I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I shall not detain the House too long as we have many Bills to get through today. This is an uncontroversial little Bill with only two clauses. It is wholly supported by the Prime Minister and the Conservative part of the coalition. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his place on the Front Bench to reply to the debate as I know that in his distinguished career in Parliament he has already to a certain extent defied the party Whips on this very issue. He is therefore the right man for the job. We are now all talking with one voice. This is the Prime Minister’s view, the view of the Conservative party and, I hope, the view of the Minister. I do not think that we should take the Liberal Democrats’
view into account if they cannot be bothered to turn up on a Friday.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Labour party has made it clear to the industry that if it wins the election it plans a huge increase in onshore wind farms, which would desecrate areas of natural beauty in East Yorkshire and elsewhere? Is not that a good reason to vote Conservative on
There are very many good reasons to vote Conservative in the general election, and that is one of them.
The issue of onshore wind farms has infuriated rural communities the length and breadth of Britain and provoked much debate in the House. Like so many other issues, it is yet another on which I fundamentally disagree with our coalition partners. The arguments against onshore wind are well rehearsed—and they are not what this debate is about—but they should not be dismissed as mere nimbyism, as they go so much deeper. Case studies suggest that wind turbines have an adverse impact on property values, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has written to the Government on that point. The institution is clear that the Government need to provide evidence that house prices are not directly affected by nearby wind turbines.
A growing body of evidence also suggests that wind turbines have an adverse impact on health and that ETSU-R-97, which regulates noise produced by turbines, is not fit for purpose. I assumed that that was a European Union directive, but unfortunately it is not. Still, it is the sort of thing that would come out of Europe, if it had the opportunity. I know that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is looking into the issue of amplitude modulation at present, though it needs to get a move on, as I am planning to abolish the Department on
Resentment in many rural communities is growing. My right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight mentioned Yorkshire, but Northamptonshire in particular has been hit hard by wind farm proposals in the past few years. Indeed, the Watford Gap—the place where some believe the north meets the south—is perhaps one of the best examples of where the impact that wind turbines are having on our national scenery is visible. The sea of wind turbines has created a semi-industrialised vista, with no regard for local views or for the landscape desecration they cause. Thankfully, people in the area have been well represented in fighting against those monstrosities, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, not only for all that he has done to highlight this issue locally, but for galvanising support in this place to bring about real national policy change.
We saw a high-profile battle in Northamptonshire over the Barnwell manor wind farm proposal, which, if approved, would have had a ruinous impact on the historic Lyveden New Bield, which the National Trust describes in these terms:
“Set in the heart of rural Northamptonshire, Lyveden is a remarkable survivor of the Elizabethan age. Begun by Sir Thomas Tresham to symbolise his Catholic faith, Lyveden remains incomplete and virtually unaltered since work stopped on his death in 1605. Discover the mysterious garden lodge and explore the Elizabethan garden with its spiral mounts, terracing and canals. Wander through the new orchard, containing many old varieties of apples and pears, or explore the Lyveden Way, a circular path through beautiful meadows, wooodland and villages.”
With its Elizabethan architectural quirks, accompanied by the tranquillity of rural east Northamptonshire, this really is a beautiful spot and absolutely not somewhere for wind farms.
I pay tribute to East Northamptonshire council, led ably by Steven North, along with Councillor Sylvia Hughes, the ward member representing Lyveden New Bield, for their personal efforts to ensure that the local authority courageously battled against these plans. The development had been approved by the Planning Inspectorate on appeal after the council initially refused planning permission. At that stage, it would have been easy for the council to say, “Well, it’s one of those things. It’s been overruled by the Planning Inspectorate”, but it fought on. Working closely with the National Trust and English Heritage, the council opposed the development every step of the way, and finally High Court proceedings quashed the Planning Inspectorate’s approval. To erect a wind farm on the site would have been an utter travesty, and it is staggering that local people, along with their local authority and the organisations mentioned, had to go to such lengths to stave off this threat.
With all that in mind—I am in no doubt that these frustrations are mirrored in communities up and down the country—is it surprising that people have had enough? That said, credit where credit is due: Conservative Ministers have sought to tighten planning controls to give local communities greater power over deciding these matters and, I hope, to give them more protection against unwanted wind farm plans. In July 2013, Ministers unveiled planning practice guidance for renewable and low-carbon energy that was replaced in March 2014 by updated guidance. The aim was to make it clear that the need for renewable energy did not automatically override environmental protections and local communities’ planning concerns, while ensuring that sufficient weight was given to landscape and visual impact concerns. It also included guidance on how local planning authorities should assess impacts such as noise, safety, interference with electromagnetic transmissions, ecology, heritage, shadow flicker, energy output and cumulative landscape and visual impacts.
One of my constituents and a keen member of my listening campaign, Brian Skittrall, is working hard to ensure that the north Northamptonshire joint core strategy provides the greatest possible protection against unwanted wind turbine developments. Along with Tom Pursglove, the excellent Conservative candidate for Corby, I am working hard to support Brian’s efforts, and I very much hope that common sense will prevail and that those responsible for the document will adopt his recommendation.
The protections are in the national policy, but it is important that they are fully represented in local planning policy documents. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has taken an even greater interest in these matters by calling in a considerable number of wind turbine applications and ensuring that the Planning Inspectorate gives sufficient weight to guidance. I have strong views on the Planning Inspectorate, but those are for another day, and perhaps even a future private Member’s Bill.
While that is welcome, it addresses only part of the problem. For example, turbines often do not work and require regular carbon back-up. They also drive up households’ and small businesses’ energy bills, pushing many into fuel poverty.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Bill, which I wholeheartedly support. Does he agree that it is quite bizarre for the Labour party to complain that energy bills are too high while supporting this kind of energy, which is doing as much as anything to put up people’s energy bills unnecessarily?
I am not sure my hon. Friend is being fair to the Labour party. Yes, it claims that energy prices are too high but wants more and more wind farms—in Northamptonshire, there are wind farms everywhere—but actually its policy is to freeze energy prices, which means, given that energy prices are falling, that prices would be artificially high. The reason for this policy must be the subsidies it wants for wind farms.
I am more confused now. I do not know whether the shadow Minister was announcing new policy, but my understanding of a freeze is that that is the price—it cannot go down. If I am wrong—perhaps Labour has done a U-turn—my hon. Friend Philip Davies is right and the policy makes no sense. Either it wants higher energy prices, which I understand, or it wants lower energy prices and more wind turbines, which of course it cannot have.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his brilliant and inspired Bill. On the socialists’ policy, if it is a cap, rather than a freeze, what company—particularly in the energy market, where prices are so volatile—in its right mind would reduce prices, even if the market price fell, knowing it could not put them back up if the market price rose?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct, including in describing it as a socialist policy, because that is precisely the direction we are moving in—we know that Labour has moved significantly to the left. The issue here is that it wants to interfere with prices using a state mechanism, and that always fails.
I shall return to the Bill because I want to be brief and we have a lot of Bills to get through today, and, as I said, it is uncontroversial. In July 2013, the Energy and Climate Change Committee issued its report, “Energy Prices, Profits and Poverty”, which said:
“The main driver behind energy prices has been wholesale gas and electricity costs, but network charges, energy and climate change policies and company costs and profits also contribute. In future, DECC estimates that its energy and climate change policies will add 33% to the average electricity price paid by UK households in 2020, in addition to any potential wholesale price rises.”
That is worth hearing again: “In future, DECC estimates”—it must be right, because it is a Government estimate—
“that its energy and climate change policies will add 33% to the average electricity price paid by UK households in 2020, in addition to any potential wholesale price rises.”
It also concluded that:
“The increasing use of levies on bills to fund energy and climate change policies is problematic since it is likely to hit hardest those least able to pay. We note that public funding is less regressive than levies in this respect.”
The subsidies paid for by consumers are clearly generous, hence the clamour from developers to access them. As long ago as October 2013, an answer to a parliamentary question identified that the Government had hit their targets of 13 GW of production capacity from onshore wind by 2020, with 6.8 GW operational, 6.4 GW consented and 6.4 GW in the planning system. Furthermore, many will question why constraint payments are being made to generators in return for reducing output, as more electricity is being generated than can be used in particular regions because a grid constraint exists. If all that was not bad enough, the subsidies have also been geared up—this is almost unbelievable—in such a way that they will be paid over 25 years, even though, as Dr Gordon Hughes has found,
“few wind farms will operate for more than 12-15 years.”
Therefore, they will operate for 12 to 15 years, but for a further 10 years they will receive subsidies for nothing.
Wind turbines are an expensive way of generating electricity and are clearly bad value for money. I go back to what the Leader of the Opposition said when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the last Labour Government:
“Yes, there are upward pressures on energy bills, and that makes life difficult for people, including those in fuel poverty, but it is right that we go down the low-carbon energy route.”
In other words, he is quite happy for poor people to pay more for their energy because he thinks there is some good in the low-carbon energy route. We should not be so complacent and dismissive of the problem, and the idea that wind turbines are somehow green is stretching it somewhat too, considering the amount of carbon burnt in producing a single turbine, not to mention the amount of concrete poured into the ground to put it up.
Where are we now on this issue? As has been mentioned, the Labour and Liberal Democrat positions are absolutely clear: they want more onshore wind farms wherever they can have them. In contrast, I agree squarely with the Prime Minister, who has said:
“I think the public are, frankly, fed up with so many wind farms being built that won’t be necessary. Now we’ve reached some 10 per cent of our electricity by onshore wind, we don’t need to have more of these subsidised onshore. So let’s get rid of the subsidy, put them into the planning system and, if they can make their case, they can make their case. I suspect they won’t.”
I wonder whether my hon. Friend would go further and say that we should not have subsidies in the energy market at all and that it should be a proper free market, with providers getting a market price and consumers paying the market price, rather than additions for what the Prime Minister once described in fairly fruity terms in relation to greenery.
My hon. Friend tempts me into a much wider field. I am afraid we are going to keep very much to this little Bill—indeed, it is so small that I doubt whether anyone will oppose it, other than those on the Opposition Benches, which are not exactly packed. If this was a controversial Bill, I would be seeing a sea of angry faces on the Opposition Benches and all I can see is two charming people sitting there.
As with the issue of an EU referendum and the need to tackle immigration from within Europe, once again the Prime Minister has it spot on—and let us not forget that only he and the Conservatives can deliver on these issues. I know that he has fought hard in the coalition to make this happen prior to the general election, and I applaud his efforts in that regard. As on so many issues, however, common sense has been thwarted by the yellow peril. That is why I am bringing this Bill forward today: to support the Prime Minister, support the Conservative party and move this agenda forward. If a local community supports wind farm construction and the project is commercially viable in its own right, fine. However, I see no reason why further generous subsidies should be provided, not least because, by the Government’s own admission, the targets have been met.
I pay tribute to Tom Pursglove, the national director of Together Against Wind, who has provided a lot of the information in my short speech today. He also happens to be the Conservative candidate for Corby at the general election. Indeed, it would be much easier in north Northamptonshire if we had my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone, Tom in Corby and me, all fighting against wind farms, rather than somebody who supports wind farms everywhere in north Northamptonshire. I want to end with Tom’s words:
“The only way to end the wind farm folly, is to knock the subsidies on the head once and for all.”
That is exactly what this little Bill does.
I am afraid this feels like “Here we go again.” Less than two months ago, my hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds spoke from the shadow Front Bench against a Bill promoted by Mr Chope which would remove all subsidies for offshore wind. Today we find ourselves in a similar debate, on a Bill to destroy the UK’s burgeoning onshore wind industry.
I think I speak for many Members when I say how much I enjoyed the “Inside the Commons” documentary. I was pleased that it showed people how Parliament works and what MPs do, and that we are, all things considered, still normal people doing a job to the best of our abilities. There was general amusement at the sight of Members from both sides of the House queuing in shifts to secure private Members’ Bills. Two of those people were, of course, Mr Bone, who has just spoken, and the hon. Member for Christchurch. I only wish their time in the queue and our time here discussing the Bill today could have been better spent.
Onshore wind is one of the cheapest large-scale renewable energy technologies. With the right support, it could be subsidy-free by the end of the next Parliament. This Bill, in the unlikely event that it should ever become law, would kill the UK’s onshore wind industry and, in doing so, destroy thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of investment and lead to higher energy bills.
No, I am going to carry on.
If the hon. Gentleman had his way and we shut off support mechanisms such as the renewables obligation and contracts for difference, the UK would simply be more reliant on more expensive technologies to meet our crucial carbon emissions commitments. Those of us on this side of the House are committed to decarbonising at the lowest possible cost to the consumer. That is why we are committed to setting a 2030 power sector decarbonisation target, which will give investors the long-term certainty they need to invest.
Let me point out a few important facts. Last year, onshore wind generated over 5% of UK electricity generation, and the independent Committee on Climate Change estimates that onshore wind can provide over 15% of our power needs by 2030. Onshore wind generated over 16 TWh of electricity in 2014—enough to power almost 4 million homes. There is currently more than 8 GW of onshore wind capacity, with a further 1.2 GW under construction and more than 5 GW with consent. Last week saw the results of the first allocation rounds for CfDs. Labour supported the introduction of CfDs, as we did during the passage through Parliament of the Energy Bill. Cost reductions—which mean less subsidy, which translates into lower consumer bills—are real and are happening now. New onshore wind projects from 2016 to 2018 will produce power at £79.23 to £82.50 per megawatt-hour—less than other renewable energy technologies and less than new nuclear. The industry is committed to being the cheapest form of new large-scale electricity generation by 2020—cheaper even than new gas plants.
This is a job-creating sector: the onshore wind sector employs, directly and indirectly, 19,000 people in this country. Onshore wind is popular. The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s public attitudes tracking survey has found consistent public support for onshore wind. The latest figures show that 68% of the public support onshore wind, with opposition at only 12%. That is not just theoretical support for the concept of onshore wind. It is important to note that people support onshore wind developments in their communities. A
2014 ComRes poll found that 62% of people would be happy for an onshore wind farm to be constructed in their area.
It is, of course, crucial for local communities to be consulted, and to be fully engaged in any renewable energy development. The Government and, in particular, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government preach localism. However, the Secretary of State has taken Whitehall intervention in the planning system to unprecedented heights.
If I had a pound for every time I heard a Conservative Member criticise clean energy technologies for reasons that bear no relationship to cost, genuine public concern or engineering feasibility, I could personally fund the levy control framework for several years. The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided overwhelming and compelling scientific evidence that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, and that it will have devastating consequences if urgent action is not taken to cut our carbon emissions and invest in mitigation.
I would have welcomed the time to engage in a serious debate this morning about onshore wind, and about how we can increase investment and drive down costs. However, no debate on a Bill that would implement an effective ban on onshore wind can be a serious one. Let me repeat a question that I have asked Conservative Members before in the House. They do not like onshore wind, they do not like offshore wind, and they do not like solar. Are there any clean energy technologies that they actually support?
All modern economies face the same energy “trilemma”: how can we generate the energy that we need, which is clean, affordable and secure? Onshore wind delivers on all three counts. It is clean, it is on course to be subsidy-free, and it is based in the United Kingdom, boosting local economies and creating jobs.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Wellingborough’s queuing was not a waste of time after all. It has given me an opportunity to expose the Conservative party’s growing hostility to onshore wind, and to set out how the next Labour Government will work with clean energy developers to ensure that we have the affordable, secure and clean energy that our economy needs in order to succeed.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Bone on securing the debate. I know that he has a long-standing interest in ensuring that the nation has affordable, secure, economic and sustainable energy supplies, and the Government fully support that aim. His Bill would eliminate subsidies for onshore wind that are provided by the Government via the renewables obligation, contracts for difference and feed-in tariff regimes, and paid for by bill payers.
Our policy is intended to achieve our goal of reducing subsidies while meeting our global carbon reduction obligations and securing supply at the lowest reasonable cost. Julie Elliott referred to the “trilemma” in energy policy. Energy policy needs to balance the long-term requirement to live within international obligations on climate change and mitigate the risks with guaranteeing security of supply, which involves the costs of ensuring that enough energy infrastructure is constructed, and with ensuring that those costs are as low as reasonably possible. That is the standard “trilemma”, but rising to the challenge means not only balancing those three requirements, but ensuring that our policy can hit all three goals at once when that is possible.
Alongside new nuclear, gas and carbon capture and storage, renewables, including wind energy, are an important component of the balanced energy mix that the Government are creating. It is clear that we need to increase our use of renewable energy. Renewables provide clean energy and reduce our dependence on finite fossil fuels, but they also increase our energy security, because renewable energy is inherently domestic, and they reduce the need for us to import energy from abroad. At the same time, the construction and operation of renewables create jobs and investment in our economy. It is estimated that £29 billion has been invested since 2010.
According to figures that I looked up when I was preparing for the debate, renewables provided nearly 18% of our electricity in the third quarter of 2014. That has enhanced our energy security and reduced our dependence on imported energy. As we know, the United Kingdom is blessed with a huge number of advantages when it comes to wind generation. We have relatively shallow seas, and ours is a very windy country. The resource is even more pronounced in offshore areas, and it makes sense for us to take advantage of it. We are the clear world leader in offshore wind, in terms of both installed capacity and investment attractiveness.
Let me now respond to, and challenge, some of the common concerns that have been expressed about wind energy, including those expressed by hon. Friend today. It is necessary to deal with those important issues, because we must get our wind energy policy right so that wind can play an appropriate role in our energy mix.
The first issue is whether wind energy actually provides electricity at all. I can confirm that it provided 7% of our electricity at the end of the third quarter of 2014. Of course it is intermittent—the wind does not always blow—but that does not mean that it is an inefficient source of energy. Wind turbines tend to generate electricity for 80% to 85% of the time. Of course they cannot generate during periods of windlessness; that is why they must be part of a balanced energy mix, so that we can draw on other technologies when the wind does not blow. As larger proportions of renewables come onstream, that intermittency will become more of an issue, and we shall have to prepare for it very carefully. It is therefore crucial for our energy policy to be set in a long-term framework.
We accept that back-up is sometimes required, including back-up from coal, gas and biomass. In the longer term, intermittent falls in generation can be dealt with by a range of technologies such as demand-side response, interconnection with other countries, and electricity storage. In the United Kingdom, electricity storage generally means pumped-storage hydroelectricity, but an increasing number of exciting technologies will enable us to store electricity and deal with the intermittency.
The figure my right hon. Friend the Minister gives for the standard usability and standard functioning of wind turbines of 80% to 85% is one that I do not recognise. Even the wind turbine industry itself suggests the figure is 28% to 30%, and I can tell the Minister that certainly in my constituency the turbines are not working 80% to 85% of the time. When has he ever seen the wind blowing 85% of the time in any part of this country?
Wind turbines require a low wind speed in order to operate and the offshore wind turbines have a very high rate of operation. Moreover, what matters for energy policy is the overall output from any given technology, and while the wind may not be blowing in Devon it may be blowing in Suffolk, so we need to look at intermittency and the impact of the policy throughout the country.
I now want to turn to the impact of intermittency on the stability of the national grid. Research by the Royal Academy of Engineering shows that the grid can accommodate up to 26 GW of wind energy by 2020 without significant grid reinforcement being required, and that is split evenly between onshore and offshore wind—about 13 GW each—as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough set out. We should not be complacent, however. Grid improvements are going to be needed to deal with intermittent renewables of all types and the increasing new nuclear programme. We cannot wait; we need to take action on that now—and, indeed, we are doing so. We will need to be innovative in terms of technology and operational and market incentives to meet this challenge.
I also want to address the point my hon. Friend made about constraint payments. Constraint payments occur when there is insufficient transmission network capacity between where the electricity is generated and where it is used. They are a long-standing part of the system, and to ensure the secure operation of the electricity system the grid is required to balance the supply and demand of electricity at all moments in real time. A cost-efficient transmission network will always have a degree of constraint by design. This system predates wind farms and most constraint payments continue to relate to fossil fuel generators, not wind farms.
National Grid has estimated that about 2% of total metered wind farm output was curtailed in 2013-14. In October 2012 we put a condition in generators’ licences to ensure they cannot profit unfairly from constraints. Constraint costs for wind farms have more than halved since, and we estimate that the total constraint costs of £340 million in 2013-14 represent about 0.7% or £4.20 of the average electricity bill. Of this, £47 million, or about 0.1% or 60p of the average household bill, relates to wind farms. In the medium and longer term, delivery of planned transmission investment will reduce these constraint payments, and there is upgrading work at the moment to ensure that happens.
Another issue that is often raised is whether wind farms actually deliver carbon savings. Wind power has one of the lowest carbon footprints compared with other forms of electricity generation. Work by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology published in 2011 looked at the carbon footprint of different forms of electricity generation. This carbon footprint assessment was calculated according to the “life cycle assessment” which aims to account for the total quantity of greenhouse gas emitted over the whole life cycle of a product or process—the making, transporting and erecting of wind farms, as well as their operation. The study found that there was a footprint of 488 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh for a combined cycle gas turbine and 5.2 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh for installations off the coast of Denmark. Further studies demonstrate that, even taking into account the whole life time impact on carbon emissions, wind farms have an incredibly low impact.
I want to address a point made by the hon. Member for Sunderland Central about the pipeline and industry. Our offshore wind pipeline is very strong. The UK has the most fully installed operational offshore wind capacity in the world—more than 4 GW as of March 2015—and we are committed to a further expansion, with the UK on track to generate around 10 GW by the end of the decade.
As the Prime Minister has said, onshore wind has an important role to play, and much has already been built and we are set for having 10% of electricity from onshore wind. Let me make it clear that we are committed, once we have reached this 10% which is in the pipeline already, to removing the subsidy and putting onshore wind into the planning system, and also to changing the planning system so that local councils have the decisive say. As the Prime Minister has said—and my hon. Friend read out—if they can make their case, they can, but I suspect they won’t.
The Minister is addressing this point at more length than I thought he would, as I thought it was uncontroversial. He has just referred to the Prime Minister’s comment that when we have this 10%, we are going to get rid of wind farm subsidies. I am just trying to help the Prime Minister bring that forward. I am not entirely sure whether the Minister is supporting or opposing the Prime Minister, and I think the Prime Minister would like to know.
I am sure the Prime Minister would, and I anticipate that come Monday morning he will be reading Hansard closely to follow the debate. I support the Prime Minister—he will be glad to know—but I do not think this Bill is the right way to enact that policy, and I was going on to explain precisely why. I have a lot of sympathy with this, not least because we are reducing the subsidies for onshore wind. The costs of onshore wind are falling, but the question is how we approach this subject, which is why I was talking about the industry. We want to make sure that, especially with the increasing offshore pipeline that is being built up, we can act in a reasonable way that ultimately removes the subsidies for onshore wind. I also want to go further and bear down on the subsidies for all renewables, and we are putting in place policies to do that as well. So we will remove the subsidies for onshore wind, but we need to do it carefully.
I have read my hon. Friend’s Bill and think it has an unintended consequence: removing the support in the way set out in this Bill would have the unintended consequence of our not honouring commitments signed up to in good faith by the British Government, and the UK Government unambiguously honour their debts.
I want to make it clear that the Bill absolutely does not do what has been suggested. Existing agreements are to continue for the very reason the Minister explains.
Only for future onshore wind farms will there be no subsidy. It will continue for the ones that are in place—and this is only Second Reading so any such details will be sorted out in Committee and we will be able to make progress very quickly.
I take that as my hon. Friend’s stated intention, but that is not what the Bill would do. There are wind farms under construction that expect to come under the existing subsidy regime and they are being built on the anticipation of fitting in with legislation passed by this House in the last year or so on what can fit within the renewables obligation. This Bill would remove the subsidy from them because of the way it is phrased. Clause 1(2) states that only those
“onshore wind farms already operational prior to this Act coming into force” would be placed outwith the Bill, whereas we have said that the renewables obligation will end next year or, in some circumstances, in 2017. There are people who have committed, in anticipation of legislative support.
My hon. Friend is an incredibly persuasive man, but this technical point is important enough to mean that we are still going to have to resist the Bill, while at the same time holding to our clear position of removing the subsidies for onshore wind in an organised and careful way.
The two subjects are slightly separate. On Hinkley Point, as my hon. Friend knows, we reached a strong heads of terms agreement on the price and many other details, which we then took to the European Commission and succeeded in achieving state aid clearance on
The question of how we are reducing the subsidies has formed an important part of our debate today. In the case of large-scale onshore wind, we have already cut support rates under the renewables obligation by 10%, and the renewable obligation support for offshore wind projects will also drop by 10% by April next year. At the end of 2012, we introduced a cost control mechanism called contingent digression for the feed-in tariff, which is designed to reduce tariffs in line with falling costs and the level of deployment. Last year, tariffs for all wind turbines were reduced by 20%, and on
Our new support regime, involving contracts for difference, is designed precisely to get the best possible value for money for the available subsidy by introducing a market in the subsidy. My hon. Friends will not be surprised to hear that when we introduced a market mechanism for the available subsidy, we got better value for money and the price came down. Adam Smith would have been proud of the outcome of the CfD auction. Levels of support are therefore decreasing. Indeed, the market cleared at the much lower than expected price of around £80 per MWh for onshore wind, showing that markets work and increase value for money.
The other interesting outcome of the CfD auction was that onshore wind was not the cheapest form of renewable energy. Solar power came out of that auction as the cheapest. Compared with the £80 per MWh for onshore wind, some of the solar projects came through the auction at £50 per MWh, demonstrating clear evidence of a path to lower subsidies. Indeed, an exciting future will soon be within reach, in which the cost of solar will be compatible with the cost of fossil fuel generation. We have already seen instances around the world of lower-cost solar installations being achieved without subsidy and being cost-competitive with fossil fuels.
Part of getting the balance right involves ensuring that we get a broad mix in the CfD auction, and that we can drive down the costs to consumers of offshore wind as well. We are delivering up to £110 million less overall per year than we were doing in the absence of competition. As a result of the auction, we are offering two contracts to offshore wind farms: Neart na Gaoithe, a 448 MW site in the Forth estuary, and the 714 MW East Anglia ONE project. Together, those sites represent 1.2 GW of renewable capacity.
I shall turn now to the question of reaching grid parity and being able to deliver on the intention behind the Bill without the need to pass it, and to do so in an organised and careful way. Costs in the sector are falling, and we are achieving more economies of scale. In the longer term, that will mean that we can reach parity with other renewable and non-renewable forms of energy supply. Doing that in an organised way will allow us to keep investing in the UK. It is therefore vital to do this carefully and cautiously.
I entirely understand my right hon. Friend’s desire to observe fairness and equity for those turbine developers who already have construction on hand, but will he acknowledge that he should not underestimate the expectation of those on his own side that the Prime Minister and the Government will stand by their commitment to set a clear deadline for the termination of these subsidies, which are causing so much distress across the countryside and throughout constituencies in the south-west such as the one I represent? We must stand by that commitment. We must set a clear deadline, and that deadline must be soon.
I have considerable sympathy for that point of view. We have made it absolutely clear that we will remove onshore wind subsidies in the future, and that the current 10% that is in the pipeline for onshore wind is plenty. After that, if the planning system allows a wind farm to go ahead, and if people want to come forward with a non-subsidised wind farm—and given that the planning system will be tightened to ensure that local people’s voices are heard—there could be future opportunities. As the Prime Minister has said, if they can make their case, they will do so, but I suspect that they will not.
The commitment from Conservative Members is clear. I personally have fought against the placing of onshore wind turbines in some of the most beautiful parts of Suffolk—and therefore the most beautiful parts of the country—in landscapes that were admired and painted by Constable in years gone by and that have changed little since. As a constituency MP, I have fought proposals to put wind farms in places where they would damage the local environment and the local amenity. The policy that we inherited had an override over local considerations because of the impact on climate change of putting up wind farms.
So we have taken steps in the planning system, some of which have been mentioned today, but we are clear that where local people do not want wind farms, the planning system will be strengthened, and there will not be these subsidies when we can remove them. My hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox asked, not unreasonably, for a deadline, so I shall set it out this way. The 10% of the electricity system from onshore wind is expected by the coalition Government by 2020—that is a Government figure—and the Prime Minister has set out that then there will be no need for future subsidies. If, as the costs of all renewables come down, we are able not only to deal with the problem of climate change, but to do so in a way that allows us to remove subsidies sooner, so be it. That framework sets a clear deadline, but the clarity of our commitment to remove subsidies for onshore wind is stark—we shall do this. I hope that gives him the commitment he was seeking.
I am not sure whether the Minister is talking as a split personality. Is he referring to a coalition commitment or a Conservative party commitment? Is the commitment to having 2020 as the back-stop as the latest time when the wind farm subsidies will go—although it could be earlier—a Conservative commitment or a joint Conservative-Liberal Democrat commitment?
It is certainly not a joint Conservative-Liberal Democrat commitment. Let me be absolutely clear about the distinction. The 10% projection for onshore wind by 2020 is a coalition Government figure—that is a fact on which this discussion can be based—but the commitment is a Conservative party commitment for a future Conservative Government, and we are absolutely clear about that. The distinction is important, but given that we are only a few weeks away from the Dissolution of this Parliament, the way I have been expressing it is that things that have happened in the past and up until now are coalition Government facts or positions, but those relating to the future are, of course, Conservative party positions. That is because we hope and expect to be governing as a single coalition—my goodness, that was a mistake: a single
Conservative Government after the election. I hope I have made that precise distinction clear, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the opportunity to do so.
Before bringing things to a close, I want to set out why we need to do this in a measured way. The decision by Siemens and Associated British Ports to invest £310 million in offshore wind turbine manufacturing in Hull will create 1,000 direct jobs. It was a significant event for that region last year and it will provide an anchor for building the UK-based supply chain, as well as much-needed skilled jobs in one of the most deprived parts of the UK. To a large extent, that decision was based on the expected size of the UK market, but of course there will be the ability to export overseas. Offshore wind is one area where we have a dedicated industrial strategy, created and delivered by a partnership between government and industry, to ensure that we have the right conditions for UK companies to take advantage of this investment. I wish to pay tribute to and highlight the work of the Offshore Wind Investment Organisation—
The Minister is drifting on to offshore wind but this Bill deals with onshore wind. In so doing, he is alarming me: is he saying that because the subsidies are being withdrawn from onshore wind we are going to carry on with the subsidy bonanza to all the subsidy junkies who are engaged in the offshore wind business?
The commitment I gave is absolutely about onshore wind. I know that my hon. Friend has concerns about offshore wind, especially off Christchurch, and I understand that. We have had exchanges in this House and discussions about it. We are bearing down on the offshore wind subsidy, as the cost is reducing and industry is reducing its costs. There are links in respect of why we have chosen to resist this Bill, despite there being so much in it we agree with, because we want to make sure that we adopt a planned and careful approach, sticking to commitments that the Government have given and that this House has given to industry, which is developing already.
I also wish to discuss the noise produced by wind farms, because I know it is a significant concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, he raised it and it is important to address the point. Again, this is an area where the Government have taken action. The method of assessing the noise impact of a wind farm is described in ETSU-R-97. That requires the likely impact of wind turbines on local residents and those working in the vicinity to be considered in relation to existing background noise levels, taking into account the characteristics of particular locations. Hayes McKenzie reviewed ETSU-R-97, finding that it is fit for purpose but identifying inconsistencies in the way it was being used in practice to measure and predict the impact of noise. In May 2013, the Institute of Acoustics published good practice guidance which addressed the issues Hayes McKenzie identified. The guide, which was endorsed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, will help to improve the consistency of the application of ETSU-R-97 in the consideration of wind farm projects. I hope my hon. Friend will see that good work is being done by DECC there, and perhaps it will temper his desire to abolish me—it—at the next opportunity with his next private Member’s Bill.
As my hon. Friend will doubtless be aware, we also recently announced a review of the available evidence on amplitude modulation—AM—noise produced by wind turbines. The aerodynamic noise—the noise produced by the rotating wind turbine blades—includes a steady component, as well as, in some circumstances, a periodically fluctuating, or amplitude modulated, component. One form of AM, commonly referred to as “blade swish”, is an inherent feature of the operation of all wind turbines and can be explained by well-understood mechanisms. It is therefore often called “normal amplitude modulation”—NAM. Some AM, however, exhibits characteristics that fall outside those expected of NAM and can potentially give rise to increased annoyance. Such characteristics include a greater depth of modulation or a changed noise character. For that reason, it is sometimes called excessive amplitude modulation. Research suggests that that form of AM is caused by sudden variations in the direction and speed of the wind, which mean that the wind hits different parts of the turbine blade at different speeds, causing it to stall momentarily. The stalling can then produce a whooshing sound that some people find irritating. The evidence to date indicates that the incidence of AM from wind turbines in the UK is low, but we are committed to increasing our knowledge and understanding of the potential impacts of wind turbines and therefore we keep our evidence base up to date.
I had cause to look into this some years ago, and I found that a good deal of the research that was being done on wind for the Department was being carried out by experts or consultants retained and used by the wind industry itself. I hope that the figures and the research the Minister is referring to are genuinely independent.
The research is being done by the Institute of Acoustics and it is hard to argue that it would make anything other than a fully objective statement and analysis. We need a view on appropriate advice about the impact of this excessive amplitude modulation and what thresholds might be set in planning considerations, which comes back to the point made earlier about the tighter planning conditions we have already put in place and that we propose in future. We are preparing a specification for the review and intend to publish an invitation to tender soon. I will take into account the point that my hon. and learned Friend makes to make sure that we are careful to ensure that the analysis undertaken is truly objective and we will appoint a contractor to conduct the review as soon as we can after the conclusion of the tendering exercise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough mentioned planning and the changes we have introduced and propose to introduce in the next Parliament under a majority Conservative Administration. We have already set out how we are putting in place measures to protect consumers from the cost of supporting wind farms, but we must also protect communities from poorly sited wind farms that are put up in a way that ruins England’s green and pleasant land.
Order. I am the one who has to worry about these issues. In fairness, the Minister has been tempted to deal with nuclear, offshore and other subjects.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough would do a remarkable job in your seat, but I am grateful for your guidance.
I want to mention planning, not least because it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and because it forms part of the wider arguments about whether we should have subsidies for onshore wind in the future and whether we should end subsidies for onshore wind in the way set out in the Bill or in a careful and measured way, as I have set out.
We have been very clear that wind farms must be well sited to receive planning permission and that communities must be taken into account before planning decisions are made. The reforms we have made to the planning system bear that out. We have also made it compulsory for developers to have pre-application consultations with local communities on onshore wind developments of more than two turbines or when the hub height of the turbine exceeds 15 metres. That means that developers need to engage seriously with communities even before submitting a planning application.
We have also published new planning practice guidance on renewable energy, updated last year, which will help deliver the balance required by the national planning policy framework. That will make it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said that saving the global environment must not be done in a way that damages our local environment. The new planning guidance has also been published to assist local councils and planning inspectors in their consideration of local plans and individual planning applications.
I also want to touch on the planning recoveries issue mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and by the hon. Member for Sunderland Central. Our new planning practice guidance and the requirement for developers to consult local communities before they submit a planning application are crucial steps in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind developments and ensuring that local communities are listened to whether there is a subsidy in place or not, as set out in the Bill. Of course, however, some communities remain concerned when a local planning decision is challenged on appeal.
It is important that local communities continue to have confidence in the appeals process and that the environmental balance expected by the national planning policy framework is reflected in decisions on renewable energy deployment. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced a temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria for a period of six months. In doing so, he explained that he wanted to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals involving renewable energy developments so that he could consider the extent to which the new practice guidance met our intentions. Since that planning guidance was issued, more appeals have been dismissed than approved for more significant turbines, reversing the trend before the guidance was issued, when more approvals were approved than dismissed.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has found that the guidance is helping to ensure that decisions reflect the environmental balance we need to see, as set out in the framework, but he also recognises that the guidance is relatively new and that some development proposals might not yet have taken on board its intent. That is why after careful consideration he decided on
We have been very clear about the fact that onshore wind plays a role in our energy mix. It produced 7% of the UK’s electricity in the last quarter, but we need to ensure that we tackle the challenge of climate change in the way that incurs the lowest possible cost. In the next Parliament, we will in time remove the subsidies from onshore wind, but I hope that that will happen as part of a wider move to drive down the cost of subsidies, especially as the cost of renewables falls and as some renewables, such as solar, are financed reasonably cost-effectively and reach parity with fossil fuels. That will significantly change the debate about renewables because we will reach a point where going green reduces costs, rather than adding subsidies to consumers’ bills.
We should stick to that clear direction and vision, and we should do so in a way that allows the House to abide by its commitments. I take on board the point about the Bill’s intention, which is consistent with the Prime Minister’s words, even if the technicalities are slightly different.
I have not dwelt at all on the utter chaos and catastrophe of the Opposition’s policies, the inconsistencies of which were well drawn out in the debate. I am not going to go there, and I will not talk about how no one can have a freeze that is not a freeze and how the freeze policy was launched by someone standing next to an ice block, so to describe it later as a cap seems inconsistent with the intention at the time.
It is a great pity that the Opposition have no credible policy to speak of, but I suppose that only shows why it is vital that we have a successful outcome to the general election, so that we can continue with the goals that we have set. I look forward to working further on the Bill’s details with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, but it is clear that the costs of subsidies for wind are falling. We are bringing them down through the power of the ingenuity of mankind and the price discovery of the market. We are clear that we will remove future subsidies for onshore wind, and we will be careful to ensure that local planning considerations and the beauty of the local environment are taken into account. Although I have considerable sympathy with the Bill, it is not the right way to go about the stated policy, and the Government will therefore resist it.
I have listened with great interest to the Minister’s speech, which went on for just over three quarters of an hour. We seem to agree, which is good.
He certainly does seem to support the Prime Minister’s policy. My Bill supports the Prime Minister’s policy. I guess that the Government may be forced to ask Ministers and the payroll to vote against the Bill only because of the Liberal Democrats. I should like to test the will of the House by pressing the motion to a Division, so that Members have a chance to show whether they are for or against wind farm subsidies. If they want to support the Prime Minister, they will support the Bill. If they want to oppose the Prime Minister, they will go through the No Lobby.