HC Deb 23 November 1987 vol 123 cc1-3
1. Mr. Gerald Bowden

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the current status of the LS1 wind turbine at Burgar Hill on Orkney.

15. Dr. Michael Clark

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will list the number of applications of which he is aware for the building of commercial electricity-generating windmills within the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Cecil Parkinson)

I visited Burgar Hill on Orkney on 10 November to inaugurate the experimental 3 MW 60 m diameter wind turbine generator. Following commissioning, the machine will undergo a comprehensive two-year monitoring programme.

I am aware of no outstanding applications for commercial electricity-generating windmills, but wind-powered generators have been built or are being built at Carmarthen Bay, Richborough and Ilfracombe, in addition to that at Orkney.

Mr. Bowden

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Can he give the House any idea of how much will be invested, and whether his Department has any plans for developing the technology of this highly efficient, or at least highly attractive, and renewable form of energy?

Mr. Parkinson

To date the Department has invested about £22 million since 1979 in exploring the potential of electricity generation from wind. At present we are spending about £4 million a year. We consider that there is good economic potential in the technology, and we intend to continue to support the work.

Dr. Clark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that wind power has a significant part to play in generating electricity, particularly in remote areas, and that the technology can also be very useful to the Third world? Does he, however, concede that it is unlikely that it will ever play a significant role in this country, and that it is therefore essential that we continue to invest in nuclear and coal-fired stations?

Mr. Parkinson

I agree with my hon. Friend. I cannot see the day when we shall be generating large quantities of electricity from wind. The wind generator in Orkney, which I mentioned, is higher than Nelson's column, and the sail is about 65 m across. About 150 of those would be required to replace the power produced by a medium-sized 500 MW coal-fired station, and a good deal of space would be needed. I believe that there is potential in the technology, but I do not think that huge quantities of our electricity will come from it.

Mr. Wallace

I am sure that the Secretary of State will acknowledge the valuable work done by the wind energy group, and also by James Howden. Both have pioneered developments in wind power.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is considerable export potential, but that it would be much better to carry out a good deal of the development in the United Kingdom than, for instance, to take experiments to the United States? Does the right hon. Gentleman foresee any need to change the terms of the Energy Act 1983 to make it a more attractive proposition for small-scale private owners of wind generators to gain some advantage from the generating boards?

Mr. Parkinson

The generator that I mentioned is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I know that he shares my enthusiasm for the project. The working of the 1983 Act has been a disappointment. The principal problem is gaining access to the grid on the right terms. The matter is raised regularly by independent producers.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has the specification of any of the wind generators on order for my right hon. Friend's Department had to be altered after the velocity of the recent disastrous gales? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that some of the coldest weather in the United Kingdom occurs when an anti-cyclone is sitting over the United Kingdom and there is zero air flow?

Mr. Parkinson

There are problems with wind generators. However, the people in Orkney tell me that 100 mph winds are not uncommon. Indeed, winds faster than that occurred three times last winter. The generator has been designed to take tremendous strains.

Mr. Eadie

People in the area, and many hon. Members, welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman saw fit to be identified with the project by opening it and also to be associated with the consortium of GEC, British Aerospace and Taylor Woodrow. Does he think that he should underline the fact that the expenditure of £12 million was made entirely by his Department and by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that people want to know where all this footloose capital is going to? People have prayer mats in their inside pockets regarding privatisation. Why are they not investing in energy if they are so enthusiastic about it?

Mr. Parkinson

One of the reasons why there is a problem about investment in energy is the very low rate of return that is on offer to those who put up the capital, because of the price that they get for their electricity when they feed it into the grid. That is one of the biggest obstacles to proper investment in energy, and it is one of the reasons why, as I explained to the House the other day, we need to improve the rate of return in the electricity supply industry.

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