Skip to main content

Wind Energy

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 18 January 2007

The renewables obligation encourages renewable generation and its associated industry. It is supported by about £500 million of spending between 2002 and 2008 in the form of research and development, and capital grants on emerging low-carbon and renewable technologies, including wind energy.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Yesterday, the East of England Development Agency approved funding for a £9 million offshore renewable business centre in Lowestoft, which will accommodate a cluster of wind energy industries and create new jobs. It is the catalyst that will make Lowestoft the offshore wind energy capital of the UK, as the town is ideally situated in the middle of the East Anglian coastal areas that the Department has designated as suitable for most of the country’s offshore wind energy development. Will he join me in congratulating the EEDA board, and come to Lowestoft to dig the first sod?

The investment is very welcome. I am glad that the East of England Development Agency was able to make that money available, and I look forward to visiting Lowestoft. I know that my hon. Friend played a significant part in getting that decision, and I hope we can build on it. There has been a great deal of offshore development recently. Just before Christmas I announced the go-ahead for the Government’s interest in a very large wind farm, the London Array project. It is a pity that that has been blocked by a Conservative council.

I support the comments of the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard). In theory, we are all in favour of green energy—some more than others. In practice, nobody wants a wind farm with concrete pillars as tall as Lincoln cathedral next door to them. We have all encountered that in our constituencies. Will the Secretary of State use this opportunity to give a forthright commitment on behalf of his Government that we will shift the whole subsidy, the whole ethos and the whole burden on to offshore from onshore? That would be a welcome statement.

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the problem. We need to increase the amount of wind energy because that will make a major contribution to cutting the amount of carbon emissions going into the atmosphere. He is right that, in principle, we will get agreement—for example, in the House—that we ought to be building more wind farms, and that there ought to be more offshore wind farms. I tell the hon. Gentleman, in the most non-partisan way possible, that the problem is that up and down the country Conservative, Liberal and nationalist councils are blocking applications for onshore and offshore projects. If we are serious about getting more wind energy, we must realise that at some point we need to build more wind farms, or we will not meet the objectives that we have all set ourselves. It is all very well talking green, but we must also will the means of being green.

My right hon. Friend knows that much microgeneration is focused on wind power, and we are told that the network can deal with distributed electricity, provided it knows how much will be coming on in the future. Does my right hon. Gentleman intend to provide incentives for more microgeneration, and if so, will he share his views with the House?

Last year, when we published the energy review, we said that that area had been neglected in the past and that we could do a lot more for distributed generation, as it is known, whereby people generate electricity for their own use and sell back to the grid any that they do not need. There are technical difficulties, for obvious reasons, and I have always said that there are some limitations. We could not, for example, end up being substantially dependent on the actions of millions of individuals in order to get enough electricity to heat and light our houses and factories. However, small scale generation of electricity is extremely important. We want to encourage it and I hope to have more to say when I publish the White Paper in March.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the amount of wind energy capacity that is tied up in planning is equivalent to 5 per cent. of our national electricity supply? Does he accept that even when planning permission is granted, new capacity is delayed for up to 10 years by the rules on connection to the national grid, which require connections to be made in the order in which they were applied for, regardless of whether or not they have planning permission? In the case of Drummuir in Scotland, its planning consent will have lapsed well before its connectivity date of 2015, so it may never even be built. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that these issues are addressed in the White Paper when that comes out in March, and will he consider making it a primary responsibility of Ofgem to encourage renewable sources of energy so that the anomalies can be removed and green energy supply can reach its maximum potential?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are two obstacles to wind energy. One relates to access to the grid. As we stated in the energy review that we published last year, we need to look into that. We are working with Ofgem to try and sort out the problem. It is nonsense that in dealing with applications, Ofgem has to treat a real prospect behind an application that might be speculative, simply because the speculative one came first. That needs to be addressed.

The second obstacle concerns planning. There is undoubtedly a problem in relation to a number of energy projects, especially in relation to wind energy—not just the farms, but the transmission. In Scotland, transmission lines between the area north of Inverness and the central belt have been blocked. Councils are blocking such applications throughout the country. We need to consider how we can change those procedures. I have always said that our planning system is completely out of date in this regard. We need to streamline the planning process, especially in relation to major projects, and I wait to see whether we will get cross-party support on doing that. The hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) said that it is all very well to go around the world saying that we are in favour of green energy, but here at home we have councils—the majority of which, I am sorry to say, are Conservative—whose actions mean that we will not get the green energy that we all say that we want.