Onshore Wind Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:16 pm on 19 November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat 12:16, 19 November 2021

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this Bill. It is absolutely crucial that we address the barriers that have led to onshore wind being neglected and planning applications for it plummeting since the ministerial Statement of 2015 changed the rules on planning guidance. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and other speakers have said a great deal about the planning process and the barriers that face onshore wind, so I will not repeat much of what they have said.

What I really want to concentrate on is why I think it is so important that we use everything in our arsenal to tackle the climate emergency. It was in 1989 that I left the job I was doing then to go back to my scientific roots, to find out what it was that was causing concern about the climate—I was already concerned about the environment in any case. I left to start a master’s in environmental technology at Imperial College. The talk then among the students, and a lot of the lecturers, was about the amount of carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere, and that it was beginning to rise. The Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii was monitoring it. There was some cause for concern and real agreement among everyone that we had to, at all costs, keep carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to below 400 parts per million. In 2013, the Mauna Loa observatory recorded that 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been breached. Today, the figure stands at 417 parts per million.

Ice cores from the British Antarctic Survey, among other sources, show us that over the last 800,000 years, since we started to collect records of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, we have never seen concentrations above 300 parts per million. So we are now in uncharted territory. We are seeing extreme weather events that mean we must act urgently. So to me it is a no-brainer that we must do everything we can to get proven, reliable sources of renewable energy that are scalable and cheap and that provide jobs—and we must do that as soon as possible.

Onshore wind is really cheap. There has been some concern about the figures coming out of BEIS. Could the Minister therefore confirm that these figures—I believe they are in its last costings on the levelised cost of electricity, which assess the cost from all sources on a level playing field—show that onshore wind was in fact the cheapest and considerably cheaper than gas? I would really appreciate that. If that is information he does not have at the moment, would he write to me with that? Just from scouring the internet, it is clear that onshore wind is very cheap. The evidence is corroborated by the BBC, the Guardian, Bloomberg and IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency. I want to make sure that this is also the case with BEIS.

Before I go on to some of the historic objections that have been raised, the other real advantage—I thank RenewableUK for this information—is the environmental co-benefits that wind farms can bring. I will cite the example that RenewableUK gave of Scottish Power Renewables’ Mark Hill Wind Farm in South Ayrshire, where a former forestry plantation is being restored to give 192 hectares of natural woodland and 800 hectares of peatland. Here we have seen the return of otters, hen harriers, et cetera, and many other environmental benefits to the area.

In the past, we have had historic objections and a lack of community consent. The Survation polls mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, show that those objections are just no longer there. Anecdotally, when I visited friends of mine in Derbyshire 10 years ago, they really objected to the wind turbine that was going to be put up on the hill behind them. This summer, when I visited again, they said they have no further objections and would very much welcome the continuation and expansion of wind power there. These feelings are corroborated by the survey.

Secondly, embedded carbon in the construction of wind turbines was also a concern. RenewableUK tells us that the carbon in the construction will be got back within six months, and the remaining 20 to 30-year lifetime will provide very green energy indeed.

Lastly, on the recyclability of concrete in wind turbines, for many years about 85% of the materials used were recyclable. Today, the new technology means that the resin used in blade construction can be totally recycled, and we are now looking at 100% recyclability.

I really hope the Government will see fit to back this Bill. In order to deal with the climate catastrophe facing us, we have to do everything we can as quickly as we can.