Onshore Wind Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 19 November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 12:30, 19 November 2021

My Lords, this debate has been unanimous in both backing the Bill put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and thanking her for her work and the very clear, unarguable argument she presented for it. Like others, I declare my involvement in Peers for the Planet. I am pleased to follow all of the speakers in this debate who have already made the very clear environmental and economic arguments for this Bill.

I will not repeat those but will take a look at why we are here today and why we need this Bill. The Bill gets the Government out of a political tangle of their own making. It also ensures that they deliver what they have promised to do. If we think about why we are here today, we go back to the time when David Cameron shifted from hugging huskies to talking about not liking “green crap”. This was at a time when the then Government were wooing UKIP-leaning voters before the Brexit referendum and a UKIP candidate was on the record for complaining about what would happen when the renewables ran out. We know what happens when the far right gets a hold on politics. Many nasty, disastrous things happened and our current policy on onshore wind is one more disastrous effect of the politics of that time.

We are seeing some reversal of this. Boris Johnson has disavowed his former claim that wind power could not

“pull the skin off a rice pudding”.

As others have said, we know that onshore wind enjoys broad support from the public—70% of the public in one recent survey. It also has support from conservation charities such as the RSPB, which points out that the greatest threat to birds and other wildlife is of course climate change. One survey, a UK-wide poll carried out in July 2021 by Survation on behalf of RenewableUK, found that, if there are public concerns, these are about efficiency and harmony with nature.

Efficiency concerns can be addressed by technical arguments and the concern about the impact for nature can be addressed by the careful, appropriate siting and design of wind farms. Indeed, the US Department of Energy’s 2015 report, Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power, found that, in the United States, the rate of avian collisions with wind turbines was 1,500 to 5,000 times lower than for buildings in general. I have never heard anyone using bird strike as an argument to stop any other sort of building, yet we know that is often waved as an unjustified argument against wind farms.

Whenever we talk about energy, I make the point that the cleanest, greenest energy you can possibly have is the energy you do not need to use. Energy conservation remains the awfully poor Cinderella of government energy policy; we have seen very little government money going to that over the past decade. However, we do need energy, and onshore wind and solar power are now the cheapest options, as well as offering big environmental benefits.

We have a lot of hot air in Westminster—who can avoid that one?—but we cannot fuel Britain’s energy transition by talking; we can do it only by practical action. Even if the Government will not take action on this Bill now, will they not consider, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, outlined, Clause 1(2)(c), which allows existing wind farms to re-purpose?

I started by saying that we are here because of politics, not because of engineers, the environment or the economy, but it is of course a non-party-political Cross-Bencher who has proposed the Bill, offering a common-sense solution to the situation the Government now find themselves in. I must conclude by reminding everyone that we are now speaking from a Chamber of the Government of the nation that remains the chair of the COP climate process—until Egypt takes over in a year’s time—and the world is watching what is happening here. I was at COP 26. People ask why the UK’s policies are so failing to deliver on its promises and targets, and it is things such as this that people talk about. So, the world is watching the Minister as he answers today, and I hope he will be thinking about that when he gives us his answer.