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Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill

Volume 492: debated on Friday 8 May 2009

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

First, I would like to offer my thanks to the cross-party group of right hon. and hon. Members who originally sponsored the Bill, and to colleagues who have taken the trouble to be here today. I know only too well that being here on a Friday is not always desperately convenient for hon. Members. I would like to thank the many companies and business groups that supported and promoted the measures, including the National Farmers Union and the Micropower Council. I should like to thank the Public Bill Office, which contributed its secret ministry, and the redoubtable Mr. Ron Bailey, who has performed his usual wonders.

I should like to thank the House of Commons Library, which produced a very useful note on the Bill, but I have to say that it contains a glaring error. It says that the measures apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, whereas clause 7(2) makes it clear that they apply only to England, so anyone who was nervous about that can relax. I should also like to thank the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. and learned Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), and his colleagues—and not only those in his Department but others, too—for working hard to progress the debate on this green energy Bill. There is at last cross-party agreement—something that I have long sought—on the need for Government action to put in place measures to liberate the pent-up ingenuity, creativity and capital of businesses and markets, and the public’s pent-up enthusiasm to engage with delivering real power to the people by decentralising the way in which we create and use energy in this country.

Time is the most precious commodity on a Friday, and private Members’ Bills are fragile vessels in the face of time. I therefore intend to keep my remarks relatively brief, and I implore others to do likewise, despite any temptation to the contrary. Besides, there are other Bills on the Order Paper that certainly merit debate and discussion, so I will resist the obvious temptation to use this opportunity to repeat at length my warnings about the dangers of climate change, and my comments about the opportunities created by the need to come to terms with climate change, and the threat and challenge that confronts this generation globally. This generation will have to deal with the problem of climate change; if we fail, our children and grandchildren will be not only amazed but appalled, and rightly unforgiving. However, may I just mention a new initiative, the Prince’s Rainforests Project launched by the Prince of Wales, which is enormously welcome? I urge everybody who has access to a computer to go on to its website, and to click on the relevant buttons to demonstrate support for that very fine project.

The opportunities before us are enormous. Rebuilding the economy as if the earth mattered is an enormous task, but it brings together an array of interlocking benefits—not just sustainable economic growth and safe green jobs, but enhanced global and national security, improved social justice at home and abroad, and a more thriving and robust natural environment. I think that the whole House will agree that bringing those things together is a worthy task, but it will require vision and courage, relentless attention and, above all, hope. In that mighty context, this little private Member’s Bill may seem a trifling affair. It is indeed a modest Bill—modesty befits private Members’ Bills—but I believe that if it succeeds, it will play its part in helping the clean energy sector to grow, and helping all of us citizens to find it easier to play our part in the green revolution.

Let us take a quick look at what the Bill contains. Clause 1 defines the various terms used. Many of them originate in existing Acts, and these definitions have been adopted, where appropriate. Clause 2 defines the term “green energy” and specifies that the principal purpose of the Bill is to promote it. It includes energy efficiency because the energy that we do not use is the greenest energy of all. Green energy is defined as

“energy generated from renewable or small-scale low-carbon local sources”.

An important point about this definition is that it includes efficient small-scale district heating systems and micro combined heat and power systems.

I welcome the Bill, especially its mention of heat pumps, which are a potential major contributor to energy efficiency, but it does not specifically mention solar thermal installations—heating water in houses from solar power, which is already worth while to install. Does the hon. Gentleman’s definition include that, or would it be a worthwhile change to the Bill in Committee?

The Bill includes those technologies by reference to a previous Act—the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 introduced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). They are not mentioned specifically.

I hope the whole House will recognise the importance of cutting household and business fuel bills, especially at a time of recession. Clause 2 promotes the cause of alleviating fuel poverty. Work carried out by National Energy Action has shown that installing air source heat pumps in homes off the gas main can cut heating bills by 75 per cent. and CO2 emissions by 66 per cent., so green energy can also help end fuel poverty.

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the things that we have so far failed to get over, not least to the Government, is that the purpose of many of these technologies is not just to meet the overwhelming pressure of climate change, but to help people in the downturn, and particularly to help the poorest? This is a win-win-win situation and one which, sadly, the Treasury seems not to have understood.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has an immensely distinguished record in this matter. He is right. The Bill is not just about being green—being good for the environment and the natural world. It is about being good for human beings, especially the least well off, who stand to gain most from such measures.

Clause 3 calls for the Government’s current microgeneration strategy to be reviewed. The present strategy was drawn up following the Energy Act 2004. It has worked quite well, but there is general agreement that it needs to be updated. The Government accepted that last year and are, I hope, already working on a new strategy. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on that subject later in the debate. As industry sources have said,

“If we updated the microgeneration strategy, this would focus collective action, lead to investment and help create a whole new generation of jobs in retrofitting energy efficiency and microgeneration.”

I hope the Minister will also clarify the Government’s position on implementing the new feed-in tariff system for small-scale electricity generation, which offers clear rewards to people who go green. As the experience of Germany has demonstrated, this reform alone has the capacity to engage the public’s imagination, attract major investment and create tens of thousands of jobs.

Clause 4 requires the Government to review permitted development orders, with the purpose of removing unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles, which currently impede the installation of green energy measures in non-residential and agricultural premises. An example of the problem that the clause is intended to address is that it is currently possible for a head teacher to install a small wind turbine on his home, generally without having to get planning permission, but impossible for him to do it at his school, which is rather silly and an anomaly that the clause seeks to put right.

The inclusion of agricultural premises is, I hope, significant for the farming industry. The opportunity for farmers in this context is immense. A report from the Carbon Trust last year suggested that the rural potential of small-scale wind power is more than four times that of the potential in urban areas. But if we can harness the potential of anaerobic digestion on farms, linking biogas up to the gas grid, the consequences could be hugely beneficial as a result of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from farming and creating sustainable energy from waste.

However, I fully accept that we cannot allow a free for all. There must be safeguards against proposals that threaten to create noise nuisance or visual blight. It may well be that any review will need to consider a range of planning options to promote microgeneration projects on agricultural and non-domestic premises. The important thing is that such projects are generally promoted and not impeded by Government policy.

Clause 5 relates to permitted development rights in domestic premises. Considerable progress has been made on this issue by the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006. I had the pleasure of supporting that Bill during its progress. The Act removed much of the hassle involved in installing solar thermal or photovoltaic technologies in domestic premises, but it did not extend to micro wind installations or air source heat pumps. The Government have said that they want to put that right, and the Bill aims to do just that.

Planning obstacles, whether valid or not, have proved a major barrier to small-scale wind technology in particular. I have heard of one company that has 25,000 applications snarled up in the planning process. But again, I am not advocating a complete free for all.

The schedule sets out criteria that I recommend to the Government when considering these issues. In particular, it contains safeguards relating to noise, visual intrusion and buildings protected for heritage reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it requires microgeneration installations to comply with a certification scheme. This should deal with the problem that has arisen with wind turbines, for example, which have been installed with worthy intentions in places where they are largely ineffective because there is not enough wind.

Clause 6 is intended to encourage the Government to consider the anomaly whereby businesses and home owners who improve their property by installing green energy units may be penalised later by higher non-domestic rates or council tax valuations. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on whether he believes there is a contradiction in relevant Government policy.

Finally, this is, as I said, a modest Bill, but I hope it is a helpful one. It brings its own array of interlocking benefits. It is meant to be helpful to industry and investors, who are urgently looking for clear and simple support from legislation affecting their businesses. It is meant to be helpful to the farming industry in developing its potential as a significant source of energy generation in rural areas. It is intended to be helpful to people living in fuel poverty, and to all who are struggling to pay for electricity and heating, and who are dependent on inefficient fossil fuels; helpful to all who want to play their part in reducing CO2 emissions; and helpful to the Government in meeting their own targets on fuel poverty, renewable energy and climate change. I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) on his foresight and imagination, on securing the place that he received in the ballot and the Bill that he decided to put before the House, and on the understanding that he exhibits of where we are now in terms of microgeneration, where we need to be, what the impediments to microgeneration development are, and how we can move forward. He says that this is a modest Bill, but I do not agree. It may be modest in its extent and language, but it will have a substantial effect on the progress of microgeneration, its installation and its development, should it be enacted in the way that he has set out, as I am confident that it will.

I say that because, as the hon. Gentleman knows and has underlined, microgeneration appears to be modest in its ambition with regard to the individual installations that provide the electricity and heat, and modest apparently in terms of the amount of electricity or heat that is produced by each microgeneration device, but the overall effect that the widespread installation of such devices will have on our heat and electricity supply is potentially very far from modest. As he underlines, these devices do not simply assist in providing greener energy, but they cut people’s fuel bills, which can be a hedge against the continuing issue of fuel poverty in domestic dwellings, and they can make a tremendous contribution towards the development of sustainable energy sources.

I support what the hon. Gentleman says about reducing fuel poverty and saving energy as a consequence, and I am a strong supporter of the Bill, but will he acknowledge that these private Members’ Bills often achieve these objectives in legislation, but they are not implemented by the Government? May I draw his attention to the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004, which the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) supported and I proposed, which still awaits implementation? So many opportunities are lost even when Bills get through on a Friday.

The hon. Gentleman curiously seems to have read my mind, or even part of my speech. Sometimes private Members’ Bills, rather like planning permission for microgeneration, appear to run into some difficulties in practice once they reach the statute book. That is true of not only his Bill, but the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), which contained clauses that I regret to say arose from an unsuccessful private Member’s Bill that I recently tried to put through the House, the magnificently titled Management of Energy in Buildings Bill, which, among other things, attempted to secure a wider range of permitted development orders for microgeneration devices. One of the issues in today’s Bill is general permitted development orders relating to micro wind and heat pumps, which I would have anticipated might have been sorted out by now. The general permitted development order regime was extended under that Act to other small-scale renewable energy devices, but not to those particular categories, for a number of complex reasons that I will not detain the House with today. Nevertheless, progress that I thought might have been made under that Act has not come to pass, so I am delighted this morning to see that, among other things, this Bill contains a clear statement of where we should go on such orders, the time scale of that, and how matters should progress. That is an important part of the Bill.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in what has not been an easy week for the Government, one way in which they could get some good publicity would be if the Minister today not only promised to implement that part of the Bill that it is the Government’s duty to implement, but all those bits that still hang around in other Bills, so that we all felt that our work in producing these private Members’ Bills would bear fruit? Such a commitment today would cost the Minister nothing and would be valuable to the Government and to the Opposition.

I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment to renewable energy in general in the range of recent new instruments to incentivise renewable energy and small-scale renewable energy output, and the commitments that have been made and are being made to the development of renewable and sustainable heat and the role of energy efficiency in the development of a sustainable renewable energy strategy. A number of the issues that have arisen from private Members’ Bills are being addressed by such commitments. It is unlikely that the Minister will give a blanket undertaking this morning that every clause of every private Member’s Bill relating to heat, energy and renewable electricity will be implemented tomorrow, but it is fair to say, without any hint of partisan discussion on the issue, that there is a sea change in ensuring that the impediments to the development of renewable and small-scale sustainable energy, which have existed over a period of time and which hon. Members have through, private Members’ Bills, among other measures, sought to overcome, are by means of such devices and commitments being substantially addressed.

However, it is true that substantial impediments remain, which come in a number of shapes and sizes. We have the impediment of the fact that renewable energy devices are, unlike traditional forms of energy delivery, up front capital intensive. Substantial capital is required to install them and thereafter the revenue consequences are slight. Once installed, the earning capacity of such devices, is significant, and the introduction of the feed-in tariff and the renewable heat incentive, will, I hope—I remain optimistic on this matter—ensure that the certainty for the capital investment that is required in those devices can be enhanced. Nevertheless, it is still true that to suggest to a small business or a household that they put up front between £4,000 and £12,000 to install such a device on the understanding that, eventually, there will be a payback, when they have been used to paying a quarterly electricity or gas bill for their heating supply, represents a considerable turnaround in how people view their arrangements with their energy suppliers. That impediment might be overcome by the introduction of leasing arrangements for microgeneration devices, so that the capital cost can be avoided and the cost of the running those devices can be rolled up in the revenue stream that is generated as those devices are used over time.

A second impediment relates to the connection of such devices to the grid and, in particular, to the distribution network. Indeed, it would be rather a good idea if Ofgem and the grid operators had a good look at the extent to which the theoretical backwash of energy that should enter the grid from, in particular, renewable electricity devices, in practice never gets near the transmission network but simply goes around the distribution network. If we end up with billing arrangements under which small-scale energy generation, as part of the energy mix, is rolled up with the total cost of transmission and distribution, a significant impediment to microgeneration development will remain.

In the past, such impediments were considered fairly insignificant, because, then, it was thought that microgeneration would have a fairly insignificant role to play in the future. However, given the renewable energy strategy that is developing, and the ambition for microgeneration and small-scale generation to become a part of overall renewable energy generation targets, it is far from small-scale in practice. If we also consider the indicative proposals in the renewable energy strategy for reaching the 15 per cent. target for renewable energy—not for renewable electricity—as part of the energy mix by 2020, we see that out of that 15 per cent., it is proposed that no less than 9 per cent., which, according to my maths is about 1 per cent. of the total energy supply, should be supplied by solar heat.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) mentioned the importance of solar heat and solar thermal technology, and in the renewables strategy solar heat plays a substantial role. When we break that down, it means a large number of small installations on the roofs of houses and small-scale commercial properties, and in agricultural areas and so on—all of which individually make a small contribution but collectively add up to the proposed large contribution to the strategy. That would probably mean several hundred thousand installations on the basis that, currently, we install a few thousand per year throughout the country. That represents a quantum change in the rate of such installations, and in their distribution throughout different sectors of domestic energy, small business and agricultural environments.

The clauses in the Bill that seek to remove the third impediment to such installations, the planning arrangements, are therefore potentially very important and valuable. Those impediments have largely been removed in terms of solar thermal technology, but, for other important technologies such as micro wind and, particularly, air source heat pumps, which I believe will also make a substantial contribution to the 15 per cent. energy target by 2020, the impediments remain.

Heat pumps, incidentally, are scheduled and projected to provide some 4 per cent. of the 15 per cent. energy target. Again, my maths partially elude me, but that represents about 0.5 per cent. of the total future renewable energy supply, and it would also be based on a large number of small installations that, collectively, would make up the total. Therefore, the idea that they should fall within the general permitted development order is, as far as domestic properties are concerned, very important, but the Bill goes much further by clarifying the environment, as far as such planning is concerned, in the commercial and agricultural sectors.

On occasions, we have talked about microgeneration as if it were all about putting a small turbine, a small solar thermal device or a solar panel or two on our roofs. However, some of the biggest gains in the not-too-distant future will relate to small and medium-sized enterprises enhancing the insulation of their properties and putting money-earning renewable energy devices on their roofs, around their premises or within the curtilage of their agricultural land to enhance their businesses and secure their energy supplies.

There is an impediment, however, because most small business rent their premises, so there is no enormous incentive either for them or for the landlords of such properties to equip themselves with such devices. The Bill offers some succour, however, in the clauses relating to council tax payments. In Committee, I hope that the business rates for small-scale commercial premises will be considered, because they represent an important means of removing a number of disincentives to the installation of renewable devices.

Overall, the ambition that we now properly have on microgeneration and small-scale generation is real and attainable—attainable, provided that we diagnose the future impediments to the imposition of such energy production devices and systematically ensure that those impediments are ameliorated or eliminated from the system. The Energy Saving Trust recently projected that, by 2050, 30 to 40 per cent. of our overall energy supplies could arise from distributed, small-scale renewable energy at local, district, housing and small-scale commercial property levels.

My concern is that that ambition, which could play such a key role in the provision of our future energy supplies, could be tripped up by impediments that we can easily remove. The Bill goes a long way towards removing a number of those impediments, and I commend it for that. If, in a few years’ time, we get the level of renewable energy generation in our communities and homes which is not only desirable but essential as far as our energy mix is concerned, we will be able to look back and say that this Bill played a part in making the change. For that, we should thank the hon. Member for East Surrey.

It is a great pleasure to speak from the Front Bench in support of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). He is not only my former boss, but my enduring mentor and inspiration. Since my arrival in Parliament in 2001, he has been an extraordinary influence on the whole debate about not only microgeneration, but climate change and the broader importance of the environment. He has worked as Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee and, as shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he pulled the Conservative party on to a new agenda. That will be seen as a historic turning point not only in the fortunes of the Conservative party but in the general debate about such issues in the United Kingdom. His gravitas has meant that he has been able to muster an impressive consensus across the Chamber, and not just today; during the preparation of the Bill, he has tapped parts of the political establishment that others would struggle to reach. I congratulate him on this excellent Bill.

I will not speak for as long as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), but then I do not have his technical expertise. He is an expert on these issues and I hope that the Minister listened carefully to all his comments because he made sound points, particularly about the detail of the Bill.

If I had to encapsulate what the Bill is about, I would say that its message is that the microgeneration agenda has come of age. That agenda has been pulled from the fringes of politics and the energy debate into the mainstream. That is not only because of climate change, but because of how technology is advancing and how the consumer’s interest is now about becoming more involved, rather than just being a passive recipient of energy. The rising cost of old fossil fuels means that people are becoming more energy-efficient and want to play a more active role in energy production.

The Bill is incredibly timely. It says to the Government that, for a long time, other voices—from the Conservative party and their own Benches—have been calling for a far more radical and ambitious approach to microgeneration. Now it appears that the Government are joining that consensus, and that is very welcome. In particular, they have accepted the need for feed-in tariffs to change the economics of microgeneration and create the incentives to push the issues forward. However, it is not enough for the Government to accept the agenda—they have to grab it and get on with it.

The Bill builds on the success of the Planning and Energy Bill, which was brought to the House last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), and on previous work in the Government’s Energy Bill and the microgeneration strategy. This Bill says that we should try to make real progress now, before it is too late—before people become cynical and start thinking that this is all just another exercise in tilting the status quo with further incremental changes to existing patterns of energy use.

The Bill might be modest, but as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said, it contains important measures that, we hope, could have a disproportionate impact on energy users, energy consumption and opportunities for consumers. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey said, it is not just a technical measure; we must not lose sight of the opportunities that it will present for consumers and businesses. There are huge opportunities for the microgeneration sector to become a much larger employer and an engine of growth in the energy sector. It can create new, long-lasting, satisfying jobs through which people can build careers and support families—the sort of jobs of which we want to see more in the 21st century. We do not just want to see the UK as an attractive place to deploy microgeneration equipment and technology. We want it to be an economy in which it makes sense to build such equipment and commercialise the research and development. If the Government are responsive, the Bill will go a long way towards making that happen. I hope that the Minister will rise to the opportunity that the Bill gives him and his Government to get with the programme and join the consensus in the Commons.

The hon. Gentleman is rightly enthusiastic about microgeneration and the opportunity that it offers for future UK energy policy. Will he tell us what the Conservative party commitment is on what our renewables targets should be by 2020, in relation to the generation of electricity and energy as a whole? I have looked for the answer, but have not found it. If his party were in government, what would be its target? That is the context in which the Bill would play a significant part.

The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. We do not yet have a specific target on microgeneration per se. However, we do know that it ought to play a much larger role, although there are a lot of barriers to get out of the way. Broadening the scope of what we mean by microgeneration is another important point of detail. The technical threshold for microgeneration is set far too low; a lot of the technologies included in the definitions in the Bill are applicable at a much larger scale. As the technology, the enthusiasm and the grid evolve, a lot of these things will be better or more efficiently deployed at community or larger-business level than at householder level.

A lot of the debate is exciting for people at home. The issues have resonance with voters because they can see the potential to deploy something in their homes, whether wind turbines, solar panels on their roofs or ground source heat pumps. However, many of the technologies, particularly combined heat and power, are tricky to install at the level of the individual home. I know that because I am trying to install a combined heat and power boiler at my home and it is still not there despite the supplier’s promises from last year. It is still not quite ready and the technology is certainly not ready for mass roll-out.

A lot of the technologies are small, certainly compared with the large-scale generation of the utility companies, but perhaps they are just beyond the size appropriate to go into an individual home or beyond the means of an individual home owner to deploy. We need to do more work. We will look carefully at the issues and I hope that we will be able to support the Government’s microgeneration strategy; if we form the next Government, we will certainly seek to build on it. The detail is key, and the updating of the Government’s microgeneration strategy is vital. The message going over the top must be that we want to push the issue forward now. We do not want yet more iterative consultations or yet another review. We want to grip the agenda and produce something for people to work with and to enable people to start installing microgeneration technology in their homes this year. That is what we are talking about.

Feed-in tariffs help, as does removing unnecessary planning obstacles. Removing the possible disincentive on council tax would help significantly. Council tax plays a disproportionately important role in people’s judgments, as they go to huge lengths to avoid paying what is undoubtedly the most unpopular tax of all. If there is concern, well founded or not, that people will be pushed into another bracket of council tax as a result of improving their property by installing these technologies, that will probably cancel out whatever feed-in tariffs or planning law changes are put in place. Clause 6 is important to assure consumers that improving the energy generation capacity of their home they will not push them into a new bracket.

Conservative Members strongly support this Bill. A greater microgen deployment is crucial. We support the Government’s target on microgeneration, but we will be looking to see whether there is scope not only to match them but beat them by going further. However, there is no point in talking about higher targets and more ambitious goals if the mechanisms are not in place to deliver and there are no proper incentives to help people to deploy these technologies.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, I will not rehearse the arguments about the imperatives for action in the face of climate change. I think that everybody here today shares that view, because I see huge expertise and wisdom around me on both sides of the Chamber. I look forward to listening to the rest of the debate, which I hope will be short so that we can get on with getting this important measure on to the statute book.

The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) generously thanked a whole list of people for their help in preparing the Bill and supporting its presentation before the House, but the one person he failed to mention was himself. It is important that there is, across the House, a recognition of the role that he has played not only in bringing this Bill before us but in keeping climate change and the shift into renewable and sustainable energy systems on the political agenda, especially when many Members in all parts of the House were uninterested in it for long periods of the past 10 or 20 years. It is right that we recognise not only the specific credit to which he is entitled in relation to this Bill but the longer-term, bigger-picture credits that are to be associated with him.

The hon. Gentleman was also unduly modest in identifying the merits of the Bill. It has a role in tying together a whole series of measures that have been introduced by this Government, particularly driven by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Minister of State, all of which are to be welcomed. I suspect that the Bill may have greater significance than the hon. Gentleman claimed because, if we look at what is happening at a global level, what concerns me most is that all the recent figures about global carbon emissions show that they are rising at a faster rate than the worst-case scenarios offered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—at about 3.3 per cent. annually. The danger is that that takes us into some of the most worrying prospects of the climate change agenda, driven by feedback mechanisms in the planet that will be beyond the control of any, or even all, global Governments. That is the nightmare scenario that many of us fear. Exactly where that may take us can probably best be seen by making a brief visit to the cinema to see Peter Postlethwaite’s film, “The Age of Stupid”, which is the starkest of warnings as to where the planet could end up if we fail to act dynamically in the decade ahead of us.

That is where microgeneration—decentralised energy—will have a much more prominent part to play than some of the other aspects that have, perhaps understandably, commanded centre stage in debates in this House. The reality is that whether or not carbon capture and storage works, it is unlikely to be a significant factor in reductions in carbon emissions before 2020. For those who believe in nuclear power as a solution, that too is unlikely to be delivering new energy until the post-2020 era. However, all the dynamic changes that are required will have to be delivered pre-2020.

The most accessible area for us to make real progress is in the field of decentralised energy that is generated, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, at a local, community, town and city level. The scope for that is vast. I have been looking at some of the current projections about where and how microgeneration can deliver on this agenda. In truth, as well as being fearful of the consequences of a lack of action on climate change, I am equally excited by the scope that we have for dramatically changing the pattern not only of our energy security picture but of our economic prospects.

A couple of weeks ago, a company called Delta Energy and Environment produced a report that said that, if the UK took seriously the shift into renewable energy by 2020, the economic consequence would be to give us a £12.6 billion surplus in our energy accounts as opposed to what could be monumental deficits if we do not invest in our own renewables but become increasingly dependent on the supply of energy from external sources. We could achieve that surplus if we invest with confidence in our ability to meet our own renewable energy needs. In practical terms, that translates not only into energy security at a local level but job security and job prospects for the generations of young people who are coming through and would love to be part of the solution to today’s and tomorrow’s problems rather than just part of the problem.

I am pleased that we are seeing, as a Parliament, the possibility of an incremental upward adjustment of what we mean by microgeneration, as the Bill refers to a 10 MW capacity for microgeneration. That becomes phenomenally important when we start to evaluate the different sources of energy that are currently available to us.

Having come to this House on a wet and gloomy May morning in London, it is hard for us to grasp that the planet still receives from the sun 1,500 times more energy than its population can consume. However, that remains the case, and it is part of the solar renewables agenda that we have to connect to, even though other parts of the world may be able to do so more readily and abundantly. There are also the abundant supplies of renewable energy that come from the wind, from the tides and from beneath the earth.

The specific dimension that I want to focus on is the much neglected one of energy from our own UK waste, particularly in the form of biogas that can be recovered from the recycling of household waste in the form of anaerobic digestion. At the moment, we have a miserably poor record of making use of what is seen as a problem here but recognised as a resource elsewhere. The UK currently recycles about 50,000 tonnes a year of household decayable waste through anaerobic digestion, which is less than 0.4 per cent. of our household waste.

If we were to have a more ambitious approach to recycling waste and turning it into biogas by anaerobic digestion, we would have a huge opportunity to give ourselves access to renewable gas supplies and heat. The National Grid Company recently produced a study stating that if we were to take the matter seriously in the UK, by 2020 we could supply 50 per cent. of our domestic heating needs from the gas extracted from recycling our domestic waste. It stated that there were no technical difficulties about connection with the grid and that it was simply a matter of political will and how we incentivise that.

That is why I support and endorse the hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) expressed that we will try to synchronise the feed-in tariffs that will be introduced for electricity with those for gas and heat. It would be much better for the UK if we could introduce a single simple and coherent scheme, so that those doing the investing knew what were to be the relative costs, risks and merits of the three elements of renewables. It does not help if people are left trying to guess what they might be for two of the elements, with only electricity being introduced with certainty. I know that there are procedural difficulties in that, but I encourage the Minister to introduce a co-ordinated view of the shift to renewables.

I have been looking at what the shift to renewables will mean in the context of what is happening in another country, specifically Sweden. It estimates that, by the same date of 2020, it will be able to produce 10 TW of energy simply from the recycling of its domestic waste. It can add to that a further 60 TW from the recycling of other waste in the system, which will effectively cover the entirety of its carbon emissions from transport.

Sweden is seeking to focus on using biogas to change to a green gas transport system. Other countries are seeking to harness the gas that they produce and put it into the grid. For the fuel-poor in the UK, that would make a massive difference, because 80 per cent. of their energy costs come from heating their homes. If we were to understand that and accept the National Grid Company’s invitation, we would be able to offer something quite dramatic and astonishing to the 5.5 million households in the UK that are living in fuel poverty.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that at the same time as helping the fuel-poor and driving down costs, that would drive us away from our dependency on other countries for our gas supplies? With the political turbulence throughout Europe at the moment, we would not be so reliant on other countries turning the tap on or off.

That was not in any way meant as an insult; I just wished to question why we cannot occupy the space that the hon. Gentleman describes.

I brought across representatives of a couple of German biogas companies to talk to people in my constituency who were very keen on moving into biodigestion of domestic waste. One thing that staggered not the community but the local authority representatives was the response when the Germans were asked what the costs would be. They said that that would depend entirely on the period of the waste disposal contract. They said, “We will offer it to you in very simple terms. We will guarantee fixed prices for your gas for the whole period of the waste disposal contract, whether 10 years or 15 years, rising only by RPI.” The local authority representatives looked as though their brains were struggling to grasp that, and one of them said, “How can you do that in a world of spiralling gas prices in the international gas markets?” The German representative said, “Precisely because we are not dependent on the international gas markets. We are not captives of the spiralling prices. We will generate gas from your waste—as long as you keep supplying the waste, we will keep producing the gas. We make our money out of the gate fee.”

We could become consumers of green gas in precisely the way that we can currently become consumers of green electricity. The benefits of energy security and stable prices are therefore of dual importance, not just to the nation as a whole but specifically to those who have found spiralling energy costs plunging them back into fuel poverty.

I wholeheartedly endorse my hon. Friend’s sentiments about renewable gas. From his observations of municipal contracts, a number of which are coming up for long-term renewal over the next couple of years, does he agree that bringing forward a renewable heat incentive to underpin the renewal of those contracts could be very important in securing contracts for the anaerobic digestion and gas production that he suggests is necessary?

That is important, but it is also important that the House consider other possibilities that may arise in how we can approach the decentralisation of energy generation. One lesson that struck me in my work on examining arrangements in Germany was that, across continental Europe, there is a much stronger tradition of decentralising not only energy generation but ownership and accountability. In the UK, we have found ourselves consumed by all sorts of arguments about planning blight. There are local objections to the installation of wind turbines, and I expect that there would be similar objections to the development of biodigesters.

In Denmark, there is a far greater distribution of localised biodigestive plants, which feed back into either local communities or the gas grid. One reason why there is less controversy in other parts of Europe is that there is a far greater degree of local and popular ownership, and people are stakeholders in their own system. I discovered the importance of that in a community in Nottingham that I am working in, the Meadows. There was an application for a wind turbine, not exactly in the centre of Nottingham but on the banks of the River Trent as it sweeps around that inner-city, poor community. Wind surveys were done by the university and identified three possible sites, one inside the Meadows on the embankment and two across the river in wealthier parts of Nottingham.

We had to have inquiries and consultations and everyone anticipated that there would be massive objections. We got it completely wrong. At the very first meeting, a guy stood up and said, “Just let me understand this. This wind turbine, it’ll be generating electricity that will be coming into my house, and it’ll be coming off my bills. Is that right?” We said, “Well, sort of right. It will be shared between all of us, but technically that is true.” We said that we had to decide where it would be located. He said, “There’s no question about that; it’s got to be located here.” People murmured, “Why?” He turned to everyone else in the audience and said, “Listen, if this is a money spinner and we put it in areas outside our own, where the rich people live, that money’s never going to come here. If it’s going to work for us, we’ll have it here.” The murmuring became a rumble of enthusiasm and the planning application went through without a single objection from the community where the turbine was to be located. Why? Because it would own the turbine.

We need to learn from other parts of Europe that it is not only a matter of renewal of local contracts, but of building in local stakeholding. If people see themselves as the drivers of change, we will discover in the UK what we find throughout Europe: schools that hand over their roofs to solar arrays because that generates income for them; whole towns and cities where local authorities give over their municipal roofs to generating decentralised energy. All that provides a social, economic and ecological momentum, which is incredibly empowering. The Bill represents that for me.

For years, many other hon. Members and I have longed for the dynamism that the Minister and the Secretary of State have brought to the debate on green energy. Now we have it. The Bill allows us to dovetail many initiatives that are on the table and make them a coherent whole.

I remember a wonderful tale about how a village dealt with a problem. A child fell down a well and was shouting to be rescued. Various villagers lowered their ropes into the well to try to reach the child. The first rope was 20 ft short, the next was 15 ft short, the next was 10 ft and the last was, tantalisingly, only 5 ft away from the child. The villagers could not work out what to do, but a voice from the bottom of the well called out, “Tie your ropes together.”

The Bill invites us to tie the ropes—many of which the Government, the Minister and Secretary of State have provided—together to harness the enthusiasm and urgency of our times. I hope that Hansard records today that we have an hon. Member, a measure and cross-party momentum that had the sense to tie our ropes together.

The top of a music score often includes in brackets a composer’s instruction such as “With enthusiasm”, “With fury” and so on. I want to join in expressing enthusiasm for the Bill.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) for promoting the Bill and for his work on environmental and green issues over many years. He is not a late arrival on the scene. Colleagues from all parties pay tribute to him for his work: he has understood for many years, as some of us have tried to do, the importance of such issues. The measure is another manifestation of that understanding.

I have always been a great fan of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). He has been fantastic in his advocacy of green issues. In his core contribution, he made the central point that the Bill is about returning energy and environmental policies to people, individuals and communities, which is where they used to be. We sometimes forget that the great 19th century successes happened not because the Government in Westminster and Whitehall organised the energy industry, but because the villages, towns and cities had municipal initiatives. They were driven by the pride in Manchester, Nottingham, Guildford—if it was big enough then—and in my part of London, in the old boroughs of Bermondsey, Camberwell and Southwark. People wanted to do their own thing and they were proud that the water or electricity company they used was theirs. It meant that people were in it together.

Such a policy had two other benefits. First, it made everybody responsible—people had to think through the implications. Secondly, it educated everybody. People understood what farmers, environmentalists and many in the rural community understand: lights do not go on because one presses a switch; it is a process that depends on our planet and our harnessing energy wisely. The Bill will return us to understanding what we need to do to ensure that the planet is safe and to avert the risk which we all know exists. That is the context for the measure.

On a day when we all woke up to unhelpful news about politics and Parliament, we are discussing far more important issues than those that led this morning’s news. There is significant agreement between all the main parties about those issues, and I note that the list of private Members’ Bills on the Order Paper includes four that deal with the environment and energy. Apart from the measure that we are considering, there is the Land Use (Garden Protection etc) Bill, the Climate Change (Sectoral Targets) Bill and the Renewable Content Obligation Bill.

It is no accident that, when Back Benchers introduce Bills, they are often what could be described as “get on with it” measures. The science urges us to go further and faster than Governments have gone, and colleagues from all parties are saying, “Please get on with it.” I therefore hope that the Minister, whom we respect greatly and who is hugely committed to his work—I have worked with him in his many guises in many Departments over the years—will be positive and enthusiastic when he responds. Let us get on with it.

There are two coincidences today apart from that of the four measures on similar subjects. Today is the deadline for responses to the Government’s heat and energy-saving strategy consultation. For those who thought that they might respond, today is the day. I hope that the debate will be perceived partly as a response to the consultation, because the contributions relate specifically to what the Government asked people to respond to. The consultation document states:

“The consultation recognises that the upfront cost of energy efficiency in microgeneration measures is likely to be a barrier to greater uptake. The policy proposals outlined look to remove this barrier and get people to act now.”

There is a need to remove barriers, take away disincentives and give incentives. The Bill would do all that.

The other coincidence today is that Which? has produced a report about how confusing energy tariffs are. We all know that they are a nightmare for most people. Seven in 10 people find the number of gas and electricity tariffs available confusing. Conversely, if people have their own wind turbine, heat pump and so on, and supply energy for not only their home, school, industrial estate, village or town, but sell something to the system—thereby contributing—that is not confusing. People have no difficulty in understanding that. It is exactly what people want and need.

My colleagues and I support the Bill. My predecessor in the job, my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) sends his apologies; he cannot be here today. He is a sponsor of the measure, which is therefore supported by our Front Benchers and has been since its inception. I have a micro concern, about which I would like an amendment in Committee, but I shall outline that shortly.

Clause 2 states:

“The principal purpose of this Act is to promote green energy.”

It makes clear what constitutes green energy and that the Bill is about energy from renewables or small-scale low-carbon sources. It also includes energy efficiency provisions—another important part of the equation. The Bill says clearly that the Government should get on with the microgeneration strategy that was included in the Energy Act 2008—it was a bit late in the day, but we got there eventually—but which has not yet been implemented. In effect, the Bill says, “Please, Parliament decided that it wanted this to happen. Let’s move quickly now, rather than slowly.”

The Bill makes clear the sort of things that everybody can do. They are easy to understand, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, although sometimes they are a bit harder to deliver, because of the technology, the supply chain or whatever. The Bill is about increasing the number of microgeneration systems in existing buildings, having a fiscal regime that effectively promotes microgeneration, ensuring that feed-in tariffs work easily and are not difficult and ensuring an incentive for renewable heat. All those things produce the benefits that we all know about. They produce sustainable communities and enhance community cohesion, whether in big cities, such as Nottingham or London, or in small villages in Cornwall, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, where the constituency that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) represents is situated, Cheshire or wherever. Those things also create and sustain green jobs—indeed, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of jobs are involved; one needs only to look at Germany or other countries that have led the way—and they help to reduce the burdens that create energy poverty, which adds to the poverty that we know about.

The hon. Member for East Surrey made it clear that we have to do something about the planning barriers that get in the way. The Government have understood that we need to lift the burdens—not to allow abuse of the planning system, but to ensure that things that the farmer, smallholder or householder would naturally do do not involve having to jump through lots of planning hoops. That is important, whether we are talking about domestic premises or a farm, or whatever.

Also, the hon. Gentleman made it clear that people who do those things, thereby contributing to their good health and wealth, and to the health of the community and the planet, will not be financially disincentivised. He also made it clear that their doing those things will not add to their burdens, and that they will not end up paying a bigger council tax bill or whatever. We have to encourage people, not discourage them, and the tighter their budgets, the more important it is that we do not discourage them.

I have been listening with care to the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. I wonder whether he would care to comment on permitted developments on agricultural land of the sort that he has described. A farmer might decide to put a significant anaerobic digestion or other renewable plant on his land, but the local community might say, “That’s not the right place to put it. We don’t want it in that site. We wouldn’t object to it somewhere else, but not there.” Permitted development is, of course, permitted development. It would not enable local engagement to that extent. What role does the hon. Gentleman feel the community should be able to have in that situation?

That is a valid point. I was brought up in villages until I was 18, and controversial issues always arise when the big farmer puts in place a big new plant or whatever. As I understand it, the Bill calls for a review of the system, in order to prevent matters that need not be part of the planning process from having to go through it, so that more things will be allowed automatically. However, large developments that are controversial and intrusive would still have to go through the planning process, so I do not think that there is a disagreement between the Minister and me.

I absolutely believe that what the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said is true: when people understand the benefit to them personally and to their communities, the objections to the wind farm or whatever suddenly disappear almost completely. People say, “Look, it’s ours—it’s harnessing our environment and it’s part of our community.” Often such projects also have some beauty, character and style and they add something. I therefore hope that there is no disagreement between the Minister and me.

I shall be very brief with my other points, because I do not want to delay either this Bill or those that follow it. Let me make clear my one objection and ask the hon. Member for East Surrey to think about it in Committee. My one concern is about the definition of “green jobs”, which are described in clause 1 as

“jobs associated with producing or promoting green energy”.

I do not have a problem with that, in the sense that those jobs are clearly green jobs, but I want us to be clear that defining “green jobs” is not uncomplicated. I have here—the Minister may know what I am about to say—a parliamentary answer from his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to my question to the Secretary of State about what the Government’s definition of a green job is. It states:

“There is no single definition of a ‘green job’ because we do not believe that some jobs should be green and others not.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2009; Vol. 490, c. 707W.]

That is probably a wiser position. We sort of know what we understand by “green jobs”, but let us not limit it. In fact, the UN has a much better definition, which I can offer the hon. Member for East Surrey:

“Green jobs are defined as positions in agriculture, manufacturing, R and D, administrative, and service activities aimed at alleviating the myriad environmental threats faced by humanity.”

If we are going to have a definition, let us have a broad one, not a narrow one.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his interesting speech. I will certainly take a look at the issue, but the definition contained in the Bill is for the purposes of the Bill. It is not for wider purposes.

I completely understand. My concern is that we might end up with lots of different definitions of “green jobs” in different bits of legislation; such issues are the blight of legislation. We ought to try to use a common definition. I understand exactly the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I hope that there will be a way of reconciling it with mine.

I want quickly to check what role the Government think microgeneration and renewables should play, so that the Minister has an opportunity to put it on the record. According to the latest Government figures, 5 per cent. of electricity in the UK in 2007 was produced by renewables. I understand that the target is 10 per cent. by 2010, which is pretty soon, so the question is: what are we going to get to by 2010? Is 10 per cent. still the Government’s target? What do they believe we will achieve? The expectation or aspiration—they have said that it is not a target—is that 20 per cent. of electricity will be produced by renewables by 2020. I want to know whether that is still the Government’s position. They have also said that 15 per cent. of all energy, as opposed to just electricity, will be renewable by 2020.

There is a strong argument, which my colleagues and I believe, that if we are to meet the European Union target for the whole of our energy mix, we may need 35 per cent. of our electricity to come from renewables by 2020. Our party’s position is clear—my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge played a large part in formulating it—and we believe that that can be achieved. We believe, bluntly, that we ought to have much more ambitious targets. We believe that it is possible to have a target of 30 per cent. of electricity coming from renewables by 2020 and that 25 per cent. of energy could come from renewables. As a party we reject the nuclear option, which we do not think is necessary, so we do not include it.

I am keen for us to see the Bill as an opportunity to build a consensus on making a more ambitious contribution on renewables. I asked the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, who is not in his place now, what the Conservatives’ position was and he said that they had not finalised their view. That is fine, but they will need to do so before an election, so that everybody knows what they will be voting for if they vote for a Conservative candidate.

I have a second question for the Minister. With regard to whether we are going to achieve what the hon. Member for East Surrey wants us to achieve, I am troubled that the solar photovoltaic and low-carbon buildings programme should be ending this summer. The programme has been so over-subscribed that the Government are closing the doors and have not allowed anybody to put their name on the list since the end of February. I am concerned that that is not the right response to a Bill such as this. We need something that says that the Government understand the importance of giving in to the public demand, which the Bill reflects, for people to get on with things. When a school says, “We want solar PV,” and is told by the Government, “I’m sorry, you can’t have it anymore; the system is not available,” the practice does not reflect the Government’s view.

I will end with this point. I am proud that 80 per cent. of colleagues in my party have signed the early-day motion supporting the Bill. I hope that that stands as a testament to the commitment of our party. I hope that we can encourage many more colleagues in other parties to support the Bill as it makes its way through the House. I checked this morning on the early-day motion list and saw that 34 per cent. of Conservative colleagues and 23 per cent. of Labour colleagues support it. I hope that colleagues the Front Benchers will go away and tell their colleagues that the Bill deserves support. The time has come for this issue to be at the top of the agenda. I had the privilege of introducing a showing of “The Age of Stupid” at a cinema in London a few weeks ago. If anyone, inside or outside the House, is still not persuaded, that film is a must-see.

I hope that the Bill will be supported by Parliament, and that, by the end of this parliamentary Session, whatever the noises outside might be on other issues, we will have made significant progress on advancing the contribution of renewables and microgeneration and, in so doing, advancing the empowerment of individuals to run their own lives and deliver their own energy. In that way, in the foreseeable future, we could have an energy-independent Britain in an energy-independent Europe.

One of the curious things about my parliamentary career and that of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) is that people continually get us mixed up. Over the years, each of us has frequently received letters addressed to the other. So when I recently got a letter congratulating me on introducing the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill, I felt that I ought to come along here today to set the record straight by saying that it was nothing to do with me. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this extremely important Bill, which I thoroughly support and which will be of enormous benefit to many of my constituents.

My constituency is a rural area, much of which is off the gas networks. The future for microgeneration is therefore extremely important there. At the moment, most rural households rely on oil, liquefied petroleum gas and, of course, coal. In Northumberland, we still burn a great deal of coal. Curiously, at certain times of the winter in still weather, the pollution levels in some of the country villages approach levels that are not permitted under European or domestic air purity regulations. If those regulations were tightened further, some villages would fail the test. Moving away from burning fossil fuels to heat our homes is therefore extremely important.

We are making considerable progress in the north. We have a lot of timber, and wood energy is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, the new swimming pool that has recently opened in Hexham is heated exclusively by wood energy. However, the use of such energy is really available only to the larger institutions that can handle the storage and transportation of the wood. One or two other larger institutions in my constituency are introducing it, including a local hotel which makes a great issue of the fact that it is heated using sustainable wood products. This is part of the idea of promoting green tourism in Northumberland.

In agriculture, farmers are extremely interested in developing anaerobic digester systems. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) that an impediment to the success of this process is the linking of the digesters to the grid. In areas where there is no gas network, the digesters produce gas to work turbines that generate electricity. That is a sensible idea for farmers, but the cost of linking the system to the grid is a considerable disincentive. I have no specialist knowledge of this matter, but it seems to me that the amount that the electricity supply companies are charging for upgrading the grid or for connecting to an anaerobic digester are prohibitively high. Those costs need to be looked at more carefully.

I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) about ownership of individual turbines and other generators of decentralised energy. My constituency has been defined as an area suitable for large-scale wind turbine development, and there are now applications in place for 80 turbines in a relatively small area. As hon. Members can imagine, that has caused considerable annoyance and irritation to the locals, who believe that the landscape of Northumberland, which is one of our big selling points, will be damaged by the overdevelopment of the turbines. They will also get no benefit from them, apart from the small amount of money—the bawbees—that the companies give back, perhaps to renovate a village hall or something like that. There is no real payback for the community for having these things on their doorstep. Microgeneration involving turbines within a community would provide a direct benefit, however, and the whole idea would become very much more popular.

I do not want to detain the House, because I believe that the Bill should go through. It is an extremely worthwhile Bill and I thoroughly support it. What microgeneration needs is that gentle push to make it economic, and once it passes through that barrier, there will be an explosion of decentralised energy across the country, which will make a huge contribution to the cleaning up of our planet.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) for his historically long campaign for the green energy that this country so desperately needs, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who represents one of the most beautiful parts of the country. As a soldier, I dug many a hole in his constituency. I was told that this was to protect me—I think from the sergeant major, rather than from the elements. It is a beautiful part of the world, and I fully understand his constituents’ concerns about the number of wind turbines that might go up. My constituency is on the edge of the Chilterns, also one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and there is real concern there because the Chilterns generate wind. There is always a breeze coming through the valley, and people are very worried about the possible blight of the area.

I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson); it is not often that we say of Members across the Chamber that we are friends, but he and I are friends, and I am sad that he is leaving the House at the next election and not fighting his seat. He still has a lot of work to do, he is very young, and I do not really understand his decision, although I know that he has a commitment to his family. We have had this debate before, but he is an expert in this area—perhaps not an expert like the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who has a doctorate in this field, but an expert on the ground in his community, arguing the points that he referred to earlier. Perhaps, as we get closer to the election, he will think again—but he is a stubborn man, so perhaps he will not.

Unlike many hon. Members, I do not have a long history of talking about green issues. I have been converted, not least by the work of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, but also by having two teenage daughters. Young people understand this whole area much better than we do. They really understand that they are going to inherit this Earth that we live on, and they have real concerns. As I go around the schools in my constituency, whether in the more affluent areas or on the more deprived estates, I hear the young people saying time and again that the environment and the future of this world that we live in is the most important thing to them. I always imagine that they think about whether the nightclubs are going to be open late, or what the fashion of the day might be, but when I sit and talk to them, they ask me, “Why aren’t you doing something about this? Why aren’t you protecting the environment that we live in? What’s the delay?” They say that there seems to be consensus in politics in this country and around there world that a catastrophe is coming down the railway lines, and ask “Why aren’t Governments of any description doing something about it?” I am very proud of those on my Front Bench—I pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats as well—because we have all come together on this issue and we are now moving forward. I am one of the converts who needed to come on board to bring this through.

Some would argue that I have been a convert for a long time, because I am passionate about part of the environment—namely, the rivers and lakes of this country. That is because I am an angler. The fishermen of this country have protected more of the environment—certainly more of the rivers—than nigh on anyone else. The amount of money we pay for our licence fees and our bait, for example, makes it obvious that we are driving that economy forward. We are passionate about the rivers, canals and lakes of this country, but they are desperately under threat. I went fishing last weekend, and I have noticed a clear change in the river environment due to increased acidity. Invertebrates have a real problem with acidity, in the oceans as well as in our rivers.

I should also like to pay tribute to the Select Committee, which I have not heard mentioned this morning. It used to be the Trade and Industry Committee, and it is now the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee. The reports that it has produced over the years have been very helpful in driving these arguments forward. The Trade and Industry Committee’s report of 30 January 2007, “Turning Consumers into Producers” started the discussion, by pointing out that this is not an “us and them” situation, and that people can take part in the generation of energy in their own towns, villages, businesses and homes, so that this country can go forward.

I also declare an interest in that RES, one of this country’s great research establishments dealing with green and sustainable energy, is right on the edge of my constituency. The wind turbine that one sees when coming round the northern part of the M25 is about 50 ft outside it; it is actually in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main), even though it is part of the Langleys, which are in mine. I have visited RES many times and I understand that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, together with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, visited two weeks ago and looked at the fantastic research being done at this great establishment. Interestingly enough, the Business Secretary kindly called me to let me know that he would be in my constituency—but as the site is not located there, my office told him which MP he should call. That may seem a trivial point, but it is crucial when one thinks how important this place is. It is a leading world-renowned company in the drive for renewable energy, yet the Government did not know exactly where it was based, which was slightly worrying.

One huge benefit from the visit of those two Secretaries of the State was that it sent out message to the renewable energy industry. The attendance of those Secretaries of State two weeks before this Bill was presented to the House today sent out a signal that the Government were going to do something and remove some of the roadblocks. This Bill will remove some, although not all, of the roadblocks in the Government and the business community that have prevented us from going forward.

Whenever I visit RES, I am always made aware that we have some of the greatest research skills in the world and have developed some of the greatest products in the world, yet they are being used elsewhere rather than in this country, where they were developed. In many cases, taxpayers’ money has been used—quite rightly—on research and development, but we have not taken sufficient advantage of the energy efficient products that have been driven forward by those research skills. When I visited Sweden, I saw these products in use, and when I visited Canada 20 years ago, that country was using our technology, which is still not being used to drive forward energy efficiency here today.

When I speak to representatives of such companies, I hear that the real block is capacity. If these products could be sold with the knowledge that they would be allowed to go forward within communities, the whole thing would swing into action. At the moment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, it is very expensive and difficult to get the equipment installed because the manufacturers do not have the capacity. I hope that the Bill will help to remove that block. It should be allowed to go forward into Committee; I hope that the Government will support it today.

I will try not to detain the House, having heard the call to keep our comments brief, but I would like to touch on one or two issues.

I add my thanks and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) not just for this Bill but for all his work on green issues. It is a long while since I last came to the House on a Friday to participate in debates on private Members’ Bills, which I hope demonstrates my commitment to this cause and my appreciation of my hon. Friend’s work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) referred to his being wrongly informed about a ministerial visit, which turned out not to be in his constituency. We often wonder where the Government are going, and I can inform my hon. Friend that I regularly receive letters from Ministers telling me that they are visiting my constituency, only to find that they are visiting another one. I sometimes fail to receive letters, on the other hand, when Ministers are visiting my constituency. That is by the by.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead also referred to RES—based close to his constituency—which is appealing against a refusal for a wind farm in my constituency, so perhaps I should not say any more about that. My hon. Friend will understand that the company is not always appreciated in the way he appreciates it.

I strongly endorse the argument that we need to make the planning rules easier, and I should like to pick up on the Minister’s intervention on the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) in which he mentioned permitted development orders on agricultural land. I do not want to introduce an element of dissent into today’s proceedings, but anyone hearing the Minister’s intervention would probably assume that he was saying that farmers had complete freedom to build where they want, but that is not the case.

Perhaps I may finish the point, after which I will, of course, allow the Minister to intervene.

There are already considerable restrictions on what farmers are allowed to do. First, the permitted development order allows development only within the curtilage of the farm buildings or premises, not in open countryside; and, secondly, there are serious limits on how much extra building space is allowed. In some cases, farmers have to notify the local authority of their intent to build, so the opportunity for the community to intervene is effectively provided automatically.

I think that the hon. Gentleman has inadvertently misinterpreted what I said. I said that if the consultation resulted in permitted development being granted to landowners more generally, it would change the current situation as the hon. Gentleman described it. I mentioned a local community’s opportunity to intervene; the Bill asks for consultation if landowners are allowed greater permitted development than they currently have.

I happily accept the Minister’s comments, but that is the purpose of the consultation, and if the conclusion of that consultation is that landowners should have more freedom, it would seem that all the objectives had been met. I strongly suspect that the Minister is right that there would not be huge support for a completely free and open approach. The point reiterated in the clauses on domestic and non-domestic premises is that if we are to encourage microgeneration, we may have to accept some relaxation of the planning rules. We can all debate the extent of the relaxation, but the schedule, although applying only to wind turbines, is extremely relevant. I hope that the Minister and the Government will understand it and leave it in the Bill.

Let us consider the technology of the mobile phone industry as an example. When I first entered the House, those with mobile phones had to carry a car battery around with them. The advance in technology resulted partly from the fact that the then Conservative Government—I was glad to be a member—allowed some relaxation in the planning legislation governing the construction of masts.

I reiterate that it is not my or the Bill’s intention to enable landowners to do all sorts of things without reference to the local community. It is essential that proper safeguards are in place. The purpose of the review will be to see what can be done to enable the more rapid roll-out of new technologies in rural areas.

I am grateful for that clarification and I trust that the Minister has taken it into account; I look forward to hearing his response in a few moments.

My second main point is to emphasise the need for a swift introduction of the feed-in tariff. This morning’s debate is largely a matter of consensus, so now is not the time for huge criticisms, but I regret that it has taken so long to introduce the tariffs. It is several years since my colleagues and I advocated them; the sooner they come into force, the better. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) rightly said, it is not only about electricity. I shall come on in a few moments to anaerobic digestion, which, as I shall venture to say, has huge scope—but it will happen only if we have a feed-in tariff for gas as well as for electricity. We need that or some equivalent mechanism.

Before moving on to that issue in more detail, let me pick up the point about the importance of decentralisation of the system and thus of local ownership, which interests many hon. Members. You and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, share a current application, which straddles our constituency boundary. One reason it is opposed—there are many—is the fact that local people see nothing in it for them. The electricity disappears into the national grid and is gone; there is no local ownership. I am not suggesting that we break down the grid, but there needs to be a mechanism whereby local communities feel some benefit. Whether the development is private or the community owns it is secondary to whether communities see a direct benefit.

There is an argument that locally generated electricity reduces transmission loss. The more we can reduce transmission loss, the better. Even if electricity could be individually identified, which of course it cannot, the electricity generated by any wind farm would not necessarily go within 100 or 500 miles to be used. We cannot undertake such measurement, but if we could have not only a more properly decentralised system, but a decentralised way of accounting, so that people understood that they were buying equivalent to the energy generated by their local power source, there would be much less resistance to such projects.

The great importance of the feed-in tariff lies in microgeneration. Over the years, the Government have been rather wedded to ROCs—renewables obligation certificates. I do not pretend to know a huge amount about them, but they are not suitable for small-scale activity. They may be fine for large-scale renewable power sources—I reserve judgment, as I do not know enough to say—but they are certainly not adaptable for small scale, and it is so important that we move quickly to find a mechanism that is.

It is quite odd that we have got through nearly two hours of debate without anybody referring to the vexed issue of money and cost, but it is terribly important and needs to be included in this analysis. One reason investment in microgeneration is being held back is that microgeneration, for the person installing it for their own use, is often not viable, or the payback period may be very long. The kit they install, whatever the source of the renewable, will go on generating power even when everything is switched off at night. The feed-in tariff would give people an income from the power they generate but do not use.

That is a terribly important point and it is worth hanging a point of reference on it, which is the experience in Germany. Last year, the German Government evaluated the cost of introducing feed-in tariffs and how they need to be incorporated in domestic bills, set alongside the savings that Germany has made by transferring other, much less efficient subsidy systems. Feed-in tariffs have reduced household energy costs, rather than pushed them up. Would the hon. Gentleman like such an initiative to be replicated in the UK as part of the measures proposed in the Bill?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. In a moment, I shall come to my own experience of the German perspective, having also been to look carefully at what the Germans are doing.

My final point on ROCs is that the Government have been rather obsessed with wind power as the means of meeting their renewables targets over the last few years. That is partly because ROCs are suitable for that purpose, although I am glad that some variation has been introduced to the proportion of ROCs available in relation to power from different sources. I hope that the introduction of the feed-in tariff and microgeneration will enable us much more effectively to spread the sources of renewable energy and not depend so much on very large wind farms, which, as several hon. Members have said and as you and I are both aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, cause immense local resistance, not least because they are often seen as huge blots on the landscape.

I want to discuss what I have seen happening in Germany, especially vis-à-vis anaerobic digestion. As a number of hon. Members have said, virtually anything can be anaerobically digested—livestock manures, slurries, sewage sludge and, of course, food wastes. To return to the point about money, so much of what is done—the composting, which is virtually the only system on any scale that is getting rid of organic, putrescible waste—is viable for the compost operator only because of effective subsidy, either through landfill tax or whatever is coming back into the system.

If we want renewable power to be not only an important part of our climate change policy but accepted by the community as important, the sooner we can move it away from a form of subsidy, the better, although I am not suggesting that it may be impossible to achieve this without any form of cross-subsidy, as we get through ROCs.

I fear that, in financial and economic terms, some of the developments of the past few years, which may be a necessary staging post, are not sustainable because they rely too much on some form of cross-subsidy from either ROCs, the landfill tax or elsewhere.

Hon. Members have mentioned the fact that biogas can be fed, through the necessary filters, directly into the gas network. That is right, but it will work properly only if we have some sort of feed-in tariff that suits it. I want to stress in particular the point about agricultural waste. Those who know me will not be surprised that I have returned to the issue; my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) referred to it briefly. In the last few months, the Government have introduced some highly restrictive measures on livestock farmers as a result of the nitrates directive. I shall not go into the rights and wrongs of that, but it means that farmers face huge investment costs in relation to storing and dealing with waste.

The time scale does not synchronise here, because farmers have to act within the next year, but if these two things could have been brought together with a little more cross-Government thinking, a lot of that investment could have been not in storage systems, but in biodigesters, enabling animal waste to be used to create a worthwhile resource in the form of biogas.

Biogas and the digestion of such materials create a useful digestate, which rightly can be fed on to the land. It is neutral in many ways, but it is a valuable source of nutrients—and that at a time when agricultural fertiliser costs have been rising dramatically, setting aside the issue of the sustainability of continuing to use fertilisers whose manufacture is itself often highly energy inefficient.

As others have said, and as National Grid suggests, biogas could generate perhaps 18 per cent. of total UK gas demand. More importantly, it could prevent up to 75 per cent. of methane emissions from current manure management practices. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said, that is already happening commonly not just in Germany, but in many of the northern countries of mainland Europe. It is based on a feed-in tariff-type system, which was generated not only as a means to meet renewables targets, but as part of Germany’s search for greater domestic energy security.

As the hon. Gentleman also said, Germany is much less dependent on the vagaries of the world gas markets. That, too, is an extremely important measure and one reason Germany is probably two decades ahead of this country in this. In Germany, there are 3,000 anaerobic digestion plants. The National Farmers Union estimates that this country could have up to 1,000, but there are fewer than 20.

There are other bureaucratic obstacles. I have mentioned the issues of planning and the current lack of a feed-in tariff, which are important, but there is a third issue, which was touched on earlier. We need to find some way of incentivising—or forcing if incentives will not work—the companies that operate the electricity national grid and gas networks to be receptive to feed-in by microgeneration plants, whether it is electricity or gas. That is a huge challenge that I do not underestimate, but nothing else will work if we do not have that. It is part of the joined-up approach that is needed.

I strongly support this measure and I pay huge tribute to everything that my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey has done. I entirely endorse what Members have said about the huge step forward, which I think my hon. Friend underplayed, that the Bill represents. However, it cannot make that step on its own. As I said, unless the connections—the rules, protocols and so on—enable the installation of such systems, it cannot work. That is a challenge for the Government.

There is consensus across the House, as has been said, about the need to promote microgeneration and renewable energy. I hope that, on that basis of consensus and understanding, the Government will not only welcome this Bill but do everything they can to bring it into force as soon as possible—unlike with some of the measures we heard about earlier—and do their bit to encourage and enable anyone who wants to invest in such a system to put their electricity or gas straight into the grid, so that the full benefit from the system can be gained.

This has been a high-quality debate on an important Bill, and I welcome the important and significant contributions made by a number of Members. Before turning to the contribution and Bill of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), let me deal with some of the other contributions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who has a strong record in this area and has pushed hard in many ways the issues of feed-in tariffs and a renewable heat incentive, has championed this cause for a long time, as have other Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), whose knowledge on these issues is also substantial, made some fascinating points about the local generation of gas and the importance of ensuring that we address the local generation of electricity. His point about the benefits that can come from local people owning the generation of their own energy is important, and was also made eloquently by the hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), all of whom have taken up this issue. The Government recognise the importance of local people becoming stakeholders, and we want that to be developed in the coming decade.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) calls himself a recent convert to these issues; we welcome him to the green agenda. He made an important contribution to this debate, and I welcome that. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) spoke about the importance of pulling microgeneration from the fringes of the energy debate and into the mainstream, and I share his wish. That approach builds on the Government’s microgeneration strategy and on the great raft of energy, planning and climate change legislation that we took through the House at the end of last year. Much of the microgeneration strategy, which I shall come to in a moment, has been implemented and we now need to ensure that it is revitalised; the Government fully intend to do that.

I am conscious of the House’s wish to move on to other debates. I suspect that my response will take about 30 minutes, and after the hon. Member for East Surrey has responded, I hope that we can move on—with your consent, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to the Bill that I know my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), wants to speak on.

The hon. Member for East Surrey has a long track-record in raising green energy issues. That record is highly respected in the House, so when he introduced this Bill, we knew that it needed to be taken very seriously. He does not bring up these issues frivolously or to score points. Indeed, I am sure that he will not mind my repeating that when I asked him whether he wanted just to score some points, or to get a Bill through and do something serious, he was very clear that he wanted the latter. That, indeed, is how he has approached this issue throughout our discussions.

I hope that we can support the Bill and ensure that it will enable the Government to build on the work that we and others in all parts of the House have done in recent years to support the development of microgeneration technologies in the United Kingdom. My discussions with the hon. Gentleman have gone well, and the Government have sympathy with many of the points in the Bill and its aspirations. There are some clauses that we do not believe are right, however, and I shall say more about that in a moment. We think that quite a lot of work needs to be done on the Bill’s detail, and I hope that—without in any way gutting it, and making sure that its thrust is taken through—we can ensure that we get a Bill that the microgeneration industry regards as positive news, that advances the green agenda, and that makes the important contribution I believe it can make to ensuring that we deal with climate change issues.

Of course, significant parts of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill are already covered in the Government’s programme to support take-up of renewable energy and low-carbon technologies at domestic and community level. We want to ensure that we can create a sustainable market for renewables and low-carbon, on-site energy technologies.

There is increased interest in microgeneration technologies, with individuals and communities wanting to play their part in tackling the challenge of climate change. The Government want to encourage that interest and make it easier and more attractive for individuals and communities to contribute. Taking up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, the key to feed-in tariffs is achieving the necessary degree of vested interest—in the best possible sense—that comes from having a local source of energy from which people benefit and which they can see making a direct contribution to their local community. That may well meet some of the concerns that Opposition Members have expressed about onshore wind, but other types of renewables may be helped by the introduction of feed-in tariffs and, in due course, the renewable heat incentive.

Before going into the details of the Bill and our views on the clauses, I shall set out the broad background to the energy agenda and how the Bill fits into it, commenting on feed-in tariffs as I do so. We face challenging targets to increase the use of low-carbon energy, which will require a concerted effort over a long period. Having cross-party support is important to that effort, because we are talking not about a period of one Government, but about decades of change that will be required to deal with climate change. As much as I would like to believe that the Labour Government will continue for decades to come—ambition is important—I suspect that that will not be the case. However, I shall briefly outline our ambitions for the energy picture in the coming decades.

First, we need to ensure that electricity in particular is generated in a way that does not damage the environment. We need to ensure that the requirement for massive change and massive investment by large-scale energy companies is fulfilled, and we need a nuclear base load to provide the base on which renewables can be built—that is enormously important. In addition, substantial build-up of renewables is essential. Leaving aside microgeneration for a moment, I am talking not only about very large-scale renewables—the large offshore and onshore wind farms—but about more localised energy generation. In various ways, not through wind alone, such sources will provide renewable energy generation.

Renewables generation suffers from the problems of intermittency—energy is not generated predictably all the time—so flexibility is needed in energy generation. Our energy policy must therefore take in coal and gas-fired generation with carbon capture and storage. That fits well with escalating generation, but also key are the growth of community-based energy and ensuring that individuals can see that they can contribute by generating their own energy. Also, because the best energy is the energy that we do not use, as has been said, we must make an enormous effort on energy efficiency.

That is the overall picture. Nuclear provides the base load and renewables are the essential component. Flexibility comes from coal and gas-fired power stations with carbon capture and storage, but we also need local and diversified energy generation, as well as individuals, where possible, generating their own energy through microgeneration; and, on top of all that and across the board, we need greater energy efficiency.

Would the Minister be kind enough to answer the specific questions on what percentage of green energy generation he thinks we will achieve by 2010 and 2020, and where we stand in relation to the Government’s targets? That is an important part of the description.

The target is clear: the Government want 15 per cent. of our energy to be generated from renewable sources by 2020. That is the key target—the European target that we want to hit. We are working hard to increase the amount of energy that comes from renewables—not just microgeneration, but other forms of renewables as well. We will have to wait and see where we are by 2010, which is not far away, but we are working hard to achieve the maximum possible generation from renewables, so that we can get for ourselves the sort of platform that we need to move forward. One thing that we need to do by 2010 is to make significant changes to boost the amount of renewable energy generation. We want an eightfold increase—a massive increase—and the present rate of progress is just not good enough. We are conscious of having constantly to accelerate the rate of change in the energy revolution that we need to take place.

Have we done enough so far? No. We are only at the beginning of an energy revolution that will transform things, and there is much more that we can, and must, do. Renewable energy and low-carbon technologies are an integral part of the Government’s strategy to deliver on our climate change goals, and they will play an increasingly important role. We face a no-less-than eightfold increase in renewables, and the increase may possibly go well beyond that. Small-scale, on-site energy technologies will definitely have a major part to play.

Before addressing that issue, I want to talk about the key objectives of our energy policy, which are: first, to tackle climate change; secondly, to provide energy security; and, thirdly, to tackle the issue of affordability, including fuel poverty—and we want to do all three of those things in the face of the global economic crisis, the credit crunch. The task before us is considerable, but the Bill has something important to say on all three of those key objectives on which we have to deliver—on climate change, energy security and affordability. We have to ensure that the challenges are met, and that we provide a clear vision on how we will do that.

Microgeneration must be not just small-scale, but community-scale. I should just mention that one of the impacts that feed-in tariffs will have is on the word “microgeneration”. There needs to be a discussion about what we are talking about when we say “micro” now. We were quite clear in the past that we were talking about individual homes having a small wind turbine, or a ground source heat pump or something like that, but now, with the move to feed-in tariffs, we are, at 5 MW, talking about something far more substantial. The opportunities for the renewables industry, which was regarded very much as an industry based on individual homes or small businesses, will be much greater after the introduction of feed-in tariffs in April next year. Feed-in tariffs will make a real difference, and I am not sure whether “micro” is quite the right word any more; perhaps we should refer to “small-scale renewables”, or something like that. Perhaps that is a debate for another time.

I am listening to the Minister with great care. I am sure that he is aware of the need to be careful about the use of the word “renewables” to the exclusion of other technologies that are not, strictly speaking, renewable, but are low-carbon. Fuel-cell technology and micro combined heat and power are examples. I am sure that he is aware of that point, but I just want him to make it clear.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right, which is why we probably need to be a little careful about the Bill, too; it is about green energy, but there are those in the nuclear industry who would regard nuclear generation as green energy. The same is true of other energy generators. Perhaps we need to have a discussion about definitional issues and what they mean. I certainly take his point: there are green energy sources that may not necessarily be renewable. He is quite right about that. Perhaps we need to have further discussions on that, not today but in time set aside for that debate.

I want to move on to how the microgeneration strategy has developed. The Government brought forward a microgeneration strategy in March 2006 with the aim of identifying obstacles to creating a sustainable microgeneration market. Many of the actions in the strategy were completed, and we reported on those in June 2008, when the renewable energy consultation was published. There is no doubt that the microgeneration strategy has helped to galvanise support for microgeneration technologies. It also increased the limited knowledge of the small-scale renewable and low-carbon technologies that existed at the time, such as ground source heat pumps, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal and micro-wind turbines. The House will be aware of the significant progress in successfully implementing the majority of the actions in the microgeneration strategy. It is right to say that as a consequence of our work over the past two years, we have benefited from a deeper understanding of how the microgeneration market works, and how important it is to making a contribution to an 80 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

Building on evidence from research into consumer behaviour, from tackling planning restrictions, and from tracking capital costs means that we are now in a better position to take forward building a sustainable market for microgeneration in the UK. A key object of the microgeneration strategy was to create the conditions for microgeneration to become a realistic alternative or supplementary source of energy generation. The strategy contained 25 actions to tackle the barriers to widespread uptake of microgeneration. To date, 21 of the 25 actions have been completed, three have been closed as they were overtaken by other events or other measures, and one remains and will be completed later, we hope. With the majority of the strategy now fully implemented, and many of the barriers to microgeneration removed, we believe microgeneration policy needs to be revitalised by the forthcoming renewable energy strategy and the heat and energy saving strategy.

Some have felt that the strategy does not go far enough in bringing microgeneration into the mainstream. We believe that we need to go further. However, we want to identify some of the key achievements to date. Many households have seen microgeneration installations put in as a result of their becoming permitted development. We have some issues to resolve in relation to noise, particularly on micro-wind and air source heat pumps. The Bill will give us the chance to examine some of those.

The microgeneration certification system is making progress and should provide consumers with independent certification of microgeneration products and services and a route for complaints. Consumers tell us that a robust certification scheme which provides quality assurance and information and advice on performance is important in building confidence in microgeneration technologies.

The big six energy suppliers, as well as some of the smaller ones, now offer export tariffs for excess electricity sold back into the grid. As outlined in last year’s Budget, Ofgem and energy suppliers have committed to providing impartial advice to consumers on obtaining the best financial rewards.

Since April 2007 there has been a large increase in the number of microgenerators accredited under the renewables obligation, from 410 units to 1,329 by 31 March 2008, of which 1,047 are represented by an agent. The strategy as a whole has been largely successful in addressing some of the barriers to microgeneration, particularly some of the planning and technical barriers. Most of the individual actions have been successfully delivered. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that conditions for microgeneration as a realistic option are improved, especially in ensuring good information provision, and further work to address the costs of microgeneration.

The low carbon buildings programme is helping with up-front costs and easier access to renewables obligation certificates—microgenerators now get the highest level of ROCs. Better export tariffs provide ongoing support.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned the low carbon buildings programme phase 2, which was the £50 million capital grants scheme launched in December 2006, and he referred to the money running out. He seems not to have noticed that in the Budget there was the announcement of a further £45 million of new money allocated to the low carbon buildings programme. I was able to announce last week that £5 million of that would go to ensure that some of the applications in relation to solar photovoltaic could get going again. We hope that that issue has been addressed.

I was aware of the announcement, but not of its impact on this year’s prospective opportunity for the disbursal of money. Are people still allowed to apply if they had not applied by the end of February? Will some of those applications be granted? Is the scheme open for bids again, so to speak, and will there be further disbursal to projects in this financial year?

The intention is to deal with the bids that have come in. We are not reopening the scheme, but we have the additional funding of £45 million and we want to identify the best way of taking that forward. There was a problem about whether funding would be available for some of the applications. We have resolved that by bringing forward the £5 million. We now want to look at how the remaining part of that money would be best spent. That will be considered during the next few months. We hope that we will be in a position within a relatively short period—we are talking of only a small number of months—to publish the renewable energy strategy, and we hope then to be able to set out how we will deal with some of these issues. We need then to consult with the industry to ensure that it is satisfied that that is the right way to make progress.

The renewable energy strategy was originally to be announced in the spring. Will it be announced at least before the summer recess, or will it be in the spring as originally promised?

We intend to announce it by the summer break. We are working through some quite complex issues and I hope that we will be able not only to revitalise the broader renewables agenda and ensure that that is taken forward, but to revitalise the microgeneration agenda and ensure that that is taken forward. There is quite a bit more work still to do, and if we are to take this forward with the accelerating speed that I referred to, we need to ensure that some of these ideas are thought through. It will be before the summer, but I will not give a specific date at the moment.

Clause 1 is an interpretation clause, which I am fairly relaxed about, but it may require amendment to take account of subsequent changes. We can accommodate the clause, but minor amendments may be required.

Clause 2 frames the Bill, setting out its principal purpose, which is to promote green energy. In the Bill, green energy means energy generated from renewable or sustainable small-scale local sources, and energy efficiency measures. The Government are fully committed to promoting green energy and will continue to do so. During the past 12 months a considerable amount of work has been done on consultations to bring forward later this year the strategies to which I referred to help the UK to meet its share of the EU 2020 renewable targets, to ensure our energy security, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to play our part in tackling climate change.

As I said, this work will require a radical shift in reducing the consumption of energy and in the take-up of renewable and low-carbon energy technologies. Promotion of green energy and providing householders, communities and business with incentives and the information to play their part will be an integral part of the strategies that we will bring forward.

The Energy Act 2008 provides for the introduction of the feed-in tariff and a renewable heat incentive, so we now have the powers to bring forward effective incentives to encourage the take-up of microgeneration technologies. We still intend to consult this year and we hope to do so in the run-up to the summer on the detail of feed-in tariffs, and later in the year, perhaps at the turn of the year, we will consider the renewable heat incentive, so that we have a package of policies to revitalise take-up.

We will seek to retain clause 2, but it will be made clear that the definition of green energy relates only to this Bill, and we may need to tighten it slightly. As we have said, green energy is a term that is often used more widely, so we do not want to give it a legal definition that restricts it to microgeneration or more narrow aspects. However, we are happy in principle to retain the clause and to ensure that we have a definition with which the hon. Member for East Surrey agrees.

Clause 3 involves the revision of microgeneration strategy and requires the Secretary of State, within 12 months of the commencement of the section, to

“publish a revised microgeneration strategy…under section 82…of the Energy Act 2004”

and, before doing so, to

“invite comments on the draft…strategy”

from stakeholders.

According to the clause, the strategy should include measures to increase the number of microgeneration installations in existing buildings, financial and fiscal measures that will ensure the cost-effective of green energy and measures to promote the effective implementation of feed-in tariffs for small-scale generation of electricity established under part 2 of the Energy Act 2008.

The Government have already addressed most of issues detailed in the clause. For instance, work on “Heat Call for Evidence” and the heat and energy saving strategy shows that microgeneration heat technologies have a role to play in de-carbonising domestic heating; and we have said that the consultations on the renewable energy strategy and the heat and energy saving strategy will help to inform our decisions on how we support microgeneration. Given the parliamentary timetable, if the Bill is passed it will probably be enacted in about October, although that is very difficult to predict, and by then much of what it calls for will probably be well under way. The question is, can we include in the clause what we plan to do in any event? With a bit of redrafting, I think that we can. There is no massive difference between what we and the hon. Gentleman want, so, with a bit of redrafting, I think that we can get the clause into a mutually acceptable shape that has the broad support of this House and the other place. As part of our work over the summer, we believe that bringing forward a statement on our actions and policies will provide a lot of reassurance to the microgeneration industry.

The Bill also seeks to increase the number of installations on existing buildings by means of financial and fiscal incentives and measures to promote the effective implementation of feed-in tariffs. I have already indicated our position on feed-in tariffs, and we hope to consult on that in due course. However, we are reluctant to have a vague commitment to financial measures, so we want to be much more specific about what we will do. That is one matter on which we need discussions, because, as we know, once we put a measure into statute, all sorts of things can happen with people running off to the courts, saying, “Does it mean this or does it mean that?” We need to be very clear about what we mean by the provision, and, although I am not sure that there will be a great deal of difficulty with it, let us just ensure that we reach a position with which the Government and the hon. Gentleman are content. The feed-in tariffs provide a basis for moving forward on much of that work, and I hope that the renewable heat incentive does, too.

I must mention devolution, because, as the hon. Gentleman said, I need to clarify the Bill’s scope. He is quite right that the Bill applies to England and, therefore, does not have broader applicability, because, in relation to this clause, microgeneration encompasses the generation of not only electricity, which is a reserved matter, but renewable heat, which is a devolved matter. We believe that what the clause seeks to achieve could happen in the context of the renewable energy and the heat and energy saving strategies, and that a suitable amendment could be found to ensure that the strategy in the clause works alongside and within the context of the broader strategies. We are therefore prepared to support an amended clause to signal our commitment to microgeneration.

Clause 4 would commit the Government to carrying out a review of development orders with a view to extending permitted development to a range of renewable energy equipment installed on non-domestic premises, including agricultural land. I gather that the clause has the support of the National Farmers Union and the CLA, the Country Land and Business Association. Permitted development rights allow certain types of minor development to be carried out without specific planning consent from local planning authorities. Secondary legislation relating to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990—namely, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, as amended—sets out these rights. In May 2007, the Government set out in their White Paper “Planning for a Sustainable Future” their intention to extend those permitted development rights wherever possible, with the right safeguards in place—that is an important caveat.

The objective has been to unclog the planning system and encourage the generation of renewable energy by home owners and non-householders alike. The Killian Pretty review of the planning application system in November 2008 endorsed those ideas. One of its key recommendations for reforming the system to make it more efficient and proportionate was to reduce the number of minor applications that require full planning permission.

Following publication of the White Paper, the Government undertook four major reviews of permitted development. One considered the potential for extending permitted development rights to domestic microgeneration and to other non-domestic renewables. On the basis of the conclusions of the domestic review, we extended permitted development rights to a range of domestic equipment in April 2008. Subject to certain restrictions, home owners can now install solar panels, for example, without having to incur the cost and work involved in submitting a planning application. We want to do the same for businesses and institutions such as schools, hospitals and community groups. That is why we are considering the recommendations from the non-domestic review and we intend to conclude a set of proposals for consultation in the summer.

The clause makes special mention of agricultural land. I can confirm that special rights for agricultural installations of microgeneration equipment will be included in the Government’s proposals. The clause requires the Government to carry on with their intended programme of work and to report as soon as reasonably practical. We accept that. However, it may be possible to improve the clause. As I mentioned earlier, in April we introduced permitted development rights for a range of domestic equipment.

What we have not been able to do to date is include, within the fold of permitted development, the issue of micro wind turbines and air source heat pumps. The difficulty is that those technologies make a noise and have the potential for negative impact on others. In a moment, I will come to clause 5, which commits the Government to moving forward on those types of renewables. However, as a general point, pure permitted development may not always be the answer; there may be other options. There is a possible alternative to having to seek full planning permission by completing a planning application and to being able to proceed, by way of permitted development, without recourse to a planning authority. It is called prior approval.

Prior approval works on the basis that consent from a local authority is deemed to have been given if nothing is heard from that authority after a certain period. It is particularly of benefit to farmers, who can carry on their business with minimal recourse to their local authorities. We have been looking at the use of prior approval as well as other mechanisms that would match the level of control required to the type of development in question. I propose that, rather than simply considering the potential for permitted development, the clause should allow the Government to consider a range of planning options that will assist renewable energy equipment, including seeing whether we can find ways in which prior approval can help take the issues forward.

I return to the point that I raised with the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. Local people should be able to object to a planning process if they feel concerns about a development of significance to their local community. I acknowledge the point made by the hon. Member for East Surrey when he said that he had no wish to prevent local communities from ensuring that they can raise genuine concerns. I entirely accept that point and hope that we can find a way of changing the clause so that those points can be taken on board.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for what he has just been saying. As he said, the prior approval process already exists in a number of areas. I suggest that the local planning authority, as the representative of the local community, already has the opportunity under prior approval to object if it feels that a full planning application is necessary.

Several of us have raised the issue of anaerobic digestion, which the Minister has not really mentioned, either in respect of the feed-in tariff for gas or of the planning issues for anaerobic digestion, especially in the context of agricultural farms. Will those considerations be included in the studies and reviews that he described?

On prior approval, one would hope that local authorities are representative and reflect the views of local communities but, at the same time, the local community should know that something is going on so that it can tell its local council that it has concerns. It is important to find the right way of doing this and I therefore support the suggestion in the Bill that it should be properly consulted on. I will be clear with the hon. Gentleman. I do not want merely a blanket development permit so that farmers and large landowners can decide that they are going to plonk something—perhaps including an anaerobic digestion plant, a biomass facility, or a range of other things—close to a local community that has objections to it. The planning process would not be able to take account of that. I do not think that that is what he wants, I know that it is not what the hon. Member for East Surrey wants, and it is certainly not what I want.

Local residents are already concerned about the delegated powers that officers often use unless a development is called in by a local councillor. When this is discussed further, can we look carefully at the delegated powers that an officer already has and often uses? The information does not get out into the community and it does not know what is going on. We should let the councillors, not the officers, represent the people whom they are elected to represent.

That is a good point, but we need to be careful. Officers tend to inherit these delegated powers and councillors assume that there is not much that they can do about it, whereas they can do quite a lot about what they delegate to their officers and what they do not. It is the councillors’ responsibility to ensure that the officers are doing only what the council wants them to do, and if they think that there is an area where they should not have delegated powers, then they should not have them. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that we need to ensure that local communities are not subjected to something being put in by a landowner, the officers using their delegated powers, and the thing getting through before the local community even knows it is happening. That is not satisfactory, particularly if it is something that the local community would be concerned about.

I can tell the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) that anaerobic digestion would be included in the consultation.

Noise is an area of concern as regards ground source heat pumps and wind turbines, and we want to ensure that we consider how that is dealt with. We hope that we will be able to get a consultation out very shortly in the coming months. In all probability, that should be well under way before the Bill is taken through. The consultation that we undertook last year related to 37 dB, but we need to be much more ambitious in this case. I have spoken to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), and we are content to consult, among other things, on 45 dB, which is what the industry has been asking for. There are concerns about this; let there be no mistake about that. We also have to take account of the fact that the World Health Organisation is looking into noise levels, and that needs to be factored into how we would achieve this.

In a sense, this issue has been hanging around for too long. It needs to be resolved, and my hon. Friend and I want it resolved as soon as it reasonably can be. We should therefore be looking to oblige the Government not so much to consult as to legislate, perhaps within six months of the Bill going through. It would be more realistic if clause 5 were to refer to granting permitted development rights within six months, not three months, of the Act being passed.

The clause refers to the schedule, which sets various conditions relating to microgeneration. The Government consider that the schedule contains inappropriate details, and we cannot agree to it as it is, but some parts of it have merit. Those parts, or at least the issues raised in the schedule, can be included in the consultation. However, we will ask that the schedule as it currently stands be removed.

Clause 6 requires any increase

“in the value of a property arising from the installation of”

a green energy measure

“or a microgeneration system after the day on which this Act is passed”

to be

“disregarded for the purpose of assessing council tax or non-domestic rates”

on that property. I shall explain what is already being done. Council tax is a property tax, based primarily on the value of a person’s home. There are no plans to link the level of council tax that a person has to pay to how energy efficient their property is. I am told that making changes or improvements to a property that increase its value cannot result in a higher council tax band until the property is sold or any general revaluation of properties takes place. An increase in the band will take place only if the alterations add sufficient value to the property to move it into a higher band.

The value of a dwelling depends on a number of factors, including its size, lay-out, character and locality. Generally, any improvements made to a property will not be taken into account for banding purposes unless, as I said, the property is sold. Even then, the alterations will not necessarily mean an increase in the council tax band. That will happen only if the alterations have added sufficient value—reflecting 1991 values—to push the property into a higher band. Some local authorities, with assistance from British Gas, have provided a one-off rebate on council tax bills to council tax payers who have taken certain measures to improve energy efficiency in their homes.

Microgeneration equipment is already ignored in the assessment of rateable value for non-domestic rates until the next revaluation. The exemption was introduced on 1 October 2008 and will also apply to any 2010 rating list, so that equipment fitted between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2015 will not be assessed for rates until 1 April 2015. I am told that it is unlikely that fitting microgeneration equipment at business premises would lead to a reassessment of their rateable value. Nevertheless, the exemption was introduced to remove uncertainty and provide clarity and reassurance to businesses working to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Government therefore do not believe that clause 6 would make much difference in practice. The council tax system already disregards improvements until a property is sold, and then they only matter if they add sufficient value to push the property into a higher council tax band. Such an impact would rarely result from the presence of microgeneration equipment. The legislative framework for council tax is complex and lengthy, and it is dealt with separately in different legislation. We see no merit in adding to that complexity, so the Government will not support the clause being in the Bill. I hope that to get the rest of the Bill through we can reach agreement that the clause be deleted, given the background information that I have just provided that there are some safeguards already in place that will hopefully help the microgeneration industry.

I am conscious of the time, and I want to give the hon. Member for East Surrey the opportunity to respond. I thank him very much for bringing the Bill to the House and hope that it will have a successful passage based upon my comments about the Government’s position. We would like to get a Bill like this through. I know that the hon. Gentleman would, and we know from the debate that most Members who have spoken would. I believe that that broadly reflects the views of the House as a whole, so I hope that with a good deal of collaborative work in the coming month or so, we will be able to take the Bill through Committee, amend it and bring it out the other side successfully.

I am aware of the time and of the fact that the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary has been sitting behind him patiently waiting to introduce his Bill. I suspect that he had no option but to be patient this morning, and I shall therefore be brief.

The debate has been interesting and worth while, with contributions of high quality. Three themes emerged: empowerment and ownership, about which so many hon. Members spoke; the need to engage with people, and the Government’s acceptance of the need to move on to enable people to engage with the agenda. We also heard about energy security. All sorts of good things have come together.

I started by saying that the Bill was modest, but hon. Members’ generosity has persuaded me that I might have been excessively modest in my description. The measure is capable of moving significantly towards the greener, safer way of producing energy that we all support. I am delighted to see clear evidence of growing cross-party consensus about the sort of measures that we need to take if we are to modernise our energy systems properly and make them fit for purpose in the 21st century.

I am extremely grateful to all those who took part in the debate. I listened to the Minister with great care. He made it clear that he and I have had conversations about the Bill and his comments today coincided entirely with my understanding of where those conversations would lead. I look forward to continuing to work with him positively to ensure that the “guts”, as he put it, of the Bill end up on the statute book as soon as possible. That is what industry needs and the public expect.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).