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Energy and Climate Change

Volume 537: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2011

Five Members wish to take part in this debate, so a time limit of six minutes has been set. May I remind the Minister that the time allotted to him to respond to the debate is up to 10 minutes? The timings this afternoon are tight, and we want to make sure that every Member who wishes to participate in debates has the opportunity to do so. We will therefore be grateful if Ministers co-operate as well.

I have spoken about wind farms in mid-Wales before, in particular in a Westminster Hall debate on 10 May, which I secured. It is the dominant issue in my constituency, and in the neighbouring constituencies of the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), who are not present today.

I am sceptical about onshore wind, and have been for a long time, and an increasing number of MPs have been contacting me since the Westminster Hall debate to tell me that they agree. I do not want merely to repeat the points I made in May, but I must outline why I am sceptical about onshore wind and why I am so implacably opposed to the mid-Wales connection project.

The cost of the huge subsidies involved is a matter of great concern, particularly to the poorest citizens in our society. Between 5 million and 6 million people are already in fuel poverty, and they are facing a choice between heating or eating. This is, in effect, a Robin Hood tax in reverse: the poorest people in society are having to pay additional sums in their energy bills and that money is being transferred to huge, powerful companies.

There is also an impact on business competitiveness. Some 1 million young people are unemployed in our country—that is 1 million lives scarred by the scourge of unemployment. We are doing what we can to find jobs for those people, but we are making matters worse by undermining competitiveness and driving jobs overseas.

There is also the impact on the landscape, which is particularly important to me. History in Wales teaches us the cost of thoughtless development. We had coal spills dumped all over the valleys, which this generation has had to pay to clear up. We have had irresponsible coniferous forestation, which caused massive environmental problems, and which this generation has also had to clear up.

I am particularly concerned about the scale of what is proposed in mid-Wales—the sheer horror of it. The mid-Wales connection is based on the largest ever onshore wind development in England and Wales. Under the proposals, permission will be granted for the erection of about 500 new onshore wind turbines in mid-Wales—the final figure depends on their size—over and above the 250 that currently exist and those that already have planning approval. There will also be a 20-acre electricity substation and about 100 miles of new cable, much of it carried on steel towers 150 feet high down one of the narrow valleys that lead from mid-Wales to Shropshire. It is scarcely believable; the scale is almost impossible to comprehend. Not even the enemies of Britain over the centuries have wrought such wanton destruction on this wonderful part of the United Kingdom.

However, today I want to speak about the impact of wind farms on democracy—that great invention that is the foundation of Britain’s constitution, and which is being disregarded so casually throughout Europe. I wanted to entitle this speech “Wind farms and democracy in mid-Wales”, but I felt that that would be deemed too tendentious.

In his response to my speech on 10 May, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) offered some reassuring comments. In referring to wind farm development, he said that

“it must be in the right location, and it must have…democratic support”.

He warmed to this theme, saying that

“too often, onshore wind is imposed on communities that do not want it. I am keen to ensure that we address that democratic deficit…in our plans.”

He went on, adding with a flourish that

“it needs more democratic legitimacy than it has today, and I intend to ensure that that happens.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 365-67WH.]

I was much encouraged, not surprisingly.

In my speech on 10 May, I also referred to a public meeting in Welshpool, to which 2,000 people came. I asked those people to come with me on a three-hour journey to Cardiff to express their views to the National Assembly. A few weeks later, they did—2,000 of them, on 37 buses. It was the best protest ever seen outside the National Assembly. That is how strongly people feel, and as a result the First Minister changed his position on the maximum cumulative impact that could be allowed in mid-Wales. He said that a new 400 kV line and a substation were not needed. We were generally encouraged, but then the giant energy companies got to work, the way dark forces do in science fiction. These massively powerful wind farm companies—leviathans fattened on public subsidy—got to work with a mixture of threats to people and community payments, which is a way of securing support for their proposals locally. A terrific amount of pressure was applied, and there was a huge lobbying exercise.

Members can imagine my shock and disappointment at reading a BBC report two weeks ago which said that more wind farms and pylons may be built in Wales in the national interest, despite local protests. The very same Minister whom I quoted earlier was quoted as saying that

“this is a national decision…the local views are important…but at the end of the day we are making decisions in the national interest”.

In the national interest—that is autocracy, not democracy.

Even more shocking is the pressure being put on local planning authorities. They are being pressured into deciding on applications by a particular date, and conditions have been ignored. They are told that all the conditions that would apply to any other planning application must not apply to wind farm developments. Transport infrastructure, ecological and environmental information, power usage—none of these factors is known, and yet they are being pressured into making decisions. It is utterly outrageous.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate. The international aim of limiting the impact of climate change to so-called acceptable consequences is, according to current trends, set to fail. That is notwithstanding the fact that the Energy and Climate Change Secretary told the House last Monday that the Durban climate conference

“was a clear success for international co-operation.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 569.]

The executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change saluted the countries that had made this agreement, but the executive director of Friends of the Earth called the Durban agreement

“an empty shell of a plan”

that

“leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change.”

Others were even less diplomatic.

The gulf between these different reactions reflects the gulf between the reality of the current political process and the reality of what the science tells us we need to do. Indeed, it says it a lot about people’s expectations that, after so many climate talks and empty pledges over the years, an agreement “in principle” to tackling climate change from 2020 can still be hailed as an overall success.

There has for a number of years been almost universal agreement on the need to keep climate change within a range that would limit its impact to a so-called acceptable level. That is the risk that Governments have decided they are willing to take on our behalf, and on the whole, the public have accepted this position in the belief that we will be spared from “dangerous” or “very dangerous” climate change.

The threshold between “acceptable” and “dangerous” climate change has been the famous target of limiting warming to no more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels, which, in theory at least, is the limit that international negotiations are striving not to breach. But today the fight to ensure that the planet and its people suffer only the “acceptable” consequences of a warming world faces a double threat.

First, Governments have so far failed to take the action needed to protect their current and future populations from the worst of climate change. Writing in the Royal Society’s journal earlier this year, a group of leading climate scientists explained that

“the continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the past decade and the delays in a comprehensive global emissions reduction agreement have made achieving this”—

2°—

“target extremely difficult, arguably impossible, raising the likelihood of global temperature rises of 3°C or 4°C within this century.”

The consequences of the latest weak and delayed agreement are laid bare by Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, who has said:

“If we do not have an international agreement, whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to”—

holding temperatures to below 2° of warming—

“will be closed forever”.

The second threat is that, as the latest science shows, even a 2° temperature rise is too much. Indeed, the evidence now points to the need to keep global temperature increases to less than 1.5° at most. So it is deeply worrying that, according to the world’s leading climate change monitoring programme, average temperatures are 1° higher than those in the 1950s. Current research released in the run-up to the Durban conference, including work from the Potsdam institute, the Met Office’s Hadley centre, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Energy Agency, shows that on average the world is expected to warm by at least 3.5° by 2100. If that is an average, the grim reality is that some parts of the world are likely to be warming significantly more.

I raise these issues because it is crucial that we base our climate policy on the best available science. The clearest expression of the accumulation of emissions and the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases was given by the European Environment Agency. The latest data show a concentration of 399 parts per million of CO2 equivalent. The UK’s current carbon budgets, which theoretically aim for a less than 2° temperature rise, are based on greenhouse gas concentrations stabilising at 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent, but even that level in no way guarantees protection. The Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report makes it clear that if global CO2 equivalent concentrations are stabilised about 450 parts per million, the risk of exceeding a 2° warming is about 50%. In other words, that is the equivalent of getting on a plane with only a 50:50 chance of it not falling out of the sky.

It is crucial that we make sure that our policy is based on the latest science. My speech is not the usual kind of intervention where we are scoring political points and focusing on short-term tactical questions. I believe and I hope that I am doing something more important than that. I am putting on the record the fact that we face a climate crisis of extraordinary urgency, and if we are to have any hope of tackling it, we need to be working on the basis of the right data. So I have three questions for the Minister to answer. First, will he agree to examine the latest science, and, as necessary, work to change the UK’s domestic targets to ensure that they continue to respect the political and public consensus to limit climate change to “acceptable” consequences? Secondly, will he ensure that the Government take the action needed to limit our emissions in time and in line with our global responsibilities to prevent climate change reaching dangerous levels—and that means including the emissions that are embedded in imports? Thirdly, will he fight on the international stage to do everything possible to ensure that all Governments take the same approach? If we continue to fiddle while not only Rome, but the whole planet burns, we will go down in whatever history can follow us as the species that spent all its time monitoring its own extinction, rather than taking active steps to avoid it. The Government say that there is no plan B on the economy. That is debatable, but the fact that there is no planet B is not.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas).

I represent a constituency that has a large number of park homes, which I visit regularly. I am particularly grateful in this regard to a constituent, Mrs Lorraine Bond, who has a Whipsnade park home. She asked me to come to see her a couple of weeks ago, having corresponded with me for quite a while about the exorbitant cost of heating her home using liquid petroleum gas cylinders—this is common for many park home residents. She told me that last winter, when it was cold, she was spending £300 a month on average to keep her park home warm. It is possible to have five extremely cold months in a difficult winter in the United Kingdom, so my constituents are having to spend £1,500 to keep their park homes warm. If we bear in mind the fact that most park home residents are elderly—they tend to be pensioners—and often on low and fixed incomes, the House will realise the significance of that sum. It causes me great concern and that is why I wanted to raise the matter with the Minister today.

The Office of Fair Trading just completed its off-grid energy report in October of this year. It describes the cylinder LPG market as

“a mature and declining market”

of only some 25,000 to 50,000 homes for the 47 kg cylinders of LPG. It points out that bulk LPG is more economical and involves greater ease of delivery and handling, but even bulk LPG is more expensive than other off-grid fuels such as heating oil, about which we hear a lot in this House, solid fuel or electricity. They all, in turn, are much more expensive ways of heating one’s home than a mains gas supply connection, which many rural areas do not have.

The market for liquid petroleum gas—propane and butane in the main—is very limited. There are only three major cylinder suppliers, Calor Gas, Flogas and BP Gas, and the OFT noted that retail arrangements for cylinder LPG

“in effect require dealers to deal exclusively with one supplier.”

It notes, with considerable understatement, that

“these agreements could potentially restrict competition.”

The OFT has said that it

“may return to these issues in the context of the wider cylinder LPG market at a later date”.

It urgently needs to do so, because we are talking about very vulnerable people on low incomes with little choice about the way in which they heat their homes. Our current regulation is purely through the OFT and the Competition Commission, because Ofgem and Consumer Focus do not have a remit for this market.

What can we do? The first thing we need to do is ensure that any future potential park home residents are well aware before they move in of how much it could cost to heat their home. They need to have that knowledge before they take the decision to become a park home resident.

I was encouraged when earlier this year, on 24 March, in column 1084 of Hansard, one of the DECC Ministers said that the green deal and the energy company obligation would apply to park home residents. That is very welcome, but what has happened with the renewable heat premium payment? Some £15 million of Government money, aimed at around 25,000 homes, is due to be spent up to March next year, so have park homes been covered by that payment scheme? If they have not been, can we ensure that they are in the remaining months?

My major question for the Minister concerns whether the renewable heat incentive, which starts in March next year, will apply to park home owners. As I hope I have outlined, they are some of our most vulnerable residents who are in greatest need of the new technology and financial support that the Government are bringing in through that incentive. I understand that at the moment that decision is still, in classic Government language, “subject to policy development”, so I urge my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), as the Minister on the Front Bench, to ensure that this group are covered. As I have said, they are the most vulnerable residents and they need this help.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a major new development in my constituency in Houghton Regis, on Sandringham drive, where every roof—the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) will be pleased to hear this—had photovoltaic cells on it, leading to water heating. It did not benefit from the renewable heat incentive, but the residents told me that they had very light heating bills last year as a result of that new technology. Above all, park home residents, who are mainly pensioners and mainly on low incomes, should be the ones to benefit from the renewable heat incentive and the technology that is coming in, which could make heating their homes much more affordable.

Over the next few minutes, I shall give a critique of aspects of the Government’s energy policy, but first I thank the Government for having an energy policy that it is possible to critique. Although I do not want to make a party political point, it is worth reflecting on the legacy that we inherited. On renewables, we were 25th out of the 27 EU countries, in front of only Malta and Luxembourg. Some 90% of our energy is from gas, coal and oil; 2.5% is from renewables. Furthermore, in 2010—the last year for which figures are available—the percentage of our energy that came from renewables actually fell. That is a staggering achievement, and it is worth noting.

What the previous Government were able to do—they had some success in this—was pass legislation, some of which is important, and that is the basis of what I shall talk about today. The Climate Change Act 2008 requires us to reduce our emissions by 80% from a 1990 baseline. I will not argue about the basis for that; we have heard from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the importance of the 2° C target. I agree with much of what she said on that, but as she is present I just make the point that if she, like George Monbiot, had accepted that nuclear power has a part to play in meeting the target, her speech would have had more resonance.

The Act places onerous requirements on us. Broadly speaking, reducing our use of carbon by 80% from a 1990 base requires a strategy that may embrace 25,000 wind turbines—I say that with some regret to my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), who is sitting in front of me—and 25 nuclear power stations. Of course, it would also mean a massive reduction in energy use; I think that Members on both sides of the House would agree with that, and the green deal is a great way forward. My difficulty is with the next Act that the previous Government enacted, relating to the EU 20-20-20 directive of 2009, which requires us to produce 15% of our energy from renewables over the next decade. In my judgment, that directive contradicts our needs under the Climate Change Act 2008. We must decarbonise, and not necessarily go in for a renewables frenzy.

People might wonder why that matters, given that renewables need to be part of the mix. It matters because the emphasis on renewables has, in my judgment, meant that we have de-emphasised other low-carbon solutions that need to go ahead much more quickly, such as nuclear power and more use of gas, which I shall discuss.

One particular aspect of the renewables frenzy brought about by the 2009 directive undermines our ability to decarbonise, and we can see it in the solar power episode that is still playing out. We made a decision to pay 40p per unit for electricity that we can sell for 8p or 9p a unit. That, of course, generates a big industry. We make that subsidy even though we are no more than 2% or 3% of the global industry for solar, and therefore realistically cannot make a big difference to how the price comes down, and even though solar power produced through photovoltaics produces more than three times more carbon than nuclear power, as was shown in a recent peer-reviewed paper from Imperial college.

Why does all that matter? Why does it matter whether we go for renewables so hard, as opposed to going for gas, which is part of this? One of the things that we have to do is get our car and transport infrastructure off oil. We shall do that not just by electrifying, although that might be part of the solution, but by going down the route of gas cars. There are about 10 million gas cars in the world, more than 2 million of which are in Pakistan. There are nothing like that many electric cars. To say that gas is not part of the solution is just wrong.

Notwithstanding the fact that my hon. Friend is focused on putting too many wind farms in my constituency, I agree with much of what he says. Does he agree that we need to emphasise the potential of tidal power as well? I have not heard that mentioned a great deal. The Severn barrage can supply 5% of British energy needs. The potential of tidal power is massive.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am not an expert in hydro power, the potential of which is very large. We have a deadline of 2017 to replace about a third of our generating capacity. To do that, we must use proven technology. That meant nuclear, but we might be late for that now. It is going to end up being gas, because gas is the default solution of a failure to invest in other technologies.

The very real need to decarbonise is being threatened by the costs that we are incurring through a strategy that is too focused on introducing the wrong sort of renewables too quickly. Let me give an example of the likely cost of the carbon floor. A £70 per tonne price of carbon will add about £400 to £500 to the average domestic bill. That is important because fuel poverty is at 10% now. We have energy-intensive industries laying off people or not investing in this country, in the context of trying to grow manufacturing as a percentage of GDP. The risk is that that will prevent some of the things that we need to do in pursuing decarbonisation. I ask the Government to consider this point: optimising renewables is not the same as optimising decarbonisation, and we need to do the latter.

It is such a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who is a great mind in all areas of energy and one of the more assiduous Members of the House when it comes to constituency work, I am told.

I welcome the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is standing in on behalf of Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers. So far in this debate, the Government business managers have replied, probably better than most of the Ministers would have been able to do on their own, so I welcome the hon. Gentleman. He should be aware that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has a history of getting people to stand in for him in various matters, but I trust that his Christmas present from the Secretary of State will be slightly nicer than others that he might have given in the past.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), I am suffering from a spate of wind farm applications in my constituency. For years I have been campaigning against them. We should have gone nuclear a lot earlier, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South said. There is a fantastic quote in a very good book, “Let Them Eat Carbon” by Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers Alliance: “Renewable energy is plagued by old problems. Whilst the wind and the sun are free, using them to supply energy when and where we need it to power a modern economy is extremely expensive.”

We all know that, and even the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) would have to recognise it, so why do we keep trying to foist onshore wind farms on to areas of low wind speed, where they devastate areas of natural beauty? I guess it is because wind was the only game in town for a long time and its lobbyists are among the best.

I thought that in the spirit of localism, it would be a good idea to give power to local authorities, so I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill, the Onshore Wind Turbines (Proximity of Habitation) Bill a number of months ago. It languishes, I think, at No. 13 for the next Friday sitting that we might have, so is unlikely to see the light of day in this Session. However, I would like to think that, like the gubernator of California, it will be back in some form in the future. I offer it to Ministers as a way forward in trying to solve some of the problems by letting local councils decide the correct proximity of wind turbines to habitation.

Why am I so interested in this? In Daventry district, 19 sites are being looked at, are in the planning stage or are on appeal for wind turbines, most of which would be about 126.5 m high, roughly the size of the London Eye, and in a beautiful, green part of rolling English countryside. I am against the turbines because they simply do not work. Last December was one of the coldest periods on record, but it was also remarkably still. The turbines barely produced any energy and we needed to use all the other carbon-eating technologies.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the sheer antipathy to wind farm development right across Britain is turning people against the development of renewable energy? It is transforming antipathy to onshore wind into antipathy to renewable energy.

I absolutely concur. I know from my mailbag and from the number of e-mails I receive every day on the matter that people are turning against renewables of just about every type because wind turbines are, among other things, so badly sold. Onshore wind generation requires a 100% back-up of carbon-burning technology or nuclear energy, should the wind not blow, and in addition to the devastation of the visual environment there are the problems of noise and flicker. They are the wrong renewables choice.

That brings me to some unbelievably bad news I received yesterday about my constituency. There was—how can I put it?—a disgraceful, vulgar, disrespectful, terrible, shameful, contemptible, detestable, dishonourable, disreputable, ignoble, mean, offensive, scandalous, shabby, shady, shocking, shoddy, unworthy, deplorable, awful, calamitous, dire, disastrous, distressing, dreadful, faulty, grim, horrifying, lamentable, lousy, mournful, pitiable, regrettable, reprehensible, rotten, sad, sickening, tragic, woeful, wretched, abhorrent, abominable, crass, despicable, inferior, odious, unworthy, atrocious, heinous, loathsome, revolting, scandalous, squalid, tawdry, cowardly, opprobrious, insulting, malevolent, scurrilous and basically stinkingly poor decision of the Planning Inspectorate to approve the Kelmarsh wind farm, which will devastate huge swathes of beautiful rural Northamptonshire. It used an old-fashioned east midlands regional plan, which I thought we had abolished in the Localism Act 2011, did not take into account any emerging policy in this area, not least the national planning policy framework, and used the targets, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion is so passionately attached to, of getting 20% of our energy from renewables by 2020.

It is unbelievable that one planning inspector can overrule all elements of democracy, local and national, including parish and district council opinion, MPs, Lords and Members of the European Parliament, and say, “Well, actually, because of these particularly poor policies we have, forget democracy. This is what you are having.” That is what upsets people about the onshore wind industry. The sooner that can change, the better.

Significant damage will be done to the local environment, and even more will be done to what my constituents might think comes with the Localism Act. If I were a Secretary of State in the Department for Energy and Climate Change and was driving down the A14, I really would put my foot down. A three-point penalty easily outweighs what I and my constituents think of him, this decision and the policy it is based on. That said, even I wish the Secretary of State and everyone else in the House a very merry Christmas.

I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful and measured contributions, including that wonderful description of the Planning Inspectorate’s recent decision. Many hon. Members will have some sympathy with the views expressed there.

I must confess a personal interest. I am the son of a climatologist, so I spent many of my formative years learning about the natural cycles of climate, visiting sites such as medieval vineyards around Tewkesbury and so forth as friends were heading off to Torremolinos. Today, however, our focus is on man’s impact on climate and how we respond to it.

I shall deal first with the contribution from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). The hon. Lady’s case is that the 2% target—limiting the increase of global average temperatures to 2% above pre-industrial levels—is not ambitious enough and has potentially devastating consequences. I share and the Government share her absolute concern about the need to take effective and decisive action to deal with what is an enormous challenge globally, and we do not dismiss it at all.

The target of less than 2%, however, is likely to be at the very edge of what is possible in terms of the technological and economic implications. It also involves radical lifestyle changes, and dealing with that globally and in democracies is often very difficult.

Achieving the 2% target globally will itself be immensely challenging. On the current trajectory, as the hon. Lady rightly said, we are looking at a 3.5° C to 4° C rise in temperature, the consequences of which certainly would be devastating, and if anything the gap is widening.

The figure is 2° C, not 2%, but does the hon. Gentleman agree with me on the key point that runaway climate change would also require radical changes in lifestyle?

Absolutely, I do. I accept that completely, and that is why the Government are determined to take decisive action.

The consequences, however, of a 3.5° C to 4° C rise would be devastating, including a 2 metre rise in sea levels, a massive impact on food production and so on, but to hit the 2° C target we need global emissions to peak by 2020 and, after that, to reduce by 4% annually. That target is achievable if decisive action is taken by both the developed and the developing worlds, and this Government are determined to take a lead internationally —one of the things that the hon. Lady raised specifically —in seeking to achieve it.

Developing countries on their own are likely to account for 60% of emissions by 2020 owing to rapid development, and the Government recognise that the European Union must show leadership, so we are pressing for a 30% 2020 emissions reduction target, rather than the current 20%.

To answer the hon. Lady’s specific question about whether we need to review the target level, I note that the Cancun conference agreed to a review of the science to see whether to adjust the target and whether the 2° C target is adequate to prevent the disastrous consequences of climate change. I acknowledge what she said about the outcome of the recent Durban conference, but it did make progress on the design of that review and on the steps, including negotiating a new global agreement, to get the global community back on track to achieve at least the 2° C goal. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for playing a key role in the Durban negotiations, which have taken things forward.

All that sets the context—the imperative of building a low-carbon economy—for dealing with the contributions from the hon. Members for Warrington South (David Mowat), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). Not only do we need to reduce carbon emissions because of the imperative of tackling climate change, but we face the massive challenge of energy security.

I shall deal first with the hon. Member for Warrington South, who criticised the focus on renewables and sought to concentrate on the optimisation of decarbonisation, arguing for the importance of nuclear and gas in the short term. We face the immediate and remarkable challenge that nearly one third of our energy supplies will be going off-grid in the next decade. That is because of decisions already taken. Nuclear cannot deliver in that time frame. There are disadvantages in relying heavily on imported gas because it makes us more vulnerable to risks with regard to security of supply, fluctuating and volatile cost, and availability of supply. To replace the lost capacity and to hit challenging emissions targets, we need a new supply quickly, and wind and other renewables are a crucial part of that. Over the longer term, the Government have no intention of favouring one form of low-carbon energy production over another. Our intention is to secure a level playing field for low-carbon technologies competing with one another. Tidal power, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, should be given its chance along with other technologies.

The Government have already issued a White Paper on electricity market reform. That is an important way to deliver the change that we need to secure proper competition between low-carbon technologies. It will mean that a level playing field is introduced by 2020, and it covers nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and renewables. The carbon plan published on 1 December, which sets out how we will meet the requirements of the fourth carbon budget—between 2022 and 2027—does not favour one form of production over another but offers different scenarios and different combinations within the whole mix. We are not looking to lock in any one form of production. The Government have stressed the importance of reducing energy demand and of improved energy conservation. That is why our green deal is so important, as is the radical step of introducing smart electricity and gas meters across every home. We do, however, stress the need for immediate and decisive action.

I will not, because I am conscious of time constraints and think that I must press on.

The hon. Members for Daventry and for Montgomeryshire discussed wind energy. First, it is important to recognise that this does cause concern for many people; we are all familiar with that in our own constituencies. Those concerns cannot just be dismissed. There are inevitably tensions between the absolute imperative of reducing carbon in our economy and the concerns of local people. It is important to recognise, though, that applications are turned down on landscape grounds. The key is to find appropriate locations in terms of landscape and wind speed.

The hon. Member for Daventry raised concerns about the efficiency and effectiveness of wind energy. Wind energy is generated for between 70% and 80% of the time. It is already providing about 2.9% of total energy generation—that was the figure for the second quarter of 2011—and it represented approximately 31% of the overall renewable electricity generated in that period. It is already delivering results. The costs of onshore wind are expected to come down by about 8% to 9% between now and 2030. That will result in support for onshore wind reducing by 10% from April 2013. The hon. Gentleman also raised concerns about the proximity of wind turbines to where people live and the importance of local decision making. The Government, through the Localism Act 2011, want to give people in their communities a greater say in the decisions that are taken.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire raised particular concerns about what is happening in his own community. I pay tribute to the passion and commitment that he has demonstrated on this issue over a long period. He will be aware that the location of wind farms in mid-Wales is down to TAN 8—technical advice note 8—which is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. Any changes or variations to TAN 8 are their responsibility rather than that of the UK Government. Six applications for developments of over 50 MW are currently in train in mid-Wales, and we are waiting on the response of the local authority, Powys county council, which is due by the end of March next year. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) has written to the authority recently—last week, I think—to extend the deadline to the end of September so that it can conduct its assessment properly and respond fully to the proposals. That extension is subject to approval by the applicants.

I should also mention the Localism Act 2011, which has removed decision making powers from the Infrastructure Planning Commission. That body has dealt with applications for developments of more than 50 MW since April 2010. It was introduced by the previous Government and it was an appointed, unaccountable quango. This Government have returned responsibility to Ministers, thereby reinstating clear accountability.

I want to reiterate the value and importance of wind in meeting climate change targets, for the reasons that I have already expressed. It has to be part of the mix. I stress its economic benefits in Wales and elsewhere. Wind energy contributes £158 million directly to the Welsh economy every year in turnover, employment and expenditure. It is responsible for more than 800 full- time jobs in Wales, and that is expected to rise to 1,000 next year. That must be considered.

Finally, I will deal with the contribution of the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). I am grateful to him for raising the concerns brought to his attention by Mrs Lorraine Bond. The amount that she and others have to pay over the winter just to heat their homes should concern us all. He is right that the recent Office of Fair Trading report highlighted that cylinder liquefied petroleum gas—

Order. Minister, you have now been speaking for 12 minutes, which is more than “up to 10 minutes”. I would therefore be grateful if you brought your remarks to a conclusion as quickly as possible, and if you could remember to address the Chamber, not the people sitting behind you.

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will bring my remarks to a close quickly.

The concern is that the consumers we are talking about are mostly on very low incomes, are often elderly and struggle with their heating costs. I will talk about the steps that the Government are taking. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden wrote to the OFT recently, asking it to consider how to make markets work more effectively for vulnerable consumers.

Park homes will shortly be able to receive help under the Government’s main home energy efficiency scheme—the carbon emissions reduction target. CERT requires all domestic energy suppliers with more than 50,000 consumers to reduce householders’ carbon dioxide emissions by promoting low-carbon energy solutions. Under CERT, suppliers are free to decide what measures to promote. I recognise that suppliers have chosen not to install measures in significant quantities to date, but there have been successful trials this year of park home insulation solutions that significantly reduce energy use. Those trials have shown what can be achieved. Solid wall insulation for park homes will get a formal carbon score under CERT, which will incentivise energy suppliers to promote these measures to park home residents during the final year of the CERT scheme.

Finally, I have taken on board the concerns raised by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire about the renewable heat incentive. It is clearly important to ensure that that matter is considered fully. The concerns that he has raised will be taken on board by the Department. Every effort will be made to ensure that these vulnerable consumers are protected as well as possible.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions and wish everybody a very happy Christmas.