of places-and by the way, we need them now. The risk is, as panic sets in that the low-carbon infrastructure is not being developed quickly enough, that the IPC will not be given sufficient structure through this NPS to make sure that it is not just backing everything everywhere in a way that could have real downsides for other environmental considerations.

I shall quote paragraph 4.18.6 from EN-1. I ask noble Lords to listen extremely carefully because there will be examination questions afterwards. It is about the Government's biodiversity strategy and it says, in giving advice to the IPC about making decisions:

"This aim needs to be viewed in the context of the challenge of climate change: failure to address this challenge will result in significant impact to biodiversity. The policy set out in the following sections recognises the need to protect the most important biodiversity and geological conservation interests. It also acknowledges that the benefits of nationally significant infrastructure development

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may include benefits for biodiversity and geological conservation interests and that these benefits may outweigh harm to these interests".

I hope that noble Lords were listening carefully. I would like to try to summarise that; I think it is saying that climate change will harm biodiversity, and therefore it is okay to harm biodiversity to ensure that climate change does not harm biodiversity-an interesting proposition for the IPC. The real challenge is not that at all. It should be how the IPC can help to drive forward new carbon-reduction developments while safeguarding existing biodiversity interests.

I want to remind noble Lords about the huge progress that we have made in the past 20 years in the protection of our important natural resources. When I first entered the environment movement 20 years ago, it was common for there to be demonstrations, sit-ins, marches and protests as major infrastructure projects harmed our most important biodiversity sites-Twyford Down, the Newbury bypass and a variety of propositions that did not go ahead as a result of legitimate protest. It was a common feature that big infrastructure development automatically appeared to go through all the most important wildlife sites in this country. We have moved well away from that now; I can say without any difficulty that I cannot remember any recent cases where that was proposed. We need to find ways of creating development and infrastructure without harming biodiversity interests. Will the Minister assure the Committee that there has been genuine progress and that he wishes to task the IPC with finding ways of promoting carbon-reducing infrastructure without having an adverse effect on our important natural resources and biodiversity?

I cannot overstate my concern about the tone, another example of which is the potentially flawed way of thinking that is outlined in paragraph 4.18.13, which talks about local and regional biodiversity sites. I remind noble Lords that local wildlife sites are absolutely vital for the network of biodiversity, for supporting the more common species in this country, and for bringing people right across the country into contact with valuable natural resources and wildlife. These local and regional sites give them contact with the natural world that many city dwellers now lack and are a useful educational resource, so we should not regard them as a second-order proposition; they really are important.

The IPC needs to give due consideration to such regional or local designations. However, paragraph 4.18.13 says something different. It says:

"However, given the need for new infrastructure, these designations should not be used in themselves to refuse development consent".

That is admitting defeat before the IPC even starts. We should give it the target of not trading off valuable local natural resources in the interests of carbon reduction. Its task should be to ensure that it does both at the same time. Will the Minister give assurances on these issues?

There is no doubt that the NPS, in replacing some of the current national planning policy, needs to incorporate the strength of the national policy guidance that has been developed over the past 20 years and that has given good support to our valuable wildlife.

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The NPS claims to incorporate the national planning policy, but there are real inconsistencies between the NPS's treatment of environmental impacts and the current suite of planning policy statements, so, again, will the Minister assure us that the section of the NPS on biodiversity impacts will be strengthened to comply fully with the Government's current national planning policy?

Two other minor but important pieces of process in the NPS need to be highlighted. One is the process of appraising sustainability and the habitat regulation assessments. Both these processes, as used to assess the national policy statement, very narrowly defined reasonably competing alternatives so as to virtually exclude them. Paragraph 4.4.3, for example, gives a strong steer to keep the consideration of alternatives under the habitats directive proportionate. I agree that it needs to be proportionate, but it should not be restrictive. We should not say that alternatives should simply not be on the table because of the overriding importance of decarbonisation. There is a real risk in the way in which the NPS is structured that the IPC is guided to decisions that simply do not meet the requirements of the habitats regulations.

Getting the balance right between the need for national infrastructure and local adverse impacts will be extremely important. Local impact reports must be given their proper place. I have not yet caught up with the guidance that has been given to the IPC, so I hope the Minister will confirm that the guidance will ensure that the local impact reports are an important part of its consideration.

Your Lordships may have missed a report which the Wildlife and Countryside Link produced recently on the Government's commitment to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. The report has seven indicators of progress on that 2010 target. Only one of them is green, four are amber and two are amber-red. So we are not yet stopping the decline in biodiversity on which we depend for our future, and on which vital ecosystems depend. We must not allow the process of agreeing infrastructure through the IPC to add to that decline.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is imperative for both climate change and energy security reasons. Decision-making for major energy infrastructure must be crisper than the policy statement implies and needs to include a sound understanding of what is needed and where it is needed to maximise benefits and minimise costs. The NPS must make sure that the IPC rises to the challenge of helping to support the transition to a low-carbon economy, but not at the expense of the natural environment, which is equally vital to our survival. I believe that the NPS needs to be strengthened if it is going to deliver for biodiversity.

5.45 pm

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: The document as a whole is extremely useful and one that should have our support. I do not agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the balance of the report. Some 31 pages set out the energy context, with around 60 pages for all the other issues that must be considered, notwithstanding the energy policy context. They set out the importance of considering environmental issues,

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habitat issues, hazardous substances, pollution, air emissions, biodiversity, coastal change, flood risk, historic environments and so on. For me, it is not a reasonable interpretation of the statement to say that it is energy driven come what may, and that anything to do with a big energy project should get the go-ahead. That is not my reading of the document.

The statement says two things. First, unlike in the past, we are not going to have endless arguments at each individual inquiry about what national energy policy should be or whether one technology is better than another. The green movement, heaven forbid, will not be arguing against nuclear energy, but I remember how years ago you could guarantee that any inquiry about nuclear power would be entirely about whether it was safe or not. If it was for a coal-fired power station, there were issues of policy and so on. What this document seeks to do is set out an energy policy framework within which the IPC can work. That was the purpose of the legislation we took through this House, and I think that is entirely right. Going back to having inquiries that hear every single voice arguing for completely different policies and going on for month after month would be a retrograde step.

Later I shall come on to the interesting document that the Conservatives have just published on their planning proposals. Despite their appeal to localism, even they have somehow managed at the national level to take the choice away. So the balance is right and the NPS states clearly in various places, and particularly in paragraph 4, that the IPC should adhere to key principles such as the need for energy infrastructure and so on, but then stresses all the other issues that must be taken into account. That seems to be the right balance.

The document also rightly says that the solution to the energy mix is likely to change over time. The costs of different technologies will change. Innovations and inventions will occur. Supply shortages will come and go in different energy industries. The document is right in saying that the IPC should not be trying to second-guess what will happen in 10 or 20 years' time. That is important because if it were to do that, it would open up all those issues for discussion at any inquiry. If any inquiry into a major construction project used as an argument against the application the fact that this might seem the right energy balance now but not if you look to 2020, one can easily see that the apparent gain from having a national policy statement for energy approved by Parliament would be lost because it would simply open up discussions about where we should be technologically in 2050, and that would be a great shame.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I apologise to my noble friend but he is speaking in the gap and is limited to four minutes.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: I do apologise. In that case, I will be even briefer. Can I ask the Minister about carbon capture and storage?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Colwyn): I apologise for interrupting an interesting speech. The Companion in paragraph 4.34 says that speeches in the gap must be limited to four minutes.

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