Onshore Wind Turbines

– in Westminster Hall at 4:23 pm on 13th October 2010.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry 4:23 pm, 13th October 2010

I hope that there will be a number of interventions from colleagues, so I do not intend to fill my 15 minutes; other hon. Members might want to speak. I believe that the Government urgently need to reassess their views about the production of onshore wind power.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gets into his stride, I should say that the rules governing 30-minute debates allow for interventions on the hon. Gentleman, or the Minister when he replies, but I have not been notified of an agreement between the hon. Gentleman and the Minister for others to speak. Therefore, if colleagues plan to open their mouths during this debate, it will have to be in the form of an intervention. I hope that that is helpful, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for interrupting his speech.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

Thank you for clarifying that for me, Mr Bayley. This is my first Adjournment debate and I had no idea what the rules were. Over the next few minutes I will try to explain why I think that the Government need to change their position on onshore wind-I will obviously speak for slightly longer than the eight or nine minutes on which I was planning, but perhaps Members who would like to intervene can help out.

I have a number of questions about that area of policy. The current official Government figure for carbon displacement by wind power assumes that wind power can replace conventional generation at 100% efficiency. That is clearly unrealistic in view of the technical challenges of incorporating an intermittent and highly variable power source into a strictly managed supply system. Reports from Denmark and Germany suggest that the carbon costs of absorbing wind power into the grid are substantial. I assume that that is also true for the UK.

A substantial proportion of electrical power demand is continuous-the base load. The balance is required to respond to demand that fluctuates in many ways, including seasonally, instantaneously, or even at the end of an England game-or, if it was last night's game, not at all. There is no effective or economic way of storing energy on a large scale. Therefore, we have a number of conundrums. The key responsibility of the grid is to ensure that the demand for power is met at all times. That is achieved by ensuring the availability of capacity when needed, and avoiding the generation of unusable power.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Conservative, Bosworth

I assure hon. Members that I have approached my hon. Friend in person and sought his leave to speak. As he gets into his speech, does he agree that one of the most inefficient uses of wind power, and the most damaging to the local environment, happens when there are one or two isolated wind turbines that are close to urban conurbations, as is proposed at Desford in my Leicestershire constituency? Does he agree that a suitable solution would be to have a fixed distance between habitations and those wind turbines?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I agree with my hon. Friend. If we believe in localism, surely we believe that local councils should be able to set distances between renewable energy projects and dwellings. I like to think that such a measure would be contained in any localism Bill that the Government bring forward, and I would argue strongly for that.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

Is not the problem the fact that the determination of where such things are sited is left to local planning authorities? It would be helpful to have guidance that enabled local planning authorities to form a view. The lack of direction from the Government on the issue means that there is massive uncertainty for local residents. Two applications in my constituency have just been made, but residents have no idea about the likelihood of them being determined. The second problem with a lack of national strategy is that local authorities duplicate their efforts in gathering information to form their own individual policies. Does my hon. Friend agree that that matter urgently needs to be looked at?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I certainly agree. In my constituency, Daventry district council will look tomorrow evening at adopting a policy. It is happy to be challenged about the distance that dwellings should have to be from renewable energy projects. All local authorities should develop such a plan because it is local people who should buy into these things.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

As we are aware, there is guidance in Scotland, which is manifestly different from the position in England. Does my hon. Friend agree that the right way forward would be the adoption of the guidance that exists in Scotland, which protects the 2 km from people's houses on an ongoing basis? If we had that, everything would be a lot simpler.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I will talk about that point later. It is significant and important with regard to issues of noise and flicker, which I will come on to.

I believe that wind is a burden on the grid. It forces other forms of capacity to be shut down to accommodate wind production when the wind is blowing, and then instantaneously to come back on line when the wind stops. I would like to ask the Minister how much additional gas-fired power capacity-that is the only way that we can power up instantaneously-will be required to accommodate the current targets for wind capacity in the UK? What is the anticipated cost to the electricity markets in lost efficiency and stranded capacity associated with gas-fired plants operating as back-up for wind power? Will the Minister outline the efficiency losses, and the operational and economic impact on other forms of generation that have to modify their behaviour to accommodate the power that comes from wind?

Taking all those factors into account, will the Minister state how many grams of carbon dioxide, or just carbon in general, onshore wind will save per kilowatt hour? Is it not the case that, without massive hydro or other bulk storage, wind capacity must be matched on the UK grid almost megawatt for megawatt by fossil back-up operating at inefficient part load?

RenewableUK has publicly acknowledged that profits for wind farm operators are impressively large. That is largely a consequence of the operation of the indirect renewables obligation subsidy mechanism.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Is not the crux of the problem the huge amounts of subsidy involved in operating wind farms, as my hon. Friend is explaining? I understand that it is in the region of £20,000 per mast to the landowner per annum and £100,000 possibly to the operator. That is what is driving the keenness to build wind farms, and we are in real danger of the sustainable tail wagging the energy dog.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I agree. In 2006, the National Audit Office highlighted the fact that the subsidy for onshore wind was excessive and gave poor value as a carbon-saving measure. Those costs are borne by the electricity consumer, and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets has questioned whether the growing level of that indirect and regressive taxation is acceptable.

The high profitability for onshore wind is skewing renewables investment across our country towards onshore wind and away from research and development for other technologies and other remedies such as energy saving and consumption reduction. It is also, as my hon. Friends have mentioned in relation to each of their constituencies, encouraging large numbers of speculative applications for wind farms.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in relation to wind turbines in urban areas and on industrial estates, certain criteria are needed? In rural communities, different criteria are needed. Does he accept that when it comes to finding the correct locations for wind turbines, there is a different balance to be struck for different areas? Different rules apply to different places.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I am not against renewables at all, but I do think that we should try to encourage local communities to buy into these. At the moment, there are speculative applications. A new type of subsidy farming is going on across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in our two neighbouring constituencies, the advantage of taxpayer subsidy for these wind farms is encouraging speculative developers to come to not particularly windy places, presumably in the interest of making a few fast pounds on the back of the taxpayer, with no real interest in trying to help the grid and renewables whatever?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I always agree with my hon. Friend and neighbour-I would be foolish not to. Just to prove the point, Northamptonshire is one of the least windy places in the country, and in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone, there is a wind farm at Burton Wold that is operating at 19% capacity on average. That is not helping us to deal with our carbon problem.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

While we are thinking about the size of the subsidy and the effect on the behaviour of both landowner and operator, does my hon. Friend agree that it is leading to progressively less responsible investment? The example that I want to raise affects both my hon. Friend Andrew Percy and me. In my county of East Yorkshire, there have been wind farms of enormous size-400 feet; 125 metres; 40 storeys tall-getting closer and closer to dwellings and, now, less than half a mile from a dwelling. Does my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris agree that the sheer size of the subsidy is leading to irresponsible investment?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I absolutely concur with my right hon. Friend.

Do the Government believe that the renewables obligation banding for onshore wind is sustainable, necessary or good value for money? Have they considered the effects of the renewables obligation banding in inhibiting renewable diversification? Will the Minister agree at least to conduct a review of the banding for onshore wind?

Noise is a problem that many of our constituents fear when it comes to onshore wind. Different studies show that about 20% of all wind farms constructed in the UK trigger quite serious noise complaints. Since 2009, the wind industry has adopted a new noise modelling scheme that predicts acceptable noise levels much closer to dwellings, leading to planning applications coming forward with big turbines very close to dwellings. There are fewer proposals in remote locations and, as we have just heard, modern turbines are getting bigger.

The Minister knows that his Department commissioned a report. I apologise: it was not his Department, but the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The report was on amplitude modulation and in effect concluded that it was not cost-effective to research wind farm noise problems because only a few people suffer from them. That is patently not the case. However, as the Minister knows, his Department was caught out by a freedom of information request that revealed that in 2006 it had instructed the Hayes McKenzie Partnership to remove from a report a recommendation that acceptable night-time noise levels should be reduced.

Photo of Graham Evans Graham Evans Conservative, Weaver Vale

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to make an intervention on a subject that has not been mentioned but is relevant to my constituency. In my constituency, there are proposals from Peel Energy to build a large-scale wind farm on the marshes between the Mersey estuary and the villages of Frodsham and Helsby. Those proposals would not just result in the ruin of a beautiful area of Cheshire countryside, but lead to the destruction of wetlands that provide a habitat for numerous species of rare birds. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reassure me that the Secretary of State takes such factors into account when determining these types of application. Some of the structures end up being very close to areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I am sure that Ministers will have heard my hon. Friend's very sensible plea for areas of scientific interest to be looked after.

I was talking about noise. Some of us just do not believe that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is promoting wind farms, and not inhibiting them, by trying to force new noise criteria on the whole country. It is slightly worrying that the Hayes McKenzie Partnership has been commissioned by DECC to carry out the new noise review that the Minister recently announced. The science around noise seems to be a very moveable feast.

It is my contention that onshore wind diverts valuable resources from other renewables that do work and that people like. In my constituency alone, if we diverted the money that might well be spent on wind power towards other things, such as air source or ground source heat pumps and home insulation, we might well be able to insulate just about every house in the constituency and get people to buy in to this.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk

I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this important subject. It is important, not least in my constituency, where we are struggling with a tidal wave of applications for both onshore turbines and the infrastructure to support offshore turbines, which are often put forward by speculative developers. There is an issue in that respect about the planning guidance. I agree entirely with him about the importance of securing our short-term energy requirements, but also of setting out a proper scientific framework for measuring the different renewable sources that this country could thrive on. Does he agree with me about the importance of identifying those that this country could lead on in a global context? That may not include wind.

Does my hon. Friend also agree that the Leader of the Opposition's statement of 2009 in a documentary when he was Climate Change Secretary, in which he said that it should be "socially unacceptable" for people to be against wind turbines in their area, like not wearing their seat belt or driving past a zebra crossing, is an unhelpful position and one that, now that he is Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, he might like to review?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I completely concur.

I want to wind up by saying-

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way twice to me. I want to pick him up on his kindness to Hayes McKenzie and his gentle language about what was, without doubt, a cover-up of the World Health Organisation guidelines, which said that people, when they sleep, should have an environment at 30 dB. What was said by the Government was something much louder than that-35 to 40 dB. That was a very bad cover-up. Hayes McKenzie was clearly complicit, because it did not put in the public domain what was said. I would like my hon. Friend to tell me whether he thinks that Ministers should undertake to make all the information put forward, in whatever review they do, available in the public domain without limitation or edit.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I would very much welcome the Minister committing to that. Indeed, I have asked him about whether there are secondments from the noise industry to DECC at the moment, and I believe that the reply I got was slightly incorrect. I will contact the Minister.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I would like the Minister to have time to reply.

There are particular issues with the science behind noise and how DECC handles its contracts and contractors.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Order. The comment about the Minister needing time to reply is an extremely good one.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

Thank you very much, Mr Bayley; I was about to sit down.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 4:40 pm, 13th October 2010

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris on securing the debate. It is a great shame for the whole House that he did not get an hour-and-a-half debate, because there is no doubt that he and the Members here today could have filled the time.

In the remaining 13 minutes I want to go through the issues raised so far and put them in the context of the role that wind has to play in our energy security and our move to a low-carbon economy. I assure my hon. Friend that I understand the concerns that he and others have raised, and as Minister I have taken some of the actions that are designed specifically to address them. Wind has a contribution to make and an integral part to play in dealing with energy security and tackling climate change. We cannot separate security of supply from a low-carbon economy, we cannot have security of supply without a low-carbon economy and we cannot have a low-carbon economy without security of supply. We see those elements as going together, and without them we will not have affordable pricing.

As hon. Members know, we have seen significant growth in the deployment of onshore wind in this country and we expect it to increase over the years ahead. It will be a low-carbon technology that makes the most significant contribution to enabling us to meet our low-carbon commitments in future, but that must be done in a way that takes account of the views of local communities, and one of the most important changes we shall make will address that: people will see the benefits accrue to their communities from hosting facilities that they may not have chosen.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I will give way this once, but I am concerned about answering the questions already raised.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Is the Minister shocked at the behaviour of some wind companies? Speaking for my constituents, the bullying of local communities, particularly in rural areas, by wind companies has been shocking. I would appreciate his comments on that.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I am not aware of the specific cases to which my hon. Friend refers. If he writes to me, I will be more than happy to look into them.

We have to move to a greater spirit of partnership so that communities can see precisely what they would get out of hosting a facility and realise that genuine benefits would come to them-not necessarily from a wind farm but from other facilities, as well. Other countries have gone down a similar route and we are learning from the approaches that they have taken. We have also seen the significant number of green jobs generated here, albeit not as many as we would have wished from the supply-chain benefits coming to the United Kingdom, and the potential that that brings

I realise that my hon. Friends who contributed to the debate are less concerned about that aspect than they are about the implications of onshore wind for their constituencies, so I particularly want to address those issues. We have seen the benefits from offshore wind, but we recognise that communities often feel concerned that proposed wind farms in their areas will destroy the environment or have other negative impacts. We are convinced that, in the policy of localism that we are going to drive forward, local councils should be the driving force in deciding how they want their communities to develop. That is a fundamental part of the planning changes we are making.

Photo of Eric Ollerenshaw Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood

In terms of localism, does the Department look at any measurements? What concerns inhabitants who debate the possibilities and planning applications is that the applications are turned down and then repeated, coming back with one fewer turbine and then two fewer turbines, so they go through the process again and again, and lose all confidence in any aspiration to real localism.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

That is central to predetermination and to ensuring that more of the work is done through earlier discussion between the developer and the council, so they can agree what they think might be generally desirable. We are making those changes. We also need to ensure that we have lead authorities with particular expertise in handling such applications. Many authorities have not dealt with such applications before and do not know how to handle them when they come through. Finding ways to build a genuine body of expertise within local authorities is part of the approach we are considering.

We removed regional spatial strategies and the top-down regional energy targets, because they moved us away from the localism we want. We are committed, in relation to applications for below 50 MW, to local communities and local councils deciding how their areas will develop. The new planning framework will cover all forms of development and set out national economic, environmental and social priorities. Tackling climate change and ensuring our energy security will be among our top priorities, but as I said, we want communities and individuals to own a stake in our collective low-carbon future. That is why we are looking at how local communities can benefit from business rates staying locally, and why we want more genuine community ownership of applications, so that people can see the link between hosting a facility and the benefits that it brings directly to the local area and to the services that people care about.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I am running seriously short of time, but in view of the immense seniority of my right hon. Friend, how could I say no?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

We welcome everything that the Minister has said so far, but sometimes local community advantage cannot overwhelm the destruction of people's lives. They will be protected only by leaving the decision at local level and not overruling it time and again at a central appeal.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

Where a case goes to appeal, it will be decided only in relation to the wider planning guidance that the Government set out. If it is felt that the guidance has not been adhered to in making a determination, it is entirely proper that there be an appeals process. In the spirit of fairness, we all believe that it is right that if an application is turned down at one level, people should continue to have a right to appeal for a redetermination. It must be done within the spirit of the rules set down, and that is absolutely key to what we are saying.

In the debate, we have heard a call for the transfer of support from wind to other renewable sources. We do not see wind as the ultimate solution on its own. It has a part to play, but we supported the banding of the renewables obligation certificates, because that started to give more support to emerging technologies, which need more help to come to fruition. The UK should lead the world in marine technologies, and the steps that we are taking elsewhere will ensure that, certainly by the 2020s and beyond, this will be the natural place in the world for people to come to develop those technologies. In the meantime, we need continuing diversity, and that includes wind. We cannot rely entirely on one low-carbon technology. We expect other low-carbon technologies to come through, particularly nuclear technology-without subsidy-which we are making progress on, as well as clean coal and coal with carbon capture. We expect the widest range of renewables possible in the framework.

Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective and developed of all renewable technologies, and has almost zero marginal cost, because once the facilities have been constructed, the cost of the energy-the wind-comes without charge.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I hope my hon. Friend understands that many points have already been made in the debate and it is crucial that I have a chance to respond to those in the remaining few minutes.

The renewables obligation has been banded to incentivise investment in other technologies, but what is critical about the ROC is that if the wind does not blow strongly, there is not as much income, because the money received is directly related to the amount of electricity generated. It is based on payment per megawatt hour of power generated. Therefore, if a wind turbine is located where the wind does not blow much and where the turbine does not turn much, very little revenue is returned to the area. That was one of the most important aspects of taking such an approach. It is also linked to the wholesale price: if the price drops as a result of there being a huge amount of supply in the system but not a great deal of demand, the amount of money that goes back is reduced. That recognises the changes in demand and supply found more generally in the system.

We recognise, of course, that wind is intermittent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said, back-up is required, including from gas, coal or biomass. It could also be done through storage-pump storage and hydrogen or battery technologies are coming through at an impressive rate. That will start to move the technology on from working only when the wind blows to allowing electricity to be available when people need it.

However, there is another side to the argument. Sizewell B, one of our more recent nuclear power stations, has been out of operation for seven months. In that time, it did not produce a single unit of electricity, but our wind system produced 1.8 TWh of electricity, the equivalent of the annual consumption of 400,000 homes. We believe that security of supply comes from a mix of technologies. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket. Having a mix means that if there is a problem in one part, we have a better chance of keeping the lights on, and doing so affordably.

Turbines generally turn about 70% of the time. The load factor figures suggest that it is lower than that, but the turbines may be turning at a relatively low speed for 70% or 80% of the time; there are only a few hours when they are not generating. There was a period at the beginning of the year when they were contributing perhaps only 0.1% of our electricity consumption, but recent figures show that they have been producing 10%. The figures fluctuate, and they need to be seen as part of the totality of what is necessary.

In the time that remains, I shall touch on some of the other issues in the debate. On noise, my primary concern is that the issue is not being treated similarly in all parts of the country. The report that I have commissioned from Hayes McKenzie will consider how noise is to be interpreted to ensure uniformity. It does not seem right that it should be considered in one way in Northamptonshire and in another in East Yorkshire. I assure the House that in appointing Hayes McKenzie I considered who it had worked for to ensure that it can work for local authorities on one side of the equation and wind developers on the other. I want to be convinced-I have been convinced-that the company can provide genuinely independent advice.

My right hon. Friend Mr Davis spoke about the previous report. I understand that certain issues were removed before I became involved in this work, relating to things that were outside the initial scope of the report. However, I give an absolute assurance that the Hayes McKenzie report will be published in its entirety and that it will be subject to peer review, so that we can clear about what needs to be done. There is a further review on amplitude modulation by RenewableUK. That, too, will be subject to peer review. I hope that will help to complete the picture.

Other issues were raised this afternoon, and I hope to have the chance to write to my right hon. and hon. Friends to ensure that they have a complete response.