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Wind Farms

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

4. What recent assessment he has made of the cost-effectiveness of (a) onshore and (b) offshore wind farms in electricity generation. (270301)

Our onshore and offshore wind farms are cost-effective, large-scale renewable energy generators and they are supported through the renewables obligation. The Chancellor announced yesterday that we are looking to increase the renewables obligation certificate support for offshore wind.

I am grateful to the Minister, particularly for the last part of his response. There is a great deal of concern in my constituency about an onshore wind farm. Although offshore wind farms are to be welcomed, would the Government consider the possibility of a presumption that onshore wind farms should not be developed unless the local community wants them?

I cannot comment on Nun Wood farm in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency; obviously, that is part of the planning process. If we are serious about dealing with the creation of a low-carbon economy, we must have both onshore and offshore wind generation; we cannot do it with offshore alone. Therefore, onshore wind is a key component of making the changes that we need to make in the generation of energy to create a low-carbon economy. Obviously, each planning application will have to be considered on its merits in the appropriate way. We want to ensure the focus to get the investment so that wind provides the renewables generation that this country needs.

If we are to take full advantage of both offshore and onshore wind, we need to ensure that the energy can reach the consumer. What steps are the Government taking to improve access to the grid for offshore and onshore wind and, in particular, what is the Government’s view of the proposals for a European super-grid?

The transmission access review has been looking at how we get access to the grid, because that is key to ensuring that we build up the capacity of wind generation, not only onshore but offshore. In the coming weeks, we hope to get agreement on about 1 GW of access, so we are in the process of working through with National Grid and Ofgem the need to ensure that the demands of the energy revolution—the low-carbon energy generation that we need to create—are met in access and transmission.

I fully support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone): there is huge opposition to onshore wind farms. What is the subsidy for every wind turbine erected in this country? Is it not true that there is a shortage of such turbines and that we have to import them, which is certainly not helpful to the country’s manufacturing base?

The hon. Gentleman is right: we do have to import most of our wind turbines. Although until recently wind turbines were made in the United Kingdom, they were exported to the United States. We are talking to a number of manufacturers with the intention of returning those jobs to the United Kingdom in due course, because that is important to us in the long term.

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that while the Leader of the Opposition says that he is in favour of creating a low-carbon economy, Conservative Members of Parliament are going around the country constantly running down the whole issue of the need to ensure that we have a level of onshore wind generation. We cannot build that low-carbon economy without onshore wind.

Appropriate levels of support are provided, although the precise level of subsidy varies according to the value of the renewables obligation certificates.

Surely it makes sense to put wind farms onshore in the windiest places, but according to the London Metropolitan business school, in 2007 the mean load factor of the 81 wind farms in England was just 23 per cent. In other words, they were working for less than a quarter of the time. How can that be an efficient use of resources?

The normal working level is about a third of the time. Intermittency has always been an issue in the build-up of the renewables economy, and, as the hon. Gentleman says, it must be addressed. We can reduce the intermittency problem by ensuring that, once it is switched on, nuclear generation has a reliable base load, and also by building renewables, including wind. We need to deal with both intermittency and the variability of demand and supply. In the case of gas and coal, that can be done through carbon capture and storage.

Broadly speaking, we need to create the right level of generation, but it is also important for us to deal with intermittency. The decision to locate wind farms in areas where they will generate must be made by the companies that fund them.