[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair] — Offshore Wind Generation (North Wales)

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 24th October 2012.

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Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 9:30 am, 24th October 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I am pleased to sponsor this important debate, and I welcome the Minister. As I am a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, I am sure that he and I will be working together on many issues over the coming weeks and months. I pay tribute to his predecessor, Charles Hendry, a Minister who was respected by people right across the energy sector, from industrialists to environmentalists, and with whom I worked well. He visited north Wales, and came to see the Anglesey energy island concept, and I am sure that I will be inviting the new Minister to come along to see the progress that has been made.

I know that the new Minister will make his mark over the coming months. He has already given us a very entertaining performance, in his response to urgent questions last week, and we look forward to more of that style and, we hope, to some answers to questions. I am sure that he will have the opportunity today to answer some important questions pertaining to low-carbon energy in north Wales.

To be fair to the Minister, he has a chequered history when it comes to wind generation, and I hope that today he can clarify his position, together with that of the Government, and tell us whether wind generation now passes his two tests of economic and environmental sustainability. To be fair to him again, he sent us a letter only on Monday, outlining the Government’s support for renewables, which I presume includes wind generation. I am sure that he will be able to clarify the position on those things in his winding-up speech.

I want to make my own position absolutely crystal clear. I am pro-nuclear, pro-renewables, including wind generation, and pro-energy efficiency, and I have never seen any contradiction between those three things. We need all three if we are to reach the goals that we all want: energy security and the decarbonisation of industry.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons), Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. Does he agree that in the past the argument has wrongly been seen as a choice between renewables—such as wind—and nuclear, when they are part of the same package?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Yes, I absolutely agree. I am sure the Minister will acknowledge this later too: we should not be either/or; we need all the options. We need the base load that nuclear can provide, along with clean coal and gas, but we also need the flexibility that renewables give us, and I hope to develop that argument today.

As I say, I see no contradiction here. If we are to create the vibrant low-carbon economy that the UK wants, energy security, along with food security, is probably the most important challenge that this Government and Governments around the world will face in the future.

North Wales is—I will argue that it can continue to be—a major contributor to a low-carbon future. My own constituency of Ynys Môn—the Isle of Anglesey—has been in the vanguard of nuclear generation for more than 40 years, and there are plans for a new replacement station at Wylfa. The island also has early wind farms, comprising of some 77 turbines—from the 1980s and 1990s—in the north of the island. There are plans for a tidal array at the Skerries, and footprints for two biomass plants, so no one can accuse my constituency and its people of not contributing to our energy needs or to the rich energy mix that we want in the future. I support the concept of Anglesey becoming Britain’s energy island, and I hope to invite—I am sure that I will formally invite —the Minister along to see the energy island programme and meet its director, John Idris Jones, and his team, to see how we can take this forward, with local government, local businesses and the Welsh and UK Governments working together.

Given what I have just said, I do not believe that I can be accused of being an “environmental Taliban”. The Chancellor likes to joke about such things, but he should not poke fun at people who want a balanced energy mix that includes renewables, as well as coal, gas and nuclear. Indeed, I do not understand why he made his remarks, because that is his Government’s policy. It was also the policy of the previous Government, so there has been consensus and continuity. Businesses and consumers tell me that they want clarity and continuity on energy policy, so that north Wales and the United Kingdom can become the centre of excellence that we want to see.

The purpose of this debate is to highlight the pros and cons, to focus the attention of Government, at all levels, on providing certainty for investment and to create the high skills and the low-carbon energy sector that can deliver in the future.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has secured this debate. He mentioned certainty, and uncertainty is the enemy of long-term investment. Does he agree that one of the problems with the present Government is the incoherence and uncertainty that is causing long-term investors such as Siemens to reconsider investment in the UK, because of the lack of clarity about Government policy?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have just come from a meeting of industrialists, and they highlighted that very point. The Aluminium Federation was present, and it said that international companies are considering pulling out of the UK because of uncertainty about the future. The Minister will be aware of that, and he will try to work with others to allay the fears and create the confidence needed for the future. It is not warm words that will heat our homes or drive industry, but action, and we need to see that.

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

I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved in this debate. The hon. Gentleman referred to jobs in Wales; other parts of the United Kingdom will also gain greatly. In my Northern Ireland constituency, Harland and Wolff will benefit from jobs that come from the wind turbines in Wales. There are benefits for the whole United Kingdom: is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Certainly, and if the hon. Gentleman is patient I will lay out the benefits. I want to see a centre of excellence in north Wales, but the supply chain will involve the whole United Kingdom. There will be downstream jobs, and I want to see those jobs within the United Kingdom, rather than in continental Europe, for example. Large shipments can come into north Wales, the north of Ireland and the north of England from other parts of Europe. I want to see the skills base here in the United Kingdom developed and capable of maintaining highly skilled jobs. The hon. Gentleman need not fear. We are not being parochial; we are being very pro the United Kingdom.

North Wales has an abundance of resources. It has the natural resources that are needed for hydro and wind generation and, importantly, it has a skills base in many of its industries. The Minister is au fait with the skills agenda, and the skills in north Wales are transferable from the aerospace, car and other industries into the new exciting wind-generation and renewables agenda for the future.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons), Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we have the skills base, if the certainty is not there or people do not see it, they will look for jobs in other sectors and that that will be a loss to the energy sector?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

My hon. Friend is right, and he echoes the remarks made by my hon. Friend Ian Lucas. We need that certainty, and we need stability and a strategy for the future, and I hope that the Minister will note that and address it in his remarks.

We have an important skills base in north Wales linked to colleges and universities. Coleg Menai in my constituency has adapted an energy centre, which is creating a skills base in construction. Many of those skills were lost over many years, so offshore wind is not only about generation, but about the construction and manufacturing jobs of the future. The colleges are linking up. The energy centre was created by the Welsh Government in conjunction with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the local authority, and it works with local colleges to provide young people with those skills and to give them hope for the future.

As I am sure that the Minister knows, Anglesey was chosen by the Welsh Government as an energy enterprise zone, which is important for concentrating minds on north-west Wales and on north Wales in general. In north Wales, we have good universities at Glyndwr and Bangor and a number of good colleges, many of which are involved. Bangor university has a school of ocean science, which is a world leader in marine energy. So when I talk about wind and renewable energies, I am talking about not only manufacturing and construction, but future research and development and being world leaders in new technologies as they appear. The school of ocean science is a world leader in climate change patterns, too, and we have to merge those things to make the area a centre of excellence.

I will not duck the issue: wind energy is controversial, although offshore wind is less controversial than onshore wind. Offshore wind turbines are less obstructive than turbines on land, and their size and noise are mitigated by their distance from communities. Obviously, that brings its own challenge, but aesthetics is an issue for many people. When people talk about the technology, they are often in favour of wind generation, but when they talk about location, issues are raised and many people are opposed. The planning system—it is difficult for any Minister to tackle this—polarises people’s opinions. People have to be either for or against wind generation, and we do not have a mature dialogue on future needs and the benefits that wind generation can bring to local communities.

Wind is controversial, and I believe Anglesey has had its fair share of onshore wind development. Given the sheer size and scale of the new turbines, they are best placed out at sea. Residents on Anglesey are not nimbys in any way and want to be part of the future of wind generation, but wind turbines should be offshore because of their large scale.

I pay tribute to a group of residents on Anglesey who have campaigned against the ad hoc development of wind generation, which is a problem in many communities. The only beneficiaries of onshore wind are the landowners and/or developers, not the communities; whereas offshore wind will have a combined benefit for the larger community.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

The hon. Gentleman knows that the subject is close to my heart because of the impact on my constituency. Does he accept that the real issue is scale? Whether in Anglesey or Montgomeryshire, the issue is the sheer numbers. What has been proposed for my constituency is virtually a desecration of the area, as is simply the case with onshore wind. I welcome this opportunity to associate myself with his remarks, because he is also challenging the scale, which destroys areas.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Yes, I agree. Aesthetics and scale are big issues that we need to address. I am not only concentrating on that problem but considering solutions for the future. We have an abundance of wind, which is a proven technology, but it has to be in the right place. As the hon. Gentleman says, the scale has to be right for the area. I will develop that point.

I support microgeneration, and it is sensible in rural areas that isolated properties, farms and working communities have a source of electricity and that any surplus goes to the grid, but I oppose large-scale onshore wind generation. I hope that I am putting that in its right context.

As a member of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, I visited DONG Energy in Ramsgate and saw the scale of the London array and some of the areas down in the Thames estuary, where large-scale wind development has taken place. We flew over the developments to see their scale, and we took advantage of the opportunity to fly over the Olympic village when we came in to land in central London. The sheer scale needs to be close to a working port, and those ports need the necessary infrastructure.

Following decisions by the previous Labour Government, north Wales has great potential for offshore wind. Gwynt y Môr, which I think will be the largest site in Europe, is under construction by RWE npower and its partners. On completion, Gwynt y Môr will have an output of some 576 MW. Gwynt y Môr is close to the already-developed North Hoyle and Rhyl Flats offshore wind farms, which are a major hub for wind and renewable resources.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again in this important debate. Will he indicate how councils and the Welsh Assembly came to terms with how offshore wind generation affects the fishing industry? Some locations in Northern Ireland are coming up shortly, and one of the great issues for us is how they will affect the fishing industry on the north coast of Antrim and in my constituency of Strangford. How did the Welsh Government address that issue to ensure that the fishing sector can continue?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I cannot speak for the Welsh Government, but I can speak for myself. I am an ex-seafarer, so I understand some of the conditions at sea, and navigation is affected, as well as fishing. I respect that, but the consultations we have had in north Wales, and will have on future developments, contain important environmental impact studies. The marine environment is taken very seriously, and wind is sensitive. Oil is being drilled in the North sea, and I think wind generation is less intrusive than some of those projects. We have to get the balance right, but the impact has been taken seriously. If we are serious about developing renewable resources, we have to use them wisely. Wind is abundant in north-west Britain and north-east Northern Ireland, so we have to go ahead, but it is a sensitive issue.

As I was saying about Gwynt y Môr and the other already-developed offshore wind farms, the Celtic array is a round 3 Irish sea project, and I want to focus the Minister’s mind on that because of its sheer scale. As he may know, the Celtic array is a joint venture between Centrica and DONG Energy that will have the capacity to produce 2.2 GW and will service an estimated 1.7 million homes. The Celtic array will be located 19 km off the north-east coast of Anglesey, 34 km off the Isle of Man and very close to the coastlines of Northern Ireland and north-west England. Depending on the turbines that are chosen—this is important because technology is moving fast—there will be between 150 and 400 of them, and if the technology continues to develop in the same way, they might produce 6 MW each. So the turbines will be huge. The Celtic array includes array cables, export cables and substations located offshore, where they will be less intrusive. The connection to the grid, which is expected to be in Anglesey, will be made with a few cables, rather than the large amount of infrastructure that is needed for onshore in coastal areas that many people oppose.

Gwynt y Môr has already created jobs, and I want to highlight a number of them, because they represent a significant investment. Holyhead-based Turbine Transfers, which is a subsidiary of Holyhead Towing, has been awarded a £10 million contract to provide transfer vessels that will operate from the port of Mostyn in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson. That is a local company with an international reputation founded by an entrepreneurial family, and it will benefit from the investment, which could bring more than £80 million and much-needed jobs to the Welsh economy.

Looking forward to the Celtic array, we need bigger infrastructure, bigger vessels and bigger port capacity. I will deal specifically with the port of Holyhead in my constituency, as it is the largest seaport on the western seaboard and, as a natural deep-water harbour, it has huge potential. I was disappointed by this Government’s decision, after the previous Chancellor’s announcement that £60 million would be set aside for essential port development so that—I stress this—United Kingdom ports could benefit. That was a missing link. We have manufacturing on land and generation offshore, but bringing them together needs port development, and the £60 million was set aside for that purpose. In October 2010, the coalition Government decided to make the moneys available to English ports only, with the Barnett consequential going to Wales and other nations of the United Kingdom. That put Wales at a serious disadvantage, because the consequential for the whole of Wales is about £3 million. Anybody who understands port development knows that that is a small drop in the ocean, so this seriously undermines Wales’s potential to develop.

The irony, reading the statement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, is that much of the money allocated to English ports remains unspent. I ask the Minister, in his own joking manner, to pass it over to Wales as quickly as possible if he can. My serious point is that he should go back to Government, argue the case that the United Kingdom ports remain a reserved responsibility of the UK Government, get a grip on the situation and, from this Westminster Parliament, help Welsh ports. That is what we are here for: to represent the views of our Welsh constituents. We are losing out as a consequence of that decision, and it is unfair. As the new Secretary of State said in a response to me, if the Welsh Assembly Government were funding this, the money would have to be drawn from education and health budgets, which would be unfair. The money was originally intended for UK ports. UK ports are a reserved matter and this should be done fairly.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but on a point of clarity it is important to understand how the devolution settlement works and how Members such as me can help the cause by addressing the matter in the context of the constitutional position, so that we know what we can do, rather than just stating opinions.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Constitutional issues have their place, but it is clear that ports are a reserved UK matter—I have worked with previous UK Governments on developing ports in my constituency—so the Government should take responsibility and treat all UK ports the same. We are not asking for anything extra in Wales; we are asking for a level playing field so that Welsh ports can develop and, importantly, benefit the whole United Kingdom. If the development goes ahead and north-west Wales has port infrastructure, that will help the energy needs of the whole United Kingdom.

I move briefly to tackle head-on some of the criticisms of wind energy. Intermittency is an issue. Just as we need base load electricity at peak times for industry and domestic use, we also have off-peak periods. If hon. Members can remember the long hot summers we used to have, we needed to cut off much of our electricity generation during those times. Wind is an excellent resource in that respect, because turbines can be switched off easily. It is both costly and difficult to turn off a gas-fired, coal-fired or nuclear power station. We need the flexibility that wind and other renewables give us for the future. Of course, on long, cold winter days when the wind is not blowing, we need base load at full capacity, but the other side of the coin appears when we have warm weather.

The economics of wind are also controversial. In response to the mini-inquiry by the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change on the economics of wind power, DECC gave some interesting figures. Two large companies undertook research on DECC’s behalf, levelising the cost per megawatt-hour of the different technologies for producing electricity. Nuclear was by far the cheapest, but wind was considerably higher. I have the figures in front of me; they give costs looking forward to new technologies that may or may not develop in future. Nuclear costs £60 to £80 per MWh, compared with some £94 per MWh for onshore wind and £110 per MWh for offshore wind. Clean coal and gas using carbon capture and storage cost some £100 to £150 per MWh.

We need to develop those technologies to make them more efficient. Logically, if we can improve gas, coal and nuclear, we can improve our wind technology as well. I have seen some of the new turbines that are being developed. They run for longer, are more efficient and need less maintenance, so we can reduce costs.

Subsidy is not a dirty word to me. Most energy generation in most countries has had some form of subsidy, and emerging gas in this country was 100% subsidised by the taxpayer when it came into effect. I do not feel that we should not subsidise new technologies, although I think that the Government are right to move subsidy under the renewables obligation from onshore wind to offshore, now that onshore is established, to make offshore wind more competitive.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

It is critical to emphasise, because it is not emphasised often enough, that the UK is in the vanguard of offshore wind technology. We must press forward with it. We need to consider the support and assistance given to companies such as Prysmian Cables in my constituency, which has created jobs as a result of the investment in offshore wind. That needs to be factored into the equation when we assess whether to invest further.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Moving on to the additional costs of renewables, one controversial point is the impact of renewable energy on household bills, and on business bills. We talk, rightly, about protecting the consumer, but a lot of British businesses are suffering from the high cost of energy. According to DECC’s estimate, as recently as 2011, public policies, including environmentally friendly subsidies to renewables, comprised about 7% of our bills. The Committee on Climate Change projects that costs might rise as much as 33% before 2020. Of that, two thirds will be contributed by the rising price of fossil fuels and one third by the cost of renewables. I want to put that in a proper context for the future. Yes, there is a cost in moving towards renewables, but there will also be a huge cost if we do not, given the rising price of fossil fuels.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said, we must also consider the pluses of investing in wind generation and renewables. As he pointed out in his example, the socio-economic benefits to the north Wales region, and across the United Kingdom, would be huge. RenewableUK estimates that by 2022, the United Kingdom’s offshore wind industry will generate some £60 billion in gross value added, supporting some 45,000 jobs. Other estimates are even higher—as high as 0.4% of UK GDP and more than 90,000 jobs. That is the potential. This debate is about focusing attention on what has been achieved and on the potential for the future. Regions such as north Wales can benefit because of their natural resources, deep-water harbours and skills base.

The Celtic array project is not that far away, Minister, and we need to get this right. We need to get the port development right. We need to increase our skills base. We need stability, so that companies from all over the United Kingdom and beyond have the confidence to invest in our country. I support wind generation on the north Wales coast. It harnesses the benefits for the region. It will have benefits for the north of Ireland, the north-west of Britain and other parts of the United Kingdom, too. Governments at all levels need to work together. I urge the Minister, in the first few weeks in his job, to contact the Welsh Government—the First Minister is responsible for energy matters—and discuss these issues, so that Wales can have the benefits that it deserves for the future.

Wind energy is simply about turning wind into electricity, but we need to generate real jobs, too. We are on the right track—a few years of stable government has given investors what they need. There are concerns now, and I hope that the Minister will address them in his winding-up speech. I will allow other hon. Members their opportunity to discuss what I think is an exciting future, with north-west Wales playing a big part in the low-carbon economy that we all want to build, and for the UK to be a world leader in that economy.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:00 am, 24th October 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I thank my hon. Friend Albert Owen for bringing this agenda to the Chamber. It is extremely important to focus on how we grow wind energy in north Wales, and it is significant that every Labour MP representing constituencies in north Wales is here to lend their support to my hon. Friend.

Wind energy is significant for three reasons. First, it contributes to the green energy needs of our communities at a time of diminishing coal, gas and other resources. Secondly, it is an important engine of economic growth, as can be witnessed by what has happened in north Wales. Thirdly, there is a community benefit associated with economic and green developments that helps to regenerate other areas of our community in a positive way. I wish to speak briefly on all three points.

I am proud that the previous Labour Government generated, supported and encouraged the development of offshore wind farms in my part of the world. Wind farms were developed because the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and previous Departments with responsibility for energy, took an interest, campaigned strongly and worked with the Welsh Assembly Government to attract business. I seek an assurance from the Minister that there will be that level of commitment in the future.

On the contribution to green energy needs, I place on the record two particular facts. The Rhyl Flats and North Hoyle developments will generate 240 MW of electricity, which is sufficient for the energy needs of 200,000 homes. The Gwynt y Môr development will provide 576 MW of electricity, which is sufficient for the energy needs of 400,000 homes. Those are significant developments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn mentioned, the Gwynt y Môr development is the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom, and it is approaching the size of major European developments. Those green energy needs are being met.

No more than 15 years ago, during the time I have been a Member of Parliament, there was a colliery at Point of Ayr in my constituency that employed 1,200 people, producing coal and material that was used for energy. The colliery is no longer there, people are not employed and coal is not produced, and yet not two miles from that site there is now the potential to create alternative energy using natural resources on a renewable basis—a positive development that we should be seeking to encourage.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn mentioned, green energy jobs are important contributors to the economy of north Wales—not just in Holyhead in his constituency, and not just in the development of the offshore wind farms themselves. Mostyn docks is in my constituency. In the past decade, the port of Mostyn has had to face significant challenges. It had a roll-on/roll-off ferry service to Northern Ireland. It supports the development of Airbus from the major economic factory in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mark Tami, where wings are made, produced and then exported via the docks.

In the past 10 to 15 years, the Mostyn dock development has diversified significantly to try to attract wind energy and enable the manufacture and construction of wind turbines. In the past few years, thanks to investment in offshore wind energy, the construction of six Irish sea offshore wind farms at North Hoyle, Burbo Bank, Robin Rigg, Rhyl Flats, Walney 1 and Walney 2 has led to a real expansion in the services provided at Mostyn docks. That is good news for the green energy sector and good news for employment in my constituency.

The Gwynt y Môr offshore wind development was mentioned earlier. That will now be based at the port of Mostyn in north Wales. The 160 turbines that will be installed offshore from north Wales will be assembled at the port of Mostyn in Flintshire. Mostyn will also benefit from the construction of an operations and maintenance base for the existing wind farms in Liverpool bay, North Hoyle, Rhyl Flats and, once complete, Gwynt y Môr.

In my constituency, where jobs in the old mining industry were lost, at least 100 long-term, skilled engineering jobs will be created in the port to staff the servicing of those facilities. On top of that, the actual construction of the facilities will see approximately 120 new jobs on site during the construction phase—a big boost to the local economy.

The £50 million lease and investment into port of Mostyn is Gwynt y Môr’s highest value long-term contract awarded to a company in Wales. That reinforces the company’s commitment to the port of Mostyn and investing in north Wales. It also underpins the work that the port of Mostyn is doing in exporting wings from the

Airbus manufacturing site at Broughton in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside. The port has had to diversify and bring in wind energy, but green energy is providing sufficient resource and employment to ensure that we can maintain development. As my hon. Friend knows, if the wings were not exported via Mostyn docks, and if that were the sole business, that would have a severe impact on the ability of Broughton to manufacture aircraft wings.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons), Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

I was about to make that very point. If Mostyn had been unable to expand into other areas, the whole cost would effectively have fallen on to Airbus, because that is the route that the A380 wings take. There would not be a feasible alternative route, and that would impinge on whether the work was at that factory.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Green energy supports the manufacturing, construction and development base at port of Mostyn, and that underpins not just the energy sector in north Wales, but a wide range of other manufacturing industries, too. The 100-plus new jobs will also contribute more spending into the economy in north Wales. There will be a big impact on the economic base of our area.

The third issue I mentioned is the community benefit. I am sure my hon. Friend Chris Ruane[ Interruption. ] We have just had a boundary review and we are trying to work out where the boundaries are. I am sure my hon. Friend will speak about community benefits as well, but Gwynt y Môr will invest £20 million in local communities over the lifetime of the contract. The Rhyl Flats community fund is investing resources in Conwy and Rhyl. The North Hoyle partnership has funds linked to Denbighshire coastal partnership, including money for my constituency, too.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons), Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while that is very welcome, we still have a long way to go to catch up with countries such as France, which has areas that try to bid for these projects, whether nuclear power, wind or whatever, because there are great incentives—cheaper electricity, or some other payback? While there is some good stuff coming, we still have some way to go to get the issue moving.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I agree. This is a start, but it is a contributor to community benefits, which I want to spread wider than just the boroughs of Conwy and Denbighshire; boroughs in Flintshire in our area have an impact on economic activity in a negative as well as a positive way in respect of the development of wind farms.

Wind farms in north Wales are positive for the green economy, our local economy and the community. I have three requests to make of the Minister. First, I hope that he recognises, gives credit to and celebrates the fact that the industry is developing and flourishing in our area. I say that not to cause a political row between us, but to get consensus in the Chamber and with the Assembly on these matters.

The Secretary of State for Wales wrote a blog in 2009, when the Gwynt y Môr wind farm was being developed, under the headline, “Well done, Conwy”:

“I was extremely pleased and relieved to hear that Conwy County Councillors today resolved to seek counsel’s opinion on the merits of an application for judicial review of the decision to grant consent for the development of the proposed Gwynt y Môr wind farm.”

I could quote three or four other blogs from the Secretary of State, expressing a mild cynicism about the benefits of wind farms appearing in north Wales, including for its economy. I do not wish to cause the Minister any difficulty, but I genuinely want him to give words of comfort and encouragement and to say that his Government, of whom he and the Secretary of State are part, are committed to helping develop these industries in our area.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of the Secretary of State’s previous remarks, although I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is now in line with Government policy. The Secretary of State mentioned the negative impact that offshore wind farms would have on tourism. However, the opposite is the case, if anything. The chair of the association for north Wales tourism has said that the new development of Gwynt y Môr, and others, would not impact on tourism at all. So people who understand the industry are saying that there would be no negative impact as a result of offshore development in north Wales.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I represent places such as Talacre and Gronant, at the north end of my constituency, where holiday activity goes on undiminished by the wind farms in those areas. I want to get recognition from the Minister that the Government are committed to helping develop these important industries.

Secondly, we need the Minister to provide certainty about certain matters, because that is important in the context of the forthcoming Energy Bill. For the moment, there is the question of long-term contracts for difference to support renewable and low-carbon energy, guaranteed by fixed prices for output. We need clarity from the Government on the allocation process for contracts for difference. We need the Government to give certainty to the industry about timetables, including on targets for decarbonisation, so that long-term investment by wind farm developers can be considered not just in the context of the previous Government or this Government, but of any future Government, who will have to make long-term financial decisions. Cross-party consensus on the need for developing this industry, if I can get it, will help give that certainty.

Thirdly, I want to throw into the mix the fact that at Mostyn docks and in the offshore developments, we are assembling material constructed and built elsewhere. The Swedes—the Scandinavians—are masters at the production of wind-farm technology. We have probably missed the chance now, although we in the previous Government pressed to do it. The Minister should cast an eye gently on what we can do to help encourage UK-based manufacture and development skills. It is great to assemble at Mostyn docks and to have the skills offshore, but ultimately we are missing a trick if we do not consider the potential for future manufacture and technology development in our country.

I ask the Minister for confidence and certainty, to look at manufacturing and to please help support this industry, which really does create jobs in our area.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire 10:15 am, 24th October 2012

I had not planned to speak, but the issue is of such incredible interest to me that I felt that I had to. I congratulate Albert Owen on securing such an important debate and on speaking for half an hour and uttering hardly a word with which I disagreed. That is something of an achievement.

I have always thought of myself as living in mid-Wales, so I am conscious that I am contributing to a debate that is about north Wales. However, if the new boundaries go through, my house will be in Denbigh and north Montgomeryshire, so I consider myself, as of yesterday, a potential north Walian, which allows me a degree of credibility in this debate.

I have had a particular interest in onshore wind since 2005 and people from all over Britain have written to me about it, including several from Ynys Môn, although I have written back to say that I am not the Member for Ynys Môn, so, clearly, I have not followed up all the issues. Because of that, I understand that the issue is not just for my constituency and perhaps slightly more widely in mid-Wales, but affects many other parts of Britain. A lot of people are writing from Scotland now, deeply concerned. I am concerned about the same issue and I want to contribute to the debate because I want the new Minister to know the sheer strength of feeling in certain parts of Britain about onshore wind.

Before 2005, I would have thought of myself as a supporter of renewable energy in all its forms; there was no issue for me. Indeed, in Montgomeryshire we had several onshore wind farms and I had not expressed any particular opposition to those, because if they are limited in number they do not have a huge impact on the environment. However, a plan for a scheme suddenly emerged from the Welsh Assembly Government, as they were called—they are now called the Welsh Government—that identified an area of mid-Wales to be designated for a huge development of a dedicated 400 kW line that would probably be about 35 miles long. That might be fine in some parts of the country, but this would go up a narrow valley, right into the heart of mid-Wales—my constituency—and because this is a dedicated line it inevitably means that there would be, depending on the size of the turbines, perhaps 500 to 700 turbines in a relatively small, beautiful area of Britain. There are five applications now, which it was announced yesterday are going to a joint appeal later on.

We have to be careful about considering developing onshore wind in beautiful parts of Britain. Huge damage could be caused for little benefit. I am concerned about, and want the Minister to look at, the aesthetic impact of onshore wind turbines in large scale and great density, because that should be a material consideration in how we deal with such developments. We should not just look at the figures, because we know that offshore wind, for example, is more expensive to develop than onshore wind.

By taking offshore wind seriously, we will stand a much better chance of bringing its cost down to where it becomes competitive with onshore wind.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the problem in his area, which I understand—I have debated the matter with him several times—but will he provide some solutions and talk about how his community is developing things such as biomass, geothermal and various other sources of energy, rather than just attacking the onshore wind developments? Can he come up with some solutions, because his area will need electricity in future and will need to generate its own electricity?

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are various alternatives coming through, and I would give support to all of them. Developing renewable energy and moving forward to meet climate change targets often involves intrusive developments, and we have to put up with them, but I am concerned about the scale of the project. We cannot afford to be overly balanced in our comments if we are talking about making an impact at British level. One issue dominates in most constituencies, but definitely for me, and I stick at it, repeating things again and again. The Minister will become sick of it; he has been in the job only for a while, but his predecessor must have been sick of me. Every chance I get, I shall hammer home the fact that the operation of one of our policies is destined to desecrate my constituency. My duty to my constituency is to try to stop it.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

I congratulate Albert Owen on securing the debate and apologise for being late, as I was attending a Bill Committee early this morning. I apologise, too, on behalf of my right hon. Friend Mr Llwyd, who has just had a knee operation and is out of action, and my hon. Friend Hywel Williams, who is attending a Select Committee this morning.

I share the concerns of Glyn Davies about technical advice note 8 and that policy needs to be revised. My biggest concern about TAN 8 and our planning process is that some developments are determined by the UK Government and some by the Welsh Government, based on the arbitrary level of 50 MW. I have two TAN 8 areas, one being area G in Brechfa, where there will be four or five different developments. They are all being determined individually, although the impact on people’s lives is cumulative. Should not all those developments be determined together, rather than individually?

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

That is a difficult intervention for me to respond to, although I will, because for several years I would have been supportive of the very point that he makes, which is about devolving responsibility for large-scale wind farms to the National Assembly. The reality, however, is that the policy and attitude in the Assembly and among the Welsh Government are such that I have said publicly that I would not support that policy now if I were to stand here for 100 years, simply because they are so determined to drive forward.

I was making a short speech, and Opposition Members have been looking at their watches, so I feel that I have contributed sufficiently. Thank you for the opportunity to speak, Sir Alan. I shall now allow others to contribute.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:22 am, 24th October 2012

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan, and to speak after my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and Glyn Davies, who I am delighted is an honorary north Walian for the morning—that is excellent, we always welcome tourists.

I place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Albert Owen for securing this important debate. He follows in the footsteps of other great Welsh radicals such as Megan Lloyd George and Cledwyn Hughes in representing north Wales’s great island constituency. He is a great expert on energy with a passion for the low-carbon economy and a deep concern for how we can best meet the energy needs of our nation.

What has been encouraging this morning is to hear that we are not nimbys, that we support green energy and that we have a passion for low carbon throughout the UK but especially in our area of north Wales. We are passionate for the introduction of further renewable energy in the UK as a whole, including north Wales, and more wind energy, on and offshore, must be part of the mix. We in the House urgently need to support moves to encourage better, cleaner energy production, and it must be our task to promote the development of low-carbon energy in whatever way possible. If we are to do that sensibly and in a long-term and sustainable way, we must be careful about how energy policies are achieved and mindful of our choices when beginning new projects.

Let me share an example from my constituency, a proposal that even the writers of the most outlandish science fiction films could not have come up with. Imagine a designated area of outstanding national beauty—the Clwydian range and Dee valley—and then imagine plans for onshore wind turbines to be placed just outside it. That is the Mynydd Mynyllod wind farm proposal: 25 turbines, each 145 metres tall, at the foot of the Berwyn mountains. They would be placed in a non-TAN 8 area, an area not specifically designated for wind farms, and would each stand one and a half times the height of Big Ben.

It is encouraging to hear in the debate and throughout the House the support and the passion of the support for wind energy, but most Members would not therefore suggest, as a logical consequence, that wind farms can be sited absolutely everywhere—not, I suggest, at the side of Westminster abbey and perhaps not on the dome of St Paul’s cathedral or even on the humble and rather unremarkable piece of grass outside that is College green. Why therefore the double standard that allows turbines to be placed right by the Clwydian range and Dee valley area of outstanding national beauty? There is a great debate about whether wind turbines are beautiful—that is probably in the eye of beholder—but just as one would never place a large mural replicating Picasso next to Big Ben, it surely cannot be appropriate to site 25 wind turbines each of 475 feet on the outskirts of one of Wales’s and, indeed, Britain’s most beautiful natural areas, as evidenced by the AONB status.

To tackle climate change effectively, the Government need to harness intelligent, renewable forms of energy, and wind farms need to be part of the overall proposals to make such positive changes. Let us be creative and innovative, and look at better places for new developments and not simply site them without reference to their surroundings. The action group STEMM—Stop the Exploitation of Mynydd Mynyllod—rightly notes that the effect of the turbines at Mynydd Mynyllod would extend far beyond local residents, affecting visitor numbers, hotels and bed and breakfasts, and the numbers at local campsites and caravan parks, putting our precious and often precarious rural economy at risk. That is why hundreds of people have spoken out against the proposals and the recently added plans for further turbines in nearby Llandrillo. That is why I am pleased to support the campaign.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

The First Minister of Wales—a member of the hon. Lady’s party—recently stated that he was in favour of full devolution of all energy powers. Last spring, I introduced a Bill to achieve that aim, but the hon. Lady and her colleagues marched through the No Lobby with the Tories. Where does she stand now?

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons)

I wondered whether the hon. Gentleman might be making his intervention to support Tal Michael in the North Wales police area, which seems to be a popular thing for his colleagues to do. The whole issue of energy is complex. Many of the major decisions will involve both Governments and we have to have that discussion, so what the First Minister has to say is worthy of debate. Let us have that discussion, because we will stand up for Wales, while the hon. Gentleman’s party will sell it down the river to a poorer future.

To return to my text, the great 19th century Welsh poet Ceiriog, who lived in another beautiful part of my constituency, wrote the famous poem “Aros Mae’r Mynyddoedd Mawr”, often translated as “Still the mighty mountains stand”. Those mountains of the Clwydian range stand and wait for all those who love and appreciate our uniquely beautiful landscape in north Wales. One thing I am pretty certain about, however, is that what they do not stand for is gigantic wind turbines, which, if situated there, would destroy the natural environment and profoundly alter the character and the economy of the area. The proposal needs to go back to the drawing board, and unless it is radically altered and more sensible geographical alternatives are considered, that is where it should stay.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:28 am, 24th October 2012

I congratulate my hon. Friend Albert Owen on securing the debate. The six north Wales Labour Members who have been in attendance today met six weeks ago and decided to put in for the debate en bloc. My hon. Friend secured it, and we have come out in force today to support him. [ Interruption. ] As he correctly points out, it is his idea and his debate, so we are present to support him.

About nine years ago, I was approached by RWE npower renewables and asked to support the erection of 30 turbines off the coast of my constituency—the North Hoyle turbines. I looked at the situation, listened with care and agreed to support that. The company listened carefully. I asked it how many jobs would be created, and it said only seven in the first instance, most of which would be filled from Scotland, which has deep-water expertise. I asked it to connect with the coastal communities by putting together a fund. It was probably going to do that anyway, but it did so with style. It allocated £30,000 a year to Prestatyn and £30,000 a year to Rhyl. When the Rhyl Flats turbines were switched on just five or six miles down the coast, I again asked for funding for Rhyl and Prestatyn, but it said no. When I asked again, it said yes to Rhyl with an extra £15,000, but no to Prestatyn.

The company has connected with those coastal communities through those funds. The fund proposed for Gwynt y Môr is £19 million over 25 years, which is considerable. We live in a convergence area that was a European objective 1 area. I am asking RWE npower renewables whether that £19 million can be clean money to multiply up to perhaps £100 million as match funding for European structural funds. That could have a huge impact on the coastal communities, many of which, such as Rhyl, Prestatyn and Colwyn Bay, are suffering. The insolvency figures for last year came out on Monday, and five of the top towns for insolvency in the UK are seaside towns, two of them in my constituency. An investment of tens of millions of pounds over the next 10 or 20 years could have a big impact in those coastal communities. It has had an impact so far, and it will have an impact in future.

I turn to the politics. When I switched on the North Hoyle lights about six years ago, the Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, was in north Wales at Llandudno for the Tory party conference. He referred to the turbines and called them giant bird blenders. We all know that he then went on to hug a husky at the north pole and said how important environmental credentials are for the Conservative party, but he was facing both ways at the same time, and that was echoed by his Tory Welsh Assembly Members. The Tory AM for Aberconwy, Janet Finch-Saunders, said that the Gwynt y Môr project will damage tourism in north Wales and is viable only with massive Government subsidies for renewables.

Political careers were built in north Wales on the back of opposition to offshore wind farms off the coast of north Wales, and it is interesting that Guto Bebb and the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Jones are not here today, because I believe that opposition to wind farms helped to build their political careers. That opposition continues at a high political level. The Chancellor referred to supporters of renewables as the “environmental Taliban”, comparing us with Taliban terrorists who shoot 14-year-old girls in the head for standing up for education. That is the level of debate, the terminology and the lexicon that is being used by leaders of the Tory party, and there is no escaping that. However, I make an honourable exception of councillors in Prestatyn in my constituency, many of whom were Conservatives, but stood up, supported wind farms, went against the flow, and they should be commended for supporting the North Hoyle and Rhyl Flats wind farms.

I move on to a less party political point. Offshore wind farms will make a big difference in my community to tourism and job creation. If RWE npower renewables is tied in with our further education and higher education sectors in north Wales, that could make north Wales a world base for renewable energy, and we could exploit our expertise around the world. When countries are considering offshore renewables, north Wales and the north-west could be the first port of call.

The vision for the future is exciting. The finance is available from the green investment bank and 20 other independent and private sector banks and from the European Investment Bank. The future is bright for renewables in north Wales, and I ask the Minister to respond positively and to go against his leadership and support Labour MPs in north Wales; and I ask MPs generally to ensure that renewable offshore wind is a key component of the British energy market.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales) 10:34 am, 24th October 2012

I congratulate my hon. Friend Albert Owen on securing this important debate and, more importantly, on his unstinting efforts to develop a range of energy resources on Anglesey. He has made enormous efforts to harness its unique combination of resources and location to generate electricity and provide much-needed jobs. He recognises that it is never easy to attract new industry and jobs, but the problem is being exacerbated by the Government’s uncertainty and dithering, their lack of a clear industrial strategy, and their tendency to respond with knee-jerk reactions, instead of working with the industry.

My hon. Friend has recognised the unique potential of north Wales to provide energy for the future, whether using marine currents around the coast or the wind to generate electricity. North Wales is well provided with natural resources, which enables it to make a significant contribution to our energy needs while generating much-needed local jobs, using the skill base to which he referred.

The UK is extremely well endowed with wind resource. It certainly has the best resource in Europe, and some estimates suggest that the UK has 40% of Europe’s potential wind power. The north Wales coast certainly has its fair share. To make a success of that renewable energy potential, we need a Government who are wholeheartedly behind the industry, and what industry wants above all else is certainty, consistency and clarity. To make long-term investments, industry needs to know that the Government are not going to move the goal posts.

We understand why the Government make industry nervous. Last year, we saw the utterly disgraceful fiasco of the unilateral cuts in feed-in tariffs. People in the industry understood that the tariffs would be gradually tapered downwards, but, preposterously, the Government suddenly imposed a cut, even before the end of the consultation period, leaving businesses racing to install solar panels before deadlines; provoking difficulties in the supply chain, because manufacturers, fearful of being left with redundant stock, ran down production; and leaving out of pocket self-employed plumbers who had risen to the challenge of green energy and forked out on courses to train themselves up in installing solar panels. Housing associations across Wales were forced to abandon plans to provide solar panels that would have benefitted local low-income households, and people lost confidence in what community projects would deliver That was all because the Government chose to push the industry over a series of cliff edges, instead of allowing it to progress down a gentle slope.

In the wake of the lack of consultation on feed-in tariffs, the Government, far from reassuring industry that they will consult properly with it in future, are doing the reverse. Not many people know that on the last day before we rose for the summer recess and, predictably, without any consultation, the Government sneaked out an announcement that they are abandoning the long-standing commitment that public consultations should normally last 12 weeks. It is outrageous to suggest that as little as two weeks, and sometimes no consultation at all, is appropriate for decisions that impact on industry, businesses, trade associations, unions, local government and the public.

So there it is, plain for all to see in black and white: the Government are abandoning any pretence at engagement and consultation. That really is a blow to far-sighted industrialists who want to work with the Government to deliver energy infrastructure. Will the Minister assure us that he intends to work with industry, and that he can influence his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and in the Treasury to provide the certainty that we need for continued investment in offshore wind? We need to ensure not only that the huge investment that goes into offshore wind farms such as the Celtic array benefits the local work force with the work to construct and maintain the wind turbines, but that the conditions are right for the supply chain and the manufacture of components here in the UK. Unfortunately, there is a lack of clarity, and lack of a clear industrial strategy.

A fortnight ago, with other MPs and AMs from south-west Wales, I visited Port Talbot steel works, where Tata has invested £185 million to rebuild a blast furnace, and £55 million to create a gas-cooling system. During our discussion there, we were reminded that when Dr Karl-Ulrich Köhler, head of Tata Europe, had visited the plant in July, he called on the UK Government to take down obstacles to growth. Dr Köhler said that the £240 million investment in Wales showed the company’s commitment, but that Tata needs Ministers to help

“to remove obstacles that are in our way as far as competitiveness is concerned”

One point Dr Köhler was referring to was the Government’s decision to impose an unrealistically high carbon floor price. That burden on energy-intensive industries is unique to the UK. It is bad enough ever to impose punitively high carbon floor prices on industry, but to do so when steel manufacturers are struggling to fill their order books, because many of their customers are caught up in the Government’s double-dip recession, is utterly stupid.

We all accept that it is difficult for manufacturing industry to compete with countries that have very cheap labour costs or low environmental standards, but the carbon floor price makes us uncompetitive even when compared with other European countries that have similar standards of living and similar environmental standards. The Government should be working with our fellow Europeans on reducing emissions to create a level playing field, not imposing a burden unique to the UK manufacturing sector.

It is all very well for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to claim that it has announced a £250 million package for energy-intensive industries, but that will be spread very thinly, and it would have been better if the Government had not imposed such a high carbon floor price in the first place. Karl-Ulrich Köhler also called on the Government to think about their supply chain more strategically—in other words, to ensure that we provide a domestic market for the steel that we produce. The challenge to the Government is what measures they can take to encourage maximum use of UK-manufactured components in the construction of offshore wind farms.

Colleagues in Tata have calculated that offshore wind turbines can use more than 1,000 tonnes of steel and typically use at least six different types of steel, but that some UK offshore wind developments have only 10% UK content, with all the major steel components being imported from outside Europe. Tata estimates that the UK market for offshore wind will be 4 million tonnes of steel by 2020, and through investments in the UK, Tata Steel has indicated a clear intention to be part of that market. All too often, however, new supply chains present a risk to developers, and they tend to prefer current suppliers in Germany and elsewhere, which means that the UK is nowhere near capturing the full economic benefit of those developments. We certainly do not want a repeat of what is happening in Scotland, where the Scottish National party Government are replacing the Forth road bridge at a cost of £790 million and the consortium building the bridge chose to use 37,000 tonnes of Chinese steel to be fabricated in China, Poland and Spain.

In 2011, the Minister’s predecessor said that in taking forward the next stage of offshore wind development we must ensure that the supply chain jobs come to the UK. Therefore, for continued investment in offshore wind and the supply chain, we really need to know that the new Energy Minister is on the side of industry. It is no secret that he has expended considerable energy campaigning against proposed wind farms in his Lincolnshire constituency, and that, back in 2009, he insisted on regional TV:

“Wind turbines are a terrible intrusion in our flat Fenland landscape. Renewable energy needs to pass the twin tests of environmental and economic sustainability and wind power fails on both counts.”

Is he opposed to all wind farms, or only those in his constituency?

How can I describe the attitude of the new Secretary of State for Wales towards wind farms? To call it lukewarm would be very generous indeed. His antipathy to Gwynt y Môr was referred to by my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, and Secretary of State is well known for his scathing comments about the Welsh Government’s TAN 8. Back in 2006, he treated the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs to his views on the Rhyl flats many times over. Now he has said that he wants to work with the Welsh Government, but he will do Wales no good at all if he greets potential investors in offshore wind with a lukewarm approach.

I hope that the new Energy Minister might now be converted to the cause and that he will go out with evangelical enthusiasm to convert our new Secretary of State for Wales. Sadly, however, with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs an advocate of shale gas fracking, and the Energy Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales both seemingly wind farm sceptics, potential low-carbon investors could be forgiven for thinking that the Government are boosting support for the oil and gas industry, throwing doubt on how much support there will be for renewables and undermining the Prime Minister’s pledge to be the greenest Government yet.

Small wonder that a fortnight ago we heard that major green businesses sent letters to Ministers. Siemens, Alstom UK, Mitsubishi Power Systems, Areva, Doosan, Gamesa and Vestas, which together employ 17,500 people in the UK energy sector, say that a lack of decision-making and threats to relax environmental targets have caused them to reassess the political risk of investing in the UK. It is serious stuff when such companies are threatening to go elsewhere and we could lose thousands of new jobs. It would be tragic if we lost new investment in renewables simply because the Government are not only dithering, but backtracking on their supposed commitment to a green agenda. In addition, more than 50 companies and non-governmental organisations, including Microsoft, Asda, EDF and Sky, released a similar letter demanding an end to uncertainty over the direction of the UK’s energy policy and the inclusion of a decarbonisation target in the upcoming energy Bill.

The Minister’s predecessor summarised what we need to do in his article for The Observer this weekend, when he said that

“our future can’t depend on gas alone… Energy security can only be delivered with a mix of technologies… Renewables harness the exceptional resources of these islands… Harnessing our low-carbon potential isn’t just right environmentally, but it is a central plank of energy security… But there isn’t much time left. Decisions on where to invest are being made now. Uncertainty and hostility would undermine the UK’s ability to secure the jobs and economic benefits from the supply chain for those new power plants. And if those companies walk away from the UK, it is a permanent loss and we all pay the price.”

To sum up, will the Minister confirm his unreserved support for the development of offshore wind in north Wales, and state whether those investments will enjoy the full support of his colleague, the new Secretary of State for Wales? Assuming that the mixed messages from his Government have not frightened companies off from investing in renewables in north Wales, will he also tell us what policies he will pursue to keep jobs in the supply chain in the UK—jobs in the steel industry and in the various components industries?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 10:46 am, 24th October 2012

I thank Albert Owen for drawing the House’s attention to this important matter and for securing the debate. His advocacy of the interests of his constituency is a model of good representation. When I entered the Chamber today and saw the array of his Welsh colleagues, I reflected for a moment on what the collective noun for a group of Welsh people is. I thought perhaps a “choir”, a “valley”, or a “Barry John”, but then, given my experience of Wales, I decided that it would be a “charm” of Welsh Members.

I will attempt to respond to the points raised in the short time available to me. The hon. Gentleman began by highlighting four points. He talked about the need for a viable energy mix, and he is right that to maintain energy security and build resilience into the system, we need a mixed range of energy generation. Renewables are an important part of that mix. He mentioned clarity— a point reflected by Nia Griffith—and certainty. The Energy Bill will provide precisely that.

If I were a more partisan man, I might say that the Energy Bill should have passed through the House long ago, because we have known for a long time that we need extra resources and to replace the generating resource. Indecision has characterised policy in the past, but let us put that to one side. We now have the chance for a Bill that provides just that clarity and certainty, and just the platform for investment that produces the kind of mixed array of energy generation sought by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn. He also spoke about skills, which are critical.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I am grateful to the Minister for trying to charm Welsh Opposition Members. He mentioned the Energy Bill. I agree that for many decades there should have been greater investment in our infrastructure and that the dash for gas in the ’80s and ’90s was wrong. We are now back to square one, because the gas has run out. Will the Minister clearly tell the House when he expects the Bill to be laid before Parliament, and when we can start debating these issues? It is already a year and a half late, as the Government first announced it 18 months ago.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I expect it to be laid before Parliament next month, but it would be wrong for me to pitch above my pay grade. The Leader of the House will have a view about the parliamentary timetable, which will of course be agreed through the usual channels.

None the less, we anticipate that the Bill will be laid next month. I hope that we can get on with the business of scrutinising it carefully, ensuring that it is fit for purpose and that we have a largely consensual strategy based on a shared understanding of energy needs and a determination to develop a long-term view about what our energy future should look like. I do not think that there is much difference between the parties in the Chamber today about the fundamentals, but let me highlight some of the areas that need greater clarification—the sort of clarification that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn sought in his opening remarks. Before I do so, however, I want to deal with his point about skills.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of skills in this mix, and he knows—indeed, he mentioned it—that the higher education and further education sectors, in Wales and elsewhere, are playing a key role in providing the skills that are necessary, particularly in the emerging technologies, to make the aim a reality and to provide the jobs that are desirable and the competences necessary to bring about the future that I describe.

The hon. Gentleman raises those issues against a background of change in his constituency; I am thinking of the closure of Wylfa and the associated closure of Anglesey Aluminium, but also of the great success that his constituency has enjoyed in respect of offshore wind. He makes the very important point that to provide secure, affordable, low-carbon energy resources, we have to face up to some of the challenges associated with the development of the offshore wind industry.

Let me be clear: offshore wind remains an important part of Government policy in meeting the objective of providing the mix that the hon. Gentleman suggested was essential, that we certainly believe is vital and that will be underpinned by the provisions of the Energy Bill. Offshore wind is one source of affordable energy. It provides a free and limitless domestic supply of fuel. We have a great deal of resource because we have shallow seas, consistent winds and an increasingly skilled work force who have experience of working offshore.

The challenge—this point was made by a number of hon. Members—is to ensure that the whole of our kingdom gets the most benefit from the investment. That is about the supply chain, I agree; as a direct result of the contribution from the hon. Member for Llanelli, I will look again at what measures we can put in place to ensure that we get maximum benefit, through the supply chain, from these important developments.

Furthermore, we need to provide absolute certainty for those who want to invest. Investment in this sector, because it is an emerging sector, is inevitably a matter that people will consider very carefully. It is not a long-established sector, with all that that means. The technology is relatively new. The scale necessary to drive down costs is only just beginning to emerge. Therefore, the commitment that the Government make to offshore wind is important in signalling to potential investors that they can consider this option without fear of a policy lurch or change.

That is another reason, by the way, why it is important to develop an energy strategy that is consensual—because, of course, policy can change when there is a change of Government or Minister. Governments do not last for ever, and Ministers sometimes last for even less time, so it is very important that a signal is sent out from the House and through what the Government say and do.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn talked at length about some of the specific impacts on his constituency, but of course there is a specific impact across the whole of Wales. We have heard a great deal about the Gwynt y Môr wind turbine development, which is currently under construction. It has already helped to generate significant economic opportunities and create new jobs in Wales and more widely.

The port of Mostyn will serve as the operations and maintenance base throughout the life of that development. Turbine Transfers, which is based in Anglesey, as the hon. Gentleman knows, will supply transfer vessels and crew. It has already created, I think, 20 new jobs as a result. DRB Group, which is in the constituency of Mark Tami, who also contributed to the debate, will provide crane units. Prysmian Cables in Wrexham won an order to provide cables worth some £15 million. Jones Bros of Ruthin won a multi-million pound contract for preparatory groundworks for the building of a substation. A little further south, Mabey Bridge in Chepstow won a contract to provide drill components.

We know that there is a significant supply-chain impact and that that has a real value in terms of jobs and skills, and we should understand the offshore wind industry in that way. This is not simply about the short-term benefits that may arise from a particular development; it is about building an infrastructure, in terms of supply, jobs and skills, that can benefit the whole of Wales and the whole of the kingdom.

Let me say again that we understand that renewables are an important part of that mix and that offshore wind is part of that. However, there are questions to be asked—indeed, they have been asked in this debate by a number of hon. Members, who put their case very well.

Yes, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn is right to say—other hon. Members made this point, too—that costs should fall as scale grows. It is right that we see the support that we give this industry at its beginning as rather different from how it will compete subsequently. That is true across the energy marketplace, by the way. We need to move to a more market-responsive, more competitive energy marketplace, including in the area of renewables.

It is also right, as a number of hon. Members suggested, that community benefit needs to be at the heart of what we do. These things must not be imposed on communities, which must feel a sense of ownership and influence over where they are located. Community benefits need to be considered very seriously. I was delighted that Chris Ruane was able to secure such a benefit for his community. He was right to do so. We have a role to play in that as local constituency MPs. As a Government, we will also do what we can, as I have in the call for evidence on onshore wind. That obliges us to reconsider the benefits that communities attain from that kind of development.

Let me say a few words about onshore wind, because my hon. Friend Glyn Davies and Susan Elan Jones raised that issue. I entirely agree that we must see it as being about aesthetics as well as utility. I regard it as almost extraordinary that people can stare at some monstrous concrete structure and tell me that it is beautiful. These are industrial structures. Placing them insensitively, in areas where there is large-scale and understandable opposition to them, has done immense damage to the debate about renewables. I think that we need to settle the onshore wind argument to get on the front foot and have a more positive debate about renewables—of the kind that we have had today. I think that we need a new paradigm in those terms. E. F. Schumacher, who wrote “Small is Beautiful”, a wonderful book, which I am sure you are familiar with, Sir Alan—

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

If the hon. Gentleman is going to talk about Schumacher, fine.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I did ask the question initially about port development. Will he work with the Welsh Assembly Government and the port authority of Holyhead to maximise the potential of that port? Will he, as a Minister, come and see it—see the potential for himself?

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister call in at Rhyl on his way up there?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

For a sumptuous Welsh lunch, which the hon. Gentleman will no doubt provide? Of course.

Schumacher said:

“Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.”

I associate myself with those remarks. We need to understand the impact of industrial structures in rural communities, and to that end we need a different settlement on community ownership, community engagement and community benefit. However, let me be clear. The Government are firmly committed to the development of UK offshore wind resources. We understand their significance and value. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn has done us all a service in allowing this Chamber to consider that value and that significance in this short debate.