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Energy: Onshore Wind

Volume 762: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on investment in renewable energy of their decision to end the subsidy for onshore wind farms.

My Lords, onshore wind has made a valuable contribution to the United Kingdom energy mix in recent years, but there is now enough capacity in the pipeline for the United Kingdom to meet its 2020 renewable commitments. We will consider carefully the level of investment that developers are likely to bring forward under the proposals announced by the Secretary of State on 18 June.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. However, would he agree with me that we are not in fact on track to meet our renewables targets because they apply to all energy, and the targets for heat and transport are not on track? Therefore, this is an imprudent blanket ban on one of our cheapest and fastest-to-deploy technologies. Will he not reconsider?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the importance of onshore wind, but it is already delivering for us. On that basis, we are convinced that the mix of other renewables, together with nuclear and CCS, means that the challenging commitments that we indeed have on heat and transport are deliverable.

My Lords, as we learn from experience which type of renewable to back and which not to back, and as wind turbines have shown themselves to produce extremely expensive electricity due to their intermittency, would the Minister consider moving on to one of the greatest developments of our age, which is small nuclear reactors? That means that, instead of having one huge nuclear power station that probably takes 10 to 14 years to develop, you could have 10 factory-built nuclear units in a row—if one is closed down for maintenance, the other nine continue to work. This is the technology of tomorrow, which will give us limitless CO2-free cheap energy. Will the Government consider putting some serious resource into this to make Britain a world leader in this technology?

My Lords, renewables are important, but it is absolutely right that some renewables are intermittent and we therefore need back-up. Nuclear is certainly vital to us and we need it. We are looking at the possibility—I put it no stronger than that—of smaller nuclear as an additional part of the mix.

My Lords, the Minister was unable to respond to my question after the Statement yesterday as to whether a jobs and supply chain impact assessment had been carried out by the Government in advance of the Statement. I think that is to be regretted. One way to restore confidence within that community would be to signal that the Government have no plans to change their proposed contract date for contracts for difference from October this year. Can the Minister confirm that they are on course to do that and the details will be published before recess?

My Lords, first on the economic impact, it is possible to overstate that. That it is why I did not really dwell on the issue. Two hundred and fifty projects are likely to be affected, but a clear majority of those would not be processed even within the old limits, so the economic impact is small. With relation to contracts for difference, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place, we will be making a Statement on that in due course.

The noble Lord will be aware that this is a reserved issue. There was correspondence with the Scottish Government and tomorrow my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be meeting with Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Energy in Scotland.

My Lords, in the Statement that the Minister made yesterday in the House on renewable energy and the ending of subsidies, he indicated that the Government consulted with the three regional assemblies: the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Assembly. Could the Minister indicate who the Government spoke to within the Northern Ireland Assembly, and was there forthcoming support from the Northern Ireland Assembly for what the Government announced yesterday?

My Lords, there is ongoing discussion with the devolved Administrations. I am not sure whether I used the word “consult”. I said there had been contact, certainly, with the devolved Administrations and contact that is continuing, particularly on the issue of the grace period where we have indicated that we are very happy to talk to stakeholders.

My Lords, every nuclear submarine built in the United Kingdom has had a propulsion unit built by Rolls-Royce. We have decades of experience in the construction of small nuclear reactors. This is an amazing opportunity for our country to take up the point made by his noble friend and develop these small nuclear reactors for urban use.

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great experience. He used to represent the area of Sellafield and I take his contribution very seriously. As I have indicated, we are looking at the issue of small nuclears at the moment.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 19 January 2015, which was the coldest day of the year so far, electricity demand in the UK was at its highest and yet wind turbines—both onshore and offshore—produced less than 1% of the UK’s total electricity demand?

I was not aware that was the coldest day of the year, or indeed that that was the case. Renewables are a vital part of the contribution to our decarbonisation. That remains very much the case. We have a range of renewables, which are of key importance to us in meeting our targets and particularly in meeting the climate change agenda in Paris this year.