[Mrs Linda Riordan in the Chair] — Wind Farms (Mid-Wales)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:44 am on 10th May 2011.

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Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 10:44 am, 10th May 2011

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I have been in office for nearly a year, so by past records, I am up for replacement. I think that it was actually 16 Ministers in 13 years. I hope that I will have the chance to stay around a little longer to ensure that we end up in a sensible place on these policy matters.

The hon. Member for Ogmore asked about the fourth carbon budget. He knows very well that I will not comment on leaked or supposedly leaked documents, but the Government understand totally the need to take the issues extremely seriously and put in place a robust set of targets and mechanisms to drive forward our ambition and our ability to respond. I will reply more directly in a moment to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on the important grid issues.

It is clear from all the studies that I have seen that the United Kingdom has some of the best wind resources in Europe. Wind turbines tend to generate electricity about 70% to 80% of the time—not necessarily at full capacity, but during that time, they are turning and generating some electricity. Wind, unlike most other sources of electricity generation, is a free and unlimited source of fuel. It is also reliable overall—the likelihood is that low wind speeds will affect half the country for fewer than 100 hours a year. The chance of turbines shutting down due to very high wind speeds is low.

Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective and established renewable technologies. We have to make sure that we take account of the needs of consumers by ensuring that they do not pay more than is necessary to decarbonise our electricity supplies. We can do that by making sure that onshore wind has a continuing role. However, although it is clear that onshore wind should continue to be part of the solution to the massive energy security and low-carbon challenges that we face as a nation, it needs more democratic legitimacy than it has today, and I intend to ensure that that happens.

We have to protect communities from unacceptable developments. We have already started to review the issues that often cause concern to local communities. We recently published a report on shadow flicker from wind turbines—an issue that the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock mentioned—and we have commissioned a report on wind turbine noise. We must now go much further. Wind turbines should be positioned where the wind resource is strongest, so this year we are introducing a full review of the funding mechanism of the renewables obligation certificates to ensure that subsidies will not make it attractive to put wind farms in unsuitable locations. The funding mechanism must also reflect reductions in costs.

The cost of grid connections also means that there is an incentive to put wind farms closest to where the electricity is needed, rather than where the wind is strongest. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has made an extremely important point about the disconnection between areas identified for development and accessibility to the national grid, and the impact that that has on communities. That is why Ofgem’s fundamental review of the way in which transmission charges are levied is so important. It is also why the Government made clear at the start of Ofgem’s review that the transmission charging regime must deliver security of supply as well as low-carbon generation. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the charges that consumers pay for renewable energy are as efficient as possible.

Most importantly of all, there needs to be a new relationship between wind farms and the communities that host them, as my hon. Friend Guto Bebb said. At present, too often a community can see what it will lose but not what it will gain by having a wind farm in its midst. That is why we have been exploring the financial mechanisms that should emerge to support communities that decide to host wind farms—particularly in England, where we have more responsibility for these matters—and that do more to encourage such community developments. “Community energy online” is a scheme whereby local groups can come together and look at what will be the best renewable energy schemes for their community. I am absolutely convinced that we have to address the issue of democratic accountability and public acceptability. The more these schemes can be seen to come from the ground up—that is not intended to be a pun—and to be developed with community support, the more we can deal with the democratic deficit.