Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:29 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 10:29 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I shall speak about energy. I am a member of Sub-Committee B of the Select Committee on the European Union, which is conducting an inquiry into renewable energy. The views that I am expressing are personal and not the views of the committee, which has not yet published its report.

Onshore wind energy is the only credible means of attaining the Government's target of 15 per cent of our energy needs from renewable sources. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool that this will have to be a minimum if we are to meet the views of the Climate Change Bill.

Most people support this government aim, but the most vocal opponents of the means of gathering and transmitting wind energy are proponents of renewables in theory. They oppose it on two points. They talk about the democratic deficit, and then about the environmental impact of the means of generation and transmission. The irony of these debates is that if you subscribe entirely to these two points of view you effectively rule out the timely exploitation of the most likely source of renewable energy and make ever stronger the case for nuclear energy and building more coal-fired power stations. You cannot have one thing if you rule out the other.

I turn to how the planning system may help the generation and transmission of wind energy. First, I suggest that the Minister revisits the size of generating stations, as set out in Clause 15 of the Bill. Fifty megawatts is a reasonable amount; it is a small amount if you are talking about a large coal-fired, gas-fired or nuclear station. However, it is far too large to deal with the wind turbines unless there is a large array of them, a matter referred to just now by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. I believe that this limit must be reduced urgently, or there must be some mechanism of grouping a lot of wind turbines together. As these become available, it should also be possible to fit more efficient turbines to the windmills without seeking fresh planning consent.

Secondly, we must resolve the issues surrounding transmission. There will have to be new means of transmission as the places best suited to wind generation are on remote coastal sites where the grid is at its weakest. The noble Lord, Lord Mogg, is the chairman of Ofgem. I believe that the duties of that body are to focus solely on the costs of the system to present-day users. These duties need to be refocused to ensure that electricity is generated from renewable sources and that the electricity is transmitted efficiently in the long term. In this respect, the duties of the national grid need attention so we can get away from the present first-come-first-served system of allocating connections which leave a number of completed wind-power turbines unconnected to the national grid. The system of connect and manage appears to be more appropriate. The sub-committee is presently of a mind to suggest that the Planning Bill, as it now stands, does not create a predictable planning environment for renewable generation.