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Energy: Wind Farms

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 7 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What are the reasons for the recently reported concerns of the Ministry of Defence about the construction of wind farms.

My Lords, wind turbines can affect a number of Ministry of Defence activities and interests, including radar, low-flying training and seismological equipment. Recent MoD objections to planning applications for wind turbines have been necessary because of the predicted unacceptable interference with radar. In some cases, this is air traffic control radar; in others, it is air defence radar.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer, but is she not aware that there have been obstructions such as oil rigs in the North Sea for about 30 years? Offshore wind turbines, to which the MoD has not objected, have been given permission. In fact, there have been wind turbines off the coast of Belgium, which is rather closer to parts of the UK than the new offshore wind turbine sites currently proposed, for 20 years. Why has the MoD only just woken up to this? If the objections are sustained, does my noble friend not agree that it will wreck Government energy policy?

No, my Lords, the MoD fully supports the Government’s renewable energy targets and we are working actively to mitigate any of the problems that may arise. The MoD does not object to all wind farms and, indeed, gives strong advice to people in the pre-planning process who are thinking of siting a wind farm in any area. In the past three years we have objected to only 31 applications, and since 1996 we have raised no objection to 352 planning applications. We object when there is a real problem. Usually that is when there is a difficulty over the radar line of sight. The MoD has a good record of giving advice to those who want wind turbines and objecting only when there is a direct necessity to do so.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report by officials in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which was fortunately leaked to the Guardian. It pointed out that the Government’s 2020 renewable energy target was unattainable, and that even if it could almost be attained, it would cost between £18 billion and £22 billion. Should not the noble Baroness instead be thanking the Ministry of Defence for getting the Government off this absurd and absurdly expensive hook?

My Lords, those are not absurd targets. The Government’s policy is for 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity supply to come from renewable resources by 2010, and 15 per cent by 2015, with an aspiration to rise to 20 per cent by 2020. As was evidenced by some of the comments in the previous Question, it is in all our interests to try to meet those targets. Wind energy has a role to play in that.

My Lords, will the Minister assure us that the Ministry of Defence has a coherent line when any of these objections are raised, and point out where the line in this pattern of objections is? As with many other subjects to do with any aspect of wind farms, we discover that they are responsible for everything from lowering house prices to scaring cats. Can we please have a little coherence here?

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence raises objections only when there are real reasons for doing so. For example, with radar interference, turbine blades can create clutter on the screen; they can mask radar returns from real radar; they can create holes in radar coverage. This is not a concern only within the MoD; it is shared by those responsible for civil aviation. On occasion, NATS and the CAA have objected as well. We only do it when we have to. We think that there is a strong role for wind energy in the future. We offer advice where we can, so that people do not pursue applications for planning permission if we are going to object. We have a very big take-up and have received 4,800 pre-planning proposals from people who have contacted the MoD since 1996 and who value the advice that we have been giving.

My Lords, in the light of what the Minister has just said, are the Government still confident that the effect of wind farms on radar will not present a hazard to navigation at sea?

My Lords, I have not looked into navigation at sea, but the MoD works as a whole on those issues. We have some concerns, for example, on search and rescue operations, where wind turbines could cause problems. Steps are being taken to try to mitigate that and to assess the extent of that issue. It is a concern of which we are aware, but it is not thought overall that there should be a problem, although there could be in certain specific cases.

My Lords, I think that that is extending the Question a little far. But, obviously, I mentioned that one of our concerns was air defence radar. We have very good coverage of air defence radar and we would not want wind turbines or anything else to interfere with the operation of that.

My Lords, can the Minister answer what seems to me to be a fairly obvious question, bearing in mind that the Times on 4 and 5 February said that the trials which have been taking place under the auspices of the MoD were in 2004 and 2005? Did the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform consult with the MoD before he announced in December the draft plans for major expansion of offshore wind? Did he know about the 2005 trials?

My Lords, we spread information throughout government. As regards wind energy applications, there is a wind, energy and aviation interest interim guideline section for those who want to have wind farms and to develop them. The MoD interests are clearly laid out, as are some of our concerns. As well as that, we have, as a department, written to all planning authorities setting out our concerns so that all those who want to develop wind farms should be fully aware of the nature of the MoD’s concerns.