HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 cc1088-90
9. Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

What discussions she has had with the Department of Trade and Industry on the environmental impact of wind turbines. [174410]

10. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

What discussions she has had with the Department of Trade and Industry on the environmental impact of wind turbines. [174411]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

Lead responsibility for wind energy lies with the DTI, although the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is also a regulator for offshore wind farms. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Mr. Forth

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services at the DTI is a well-known wind enthusiast. Indeed, I think that he has said that 80 per cent. of renewable energy should come from wind. Will the Minister say where the thousands of wind turbines needed to achieve that target will be located? What account has he or his Department taken of the effect on birds, aircraft and local communities? Has he discussed that with the DTI? How on earth is the Minister's wind going to provide reliable energy?

Mr. Morley

We must put the matter into perspective. The objective is to get 10 per cent.—rising to 15 per cent.—of our energy from renewables, of which wind is but one part. We are encouraging and supporting other technologies, and it is likely that the sector will develop in due course. However, there is no getting away from the fact that wind is a cheap and reliable option in the renewables sector. It is important that we increase the amount of energy taken from renewable sources in this country, but the impact on the environment and landscape cannot be ignored.

The potential impact on birds is a serious issue that we take into account in our studies of offshore farms. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), for example, very large applications for wind farms have been made. He and other hon. Members have represented very strongly the reasonable case put by local people about the potential impact. We take that case seriously, and take it into account.

Bob Spink

The hon. Gentleman is generally an excellent Minister, but he is a little unsound on this subject. He will be aware that a wind farm is mooted for the Thames estuary that would have serious implications for navigation and the environment. In addition, some people say that the noise of such a farm would adversely affect surrounding residential areas. Before any steps are taken in respect of the Thames estuary wind farm, will he ensure that the people of Castle Point—and of Canvey island, in particular—are fully consulted, so that their interests can be taken into account?

Mr. Morley

I want to make it clear that many of these matters are for the DTI, while others, such as navigation, are for the Department for Transport. A co-ordinated approach is therefore required, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this Department takes very seriously those aspects of the environmental impact of wind farms that are our responsibility. They tend to be offshore, as we have a role in offshore consents. I assure him that we insist on environmental impact assessments: for example, we support the research into offshore bird populations undertaken by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. We also insist on long-term monitoring of those effects. All those issues can be taken into account. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we must increase the amount of renewable energy used, and wind is an important part of that.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab)

When my hon. Friend considers the environmental impact of wind turbines, will he include the gold-digging syndrome that is seen when one company comes into an area and does a study to see if it is suitable, and then many other companies come in on the back of that study? In no time, an area is bogged down with application after application for wind turbines. My hon. Friend will know, from his knowledge of my area, that in North Axholme and Goole Fields many companies are now considering applications. The people of Crowle are not anti-renewable energy and they can see that wind might have a role to play, but they are sick and tired of the scale of what is proposed. It is too much for one small part of the country.

Mr. Morley

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, and he arranged a meeting with the local action groups in his constituency, which I attended to listen to their views. I have great sympathy with many of the points that were made. People oppose wind farms for many reasons, not always because of their environmental impact. People have valid concerns and we take those into account in our environmental assessments. I know that the scale of the applications is taken into account by the DTI in its scoping studies, and I will certainly speak to my colleagues in that Department about my hon. Friend's concerns.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab)

Has my hon. Friend the Minister seen the press reports this week about the first school in the UK to construct a wind turbine on its roof? Is not it the case that the new generation of compact wind turbines will enable every school, factory, hospital and even private house in the UK to generate its own electricity? When my hon. Friend next discusses the issues with his colleagues in the DTI, will he also involve my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in discussing the potential for more schools to generate their own electricity through wind turbines?

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have been discussing issues such as sustainability with the Green Ministers group and I know that the DFES is very interested. The House should also recognise that this country is developing industries that are leaders in new energy technologies. The roof-based wind turbines are produced by a British company based in Scotland, and the export market for their products has enormous potential. The new technology will provide environmental benefits, as well as gains for our wider economy.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD)

Has the Minister noticed that those who are keen to rubbish wind power are often the same people who advocate a new generation of nuclear power stations? Has he discussed with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry the full lifecycle costs of wind power as against nuclear power, given the £48 billion decommissioning costs—£8,000 per person in this country—of the latter? Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State that it would therefore be wrong to set out on a new generation of nuclear power?

Mr. Morley

There are no proposals in the energy White Paper for new nuclear power stations. The hon. Gentleman makes the point about the choices that have to be made about energy generation. Renewables must be part of that balance, and we must increase the proportion they provide. People have various motivations for opposing applications for wind farms, including some members of the hon. Gentleman's party in their constituencies. I hope that he will speak to them about that.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con)

The Minister and the DTI are swamping the country with wind farms in pursuit of his failing policy on climate change. Is he aware that CO2 emissions went up last year? Instead of putting all his eggs into the wind farm basket, he should focus on wave and tidal power, solar energy, photovoltaics, biomass and hydrogen, and introduce a proper diversified renewables policy that might actually see CO2 emissions going down, instead of up.

Mr. Morley

What blatant opportunism! It comes from the party that tabled a Prayer to try to block emissions trading in the European Union and that made no progress in addressing climate change when it had the opportunity to do so. The energy White Paper is universally recognised as a world leader in global strategies for dealing with climate change. It addresses all the issues, including tidal energy, solar power and gas. That is all part of the research and development that we have put in, but which the previous Conservative Government cut.

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