HL Deb 13 February 1997 vol 578 cc381-98

7.1 p.m.

Viscount Tenby asked Her Majesty's Government to what extent they have taken into account the impact of wind farms on the rural environment.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is to take part in this short debate. I am sure that we all look forward with great interest to what he has to say.

I declare an interest at the outset as the president of a county branch of the CPRE, but one that has no wind farms within its area. In any event, the views expressed by me this evening are entirely my own. I come with no lance for tilting purposes, and on foot, having left my donkey at home. My purpose in tabling this Unstarred Question is to give the subject an airing—an appropriate word to use in this context—and it would seem that there are so many noble Lords who share that view that I now rather regret not having gone for a debate. Perhaps we may be able to rectify my omission later this year.

It is a subject on which there are strongly held opinions on both sides and it seems to me that the arguments and statistics quoted depend very largely upon the side one takes. Accordingly, my intention to hold the ring, as it were, may well end up with my being under attack from both sides, but an intermediary's role has never been a bed of roses.

I suppose that my interest in the subject was fired by making a journey, as I frequently do, through the heartland of rural Wales, the country in the UK with the largest number of wind turbines—Llandinam has 103, Carno Tranhon Moor 56, Cemmaes 24, rising to 32, Bryn Titli 22, and so on. There is a smaller wind farm at Trysglwyn in Anglesey on land farmed by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, with whom I have often enjoyed working in the past on various unrelated matters, as I am sure that the noble Earl the Minister will fondly recall. We very much look forward to the noble Lord's knowledgeable contribution later.

Anyone undertaking such a journey will immediately be struck by the number of wind turbines dominating the upland landscape and I remember thinking on that first occasion, "I hope it's all worth it". To have such thoughts—"airy-fairy thoughts", the unusual alliance of Greens and dedicated businessmen might call them— does not in any way question the desirability of wind power and the part that it and other sources of renewable energy might play in meeting part of our future energy requirements, but we must, I believe, come to a decision before long on the price we are prepared to pay to go down this road.

First, we must assess the environmental implications. Because they are wind power stations, they must be sited where there is the best chance of maximum wind supply and this will usually mean in upland areas of outstanding natural beauty. So much is obvious and inevitable. In addition, the most favoured areas will be the most popular ones for developers, with the consequent risk of overcrowding bringing in its wake the danger of "intervisibility", as it is called—that is, a situation where one site is visible from another. That is particularly the case in parts of Montgomeryshire, for example.

Despite surveys which have been conducted at Delabole in Cornwall and at Cemmaes, both before and after commissioning, which record substantial support for the structures from local residents, there is nevertheless considerable opposition from countryfolk generally. The degree of noise (which to a large extent depends on the type of equipment involved and its age) emanating from the gearbox and drive mechanism; the noise from the blades themselves (obviously greater in a high wind); the amount of flicker experienced in the surrounding countryside; and the amount by which the local economy benefits through spending on employment—these are all matters of contention between the opposing groups. It is also right to add on the environmental aspect that there are other factors to be taken into consideration besides the opinions of immediate residents. The impact on the tourist trade is also of considerable importance, particularly in Wales, and it is doubtful whether those who pay good money to see incomparable scenery wish to see it to the accompaniment of flailing arms, seemingly pointing in all directions.

To many, any damage to the environment is more than paid for by the reduction, however small, in pollution levels caused by fossil fuels. One cannot help noting, however, that some of the movers and shakers in the wind farm stakes have other interests too and that those promoting Rookhope, for example, in County Durham, a projected site with 55 turbines 300 feet high, also have plans for an orimulsion plant in Pembroke at the other end of the UK. It also cannot be ignored that the conversion to gas-fired power stations in coming years will inevitably constitute the largest single contribution to a reduction in pollution levels, far exceeding anything from the renewable energy sector.

Secondly, there is the question of viability. Planning Policy Guidenote 22, issued by the Department of the Environment in 1993, declares that government policy is being pursued through a continuing programme of research and development and by allowing renewable energy promoters to compete equitably in the market with providers of conventional sources of energy. Because of the high initial capital cost of establishing a wind farm, this can be achieved only by the use of NFFO subsidies, but it is only right to add that all wind energy developments throughout the world receive subsidies in one form or another. In fact, some of the 17,000 or so wind turbines in California have been scrapped or shut down because of the withdrawal of subsidy.

Although wind power is infinite, it is also variable. Turbines cannot cope with too little wind or too much, and the farm at Cemmaes, for example, was severely damaged by storms some years ago. It is also claimed by some that output has not always lived up to expectations. In the case of Cemmaes, there has been real output of 25 per cent. against a projection of 43 per cent. when the project started. That is the downside. On the upside, there is the progress being made in the development of ever-more efficient and powerful turbines. Both these factors, however, in their different ways make accurate forecasting of the future output of the industry doubtful, to put it as mildly as I can.

The Government have said that they will seek 25 per cent. of their total energy requirements from renewable technologies by 2025. It has further been calculated that it would take anything between 20,000 and 38,000 of the smaller turbines and 10,000 of the larger 1.5 megawatt turbines, depending on which side you take, to supply 10 per cent. of the UK energy market. At present there are some 550 turbines (representing 40 farms) in the UK, their presence eliciting opposition in many quarters. One quails at the thought of the unease which would ensue once we were to get anywhere near realising that government calculation for future years.

Thirdly, we must consider planning. PPG 22 says that planning applications must be determined in accordance with the development plans of an area and must then take into account environmental concerns, the effect on wildlife and so on. Particular care, it continues, must be taken in assessing development in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, SSSIs and the Broads. It is hardly surprising that, given those criteria, many applications are rejected. Indeed, I believe that it may be true to say that no application has been successful within the past 12 months, which indicates that planning officers are rightly applying the highest standards in their assessments.

Irrespective of the merits or demerits of wind farms, we do not want to be so bedazzled by the new technology and our fear of the greenhouse effect that we repeat the mistakes of 150 years ago in allowing the new factories of the industrial revolution to proliferate without control. Clearly, every application should have an environmental impact assessment and, furthermore, should be in harmony with whatever the development plans may be for the particular area. Surely, to this there should be no exceptions. I would welcome the assurance of the Minister on that point.

It would be wrong to diminish the need for, and use of, renewable energy, be it solar, water or wind. We must all hope that research and development in these areas will increase as the years pass for our future may well depend on it. Who knows? We may yet see the Severn Bore harnessed. Wind farms will undoubtedly have an important role to play as well but they must always be sensitively sited and strictly controlled. There should be greater emphasis on offshore development. I particularly welcome the Scroby Sands development. However, the greatest contribution to reducing the earth's pollution can be made only by reducing our energy requirements across the board. This mammoth task is dependent on something that no government since the war have seen fit to give us: a rational and co-ordinated transport policy with emphasis on, and wholehearted support for, public transport. Until that challenge is accepted we shall only be tinkering with the problem, wind farms or no wind farms.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, since the passing of the 1988 Act I have been trying to follow the Government's advice given on 15th June 1989. On that occasion my noble friend Lady Hooper said that renewable generators could always look to the future with optimism. That was reinforced by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on 19th June 1990. He said that noble Lords opposite did not believe that the Government had shown enough enthusiasm for renewable sources of energy. He particularly had in mind wind power.

After an eight-year struggle, in May 1996 14 turbines became operational on my wife's farm, the nearest being within 200 metres of our house. I invite any noble Lord to visit them and understand that, first, they are not noisy; secondly, they do not disturb wild life; thirdly, they do not pollute; fourthly, they have improved immeasurably the farm both economically and environmentally; and, fifthly, they are a tourist attraction. I am sorry to argue with the noble Viscount. They are dramatically beautiful. Eighty per cent. of my visitors say so, as does the noble Viscount's first cousin who lives in Wales.

Further, they subsidise the regional electricity companies. They fully comply with PPG22, the planning document referred to by the noble Viscount. That was instigated by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I trust that all noble Lords who are to speak have studied it carefully. For all those reasons, I hope that my noble friend Lord Ferrers will confirm that the Government's proposals take full account of the impact of wind farms on the environment.

7.13 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for this opportunity to speak, however briefly, on the subject of wind farms. It is rather difficult to develop any arguments but I will do my best. Global warming is a reality. We cannot prevent it happening because it has gone too far for that. All we can do is try not to make it any worse by the things we do and to avoid reaching a point where life becomes intolerable for our children and grandchildren. That means reducing harmful emissions across the board.

Wind farms are part of that exercise. But if we are not to destroy our most cherished landscape we must be very careful where we put them. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. I, too, find them beautiful but not when they are stretched across a scene I once loved. I refer to a mountain in Wales. I do not know whether the noble Lord's wind farm is sited on a mountain in Wales. I find that very unattractive. However, I like to see wind farms in action. I do not find them noisy.

I make a special plea on behalf of the national parks—I speak as a vice-president of the Council for National Parks—which contain our most precious and valued landscapes. I believe that they are a special case and must be treated differently in the context of the installation of wind farms. They are our most valued areas for recreation and spiritual renewal. I speak not only of national parks but for example of mountains in Wales which are not within national parks.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to PPG22. I believe that that must be amended to give greater emphasis to environmental considerations. It goes some way but not far enough. No application for a wind farm should be approved without a full environmental impact assessment that takes into account the visual impact and the cumulative effect to which the noble Viscount referred. Further, decommissioning and the restoration that inevitably follows should be built into the initial planning requirements.

Above all, the Government must lead a new campaign for energy conservation. Support for the Energy Saving Trust must be maintained. All of us as individuals must play our part. It seems trivial to say that we must switch off unnecessary lights and appliances but, with 13 million homes in the country, that could make a considerable impact on electricity demand. Building regulations could and should demand higher levels of insulation. There is much more that can be done to reduce the demand for ever more energy production. It would be encouraging to know that this philosophy had spread through all government departments.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on tabling this Unstarred Question. It is a shame that we are limited to 60 minutes. I live in a beautiful part of Montgomeryshire which has the two largest wind farms in Europe. It also has the first such wind farm at Cemmaes which has already been referred to. My initial reaction was one of qualified support because of the renewable energy implications. It brought to some farmers much needed income at a time when life was very difficult in the farming community. I am bound to say that nearly a decade later my reaction is that enough is enough. On some sites they are a desecration of the countryside and an unacceptable visual intrusion, especially when very large wind farms are situated on exposed hillsides and so forth. I entirely agree that there should be very much tighter planning controls with a right of appeal on both sides and that very strict rules should be applied. One must remember just how much pressure local planning committees are subjected to by vested interests in this matter.

There is also unacceptable noise pollution in some places. I know of places in Montgomeryshire where close to the windmills there is virtually no noise, and yet half a mile away or even further people complain of incessant noise. The experience in California, where there are very much larger wind farms and turbines, is that as the years go by noise pollution becomes greater and greater.

I also now doubt the whole economic case for these ventures as the main contribution to renewable energy installation. My noble friend Lord Geraint—who because of the limited time will not speak but has left the matter to me—pointed out to me earlier that a hydro-electric scheme was within 100 yards of the nearest wind turbine on a new farm in Cardiganshire. That hydro-electric scheme produces in two hours per day more than all the wind farms in this country. If we are to have anything like 10 per cent. of our energy supplied by wind farms we are looking at an increase of about 40 to 50 per cent. during the next few years. I believe that that is totally unacceptable.

The Government should turn their mind to something like the Severn River barrage. I have had experience as chairman of the company building the Severn River bridge and I believe that it is time we looked at the barrage which, it is estimated, would produce 10 per cent. of our requirements.

7.20 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, we must all be agreed on the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is right to look at all forms of non-fossil fuel power generation including wind power. It is important that we should keep abreast of this particular technology and find places where it may be appropriately used. It is good that we now have extensive experience of wind power stations. They are not farms; they are huge industrial installations. Despite their inefficiency and high cost, they are every bit as much power stations as Didcot or Drax.

The question is whether wind power on an industrial scale is the right policy for us, in a crowded island where there are limited areas of sustained high wind speed and where lonely and beautiful landscape is particularly precious. I therefore warmly welcome this timely debate, and am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for introducing it.

There are no wind power stations in the diocese of Hereford, but I have been personally involved in two proposed schemes. One is on the Black Hill, in the far west of the diocese, where the long outline of the Black Mountains is famously visible from countless places in the county. The other is on Reeves Hill, where the Shropshire Hills area of outstanding natural beauty meets the edge of Radnorshire. Both are extremely sensitive sites and are visible from a great distance. These proposals caused much anxiety, anger and deep divisions in local communities, fear for the landscape itself, and worry about the highly intrusive noise of wind turbines. As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, that noise can vary enormously. I stood beneath the turbines at Llandinan and heard practically nothing. However, a mile away the noise can be most unpleasant. There was very strong opposition and neither scheme has been carried out. We have been fortunate—others have not.

On Monday afternoon I was returning to Hereford from mid-Wales on the mountain road from Machynlleth to Llanidloes, climbing to over 1,600 feet into a lonely, wild and desolately beautiful landscape. After a stormy day the rain had stopped and a crescent moon appeared between the scudding clouds. I thought of the words of Gerard Manley-Hopkins: The world is charged with the grandeur of God". Then I saw them: row upon row of enormous wind turbines, 56 altogether, pale intruders into that elemental landscape, with the relentless movement of the turbine blades, five miles away but very obtrusive. As the road descended to the valley, I saw even more; the horizon fenced in with the 103 Llandinan turbines, strung out along the crest of the ridge for more than three miles.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that enough is enough. What we have done to that incomparable landscape is deeply regrettable. How does Hopkins go on? All is bleared, smeared with toil, and wears man's smudge". Is wind power on an industrial scale what we need to counter global warming? Environmentally it would be a disaster. A maiden speech is not meant to be controversial, so I do not address the economic case, which I believe to be weak. There are other, and much more cost-effective, fuel-conserving, ways of dealing with CO2.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, it was a great pleasure to hear the right reverend Prelate and it is a great honour to be able to congratulate him on an admirable maiden speech. It must be a rare test for any Member of your Lordships' House to have to make a maiden speech in three minutes—a test he passed with flying colours: it taught me more than has many an eight or nine-minute speech. Those in his diocese are extremely lucky: they can devote a relatively short time to attending his services and can receive considerable enlightenment. We look forward to hearing him frequently.

I declare an interest as chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. I am glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, has introduced this important subject. We need much longer to give proper attention to a subject which is becoming increasingly important. There is no doubt that there is something attractive about wind farms; there is always something attractive about something for nothing. That is the feeling one derives from the use of wind power. Equally, one feels that one is doing a good thing because one is doing something which is non-polluting. Those are attractive features of wind power.

However, the use of wind power as a means of fighting the threat of global warming has become an expensive piece of tokenism in two respects. First, the subsidies are not inconsiderable. I understand that well over £150 million of public money has been spent on subsidising wind power, with the prospect of a further £112 million over the next 15 years. Those are considerable sums, but perhaps more to the point is the cost to the environment and the countryside. I am sure that wind farms are acceptable in many parts of the world but in other parts they are not. In Britain and elsewhere, the beauty of the countryside has been given by God and we have no right to lose it. We must hand it down as beautiful as we found it and therefore we must oppose some such development more rigorously. We need government help to do that through the redrafting of PPG22, which should be made much firmer.

In my opinion the real future for non-fossil fuel resources is nuclear power. Provided that we can solve the three problems of the safe reactor, disposal of the waste and eventual decommissioning, nuclear power offers infinitely more opportunity of providing in an environmentally acceptable way the energy which our civilisation needs without intrusion upon our beautiful countryside.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Davies

My Lords, perhaps I may first declare an interest, in that six of the 103 wind turbines that make up the Penrhyddlan and Llidiartywaen wind farms in mid-Wales are on my land and I enjoy some economic benefit from that.

Wind farms arouse strong emotions; there are those who simply loathe them. There is nothing that can be said in favour of wind farms that is likely to change that view. There is no doubt that, when one is close to wind turbines—say, within five miles—they tend to dominate the landscape. However, I find that many of the arguments used against wind farms by those who have decided that they do not like them are extravagant in the extreme.

There is no doubt that wind farms bring considerable benefits as well as making a worthwhile but small start on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Our local wind farm was until recently the largest outside North America. It pays around £180,000 a year in rent which is divided between 19 landowners who are mostly working farmers. About £35,000 to £45,000 a year is paid to the council in rates. The maintenance employs eight staff locally and a four-man full-time maintenance crew. It generates enough electricity on average for about 21,600 homes, the approximate number of homes in the old county of Montgomeryshire.

I spent much of last Saturday among the wind turbines. From there, one can see Hay Bluff, some 50 miles to the south, and Snowdonia, the same to the north. It was possible to see three other wind farms, including Carno, some 10 miles away. As has been mentioned, that has taken over as the largest in terms of generating capacity. But they certainly did not affect the enjoyment of that magnificent view or in any way dominate the scenery. Claims that wind farms destroy beauty and tranquillity even when 20 or 30 miles away remind me of the old Punch cartoon when bathing in the sea became fashionable. When a visitor to a house that overlooked the sea was told that the view was spoiled by the bathers, he protested that they could hardly be seen at that distance. There came the reply, "Ah, but the telescope".

The claim is made that wind farms are noisy. It is certainly true that they make some noise, although in my experience it is of a similar order to the noise of the wind in the trees and in any event, that is being addressed successfully in the new designs, which are even quieter.

The claim is made that they are inefficient and need subsidy. But the subsidy required is becoming less as each batch of contracts is let, reducing from about 7 pence per unit four years ago to about 2 pence per unit in the latest round, due mainly to improvements in design and technology.

The recent Canto turbines have twice the capacity, at 600 megawatts, of the turbines constructed four years ago and the capital cost of new installed megawatt capacity continues to fall. Once installed, there is no air pollution, no generation of greenhouse gases and very little running cost. Perhaps most important, they are at no risk of catastrophic failure which might harm the public or the environment, compared with most other forms of power generation, particularly nuclear power. They can be removed almost without trace when their useful life is finished.

However, they must be carefully sited, and kept out of national parks. It would be much better if their siting were part of an overall plan, rather than subject to the present piecemeal planning decisions made on a one-off basis by the present multitude of planning authorities.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, I intervene to make two brief points. First, as regards economics, industry reports—and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, confirmed this—suggest that wind energy will be price-competitive by the year 2000. The Government are entitled to take some credit for that because they have successfully jump-started energy renewables. But it has been expensive. I have a figure of £99 million from the Electricity Association for 1995 alone for not very much electricity, and that figure is likely to rise in the future. That should be contrasted with the modest £25 million allocation to the Energy Savings Trust, an amount which is scheduled to fall substantially in the future. Yet energy efficiency schemes have a far better return than wind energy—typically, £5 of benefit for every £1 invested and (and I emphasise this) at no environmental cost. Therefore, there is a strong case for discontinuing the NFFO wind subsidy after round 4.

I turn to my second point; namely, planning issues. That is a big subject and I have time to touch only on the important question of designated areas such as AONBs. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, dealt with national parks. The Government say that there is no presumption in favour of wind farms in such areas. That is true. But if the words "outstanding natural beauty" are to have any meaning, the presumption should be firmly against those large industrial structures. The Countryside Commission has clearly shown that there is no shortage of other sites. Yet it has shown also that, by 1995, 17 sites with 141 machines were in or adjacent to AONBs. And recently, as my noble friend Lord Tenby said: we have heard of a huge new proposal in County Durham. That is just in AONBs.

Moreover, if the Government's aim of a 10 per cent. contribution to natural electricity supply, which has been referred to already, is to be realised, we are talking of more than 1,000 sites involving 12,000 mega-turbines, each about the size of Big Ben or something like double that if they are the current size of turbine. In landscape terms, that is not acceptable.

The Government claim that the advice in PPG22 is "robust". It is not. Moreover, it is quite inconsistent with PPG7, which says that policies and development controlling decisions affecting AONBs should: favour conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape However, for major industrial or commercial development only, proven national interest and lack of alternative sites can justify approval in an AONB". The Government's own agencies, the Countryside Commission and the Sustainable Development Round Table, have called for an urgent revision of PPG22 to, provide local planning authority with clearer guidance and an updated framework within which to take planning decisions on renewable energy projects". I urge the Government to think again.

7.35 p.m.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, perhaps I may first declare an interest as a vice president of the Council of National Parks. We believe that renewable energy technologies must be as favourable in terms of their location, scale, appearance and sensitivity to local conditions as they are in their method of energy generation. We maintain that there is ample scope for Britain to adopt a more environmentally favourable energy policy which reconciles the interests of those seeking to reduce pollution from conventional fuel sources and those working to protect the purposes for which national parks were designated.

The introduction of renewable energies need not be at the expense of protecting the integrity of our finest, wilder landscapes. National parks are designated for the beauty of their landscapes, which are living and working, rather than wilderness, landscapes. Those qualities are eroded by the presence of vertical, man-made features like pylons or wind turbines. It is only too easy to destroy the integrity of a wide, open landscape by the presence of an industrial development, however worthy its purpose in reducing the need for burning more fossil fuels.

In national parks, we are trying to sustain and enhance beautiful landscapes for future generations. There are lessons here for sustainable development of the whole countryside—a role given to national parks in government guidance. National parks set standards for the countryside as a whole and require landscape considerations to be brought centrally on to the sustainable development agenda.

The most fundamental consideration this evening is to avoid the need for those industrial installations in the first place by energy conservation. How many wind power stations are absolutely necessary and how many could be avoided by taking simple measures to conserve energy? Can the Minister cast light on the measures which the Government are taking to promote energy conservation, which reduces the impact on the landscape in the countryside as well as the emissions from power stations?

The United Kingdom has some of the most favourable conditions in Europe for generating electricity from the tides and possesses about half of the total tidal energy resource within the European Union. Can we not put further research and development into tidal energy while striving to conserve and utilise efficiently, rather than waste, so much of what we already produce by more conventional means?

7.37 p.m.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, I have a substantial stake in a family wind farm. It was not started for altruistic reasons; we hoped to make some money from it. But, nevertheless, we are greatly improving the nearby landscape. It is on the Goonhilly Downs on the Lizard and it is in an area of outstanding natural beauty—well, it was not when I was a child because in the First World War the Royal Flying Corps had built enormous barracks, air hangars and God knows what else on the down and we could never afford to remove them after the war was over.

Likewise, in the Second World War the military were at it again, setting up enormous bogus barrage balloons and goodness knows what else to act as decoys for the enemy. Again, we could not afford to put the land straight again. But now we have been able to plant wild flowers all over that area of outstanding natural beauty. We have been able to protect too the tombs of ancient Cornish kings. We have 14 very beautiful, very elegant windmills, and artists are now beginning to come to paint them because they are so attractive. You cannot hear the noise that they make if the wind is blowing hard, and if the wind is not blowing hard you cannot hear any noise either. Therefore, it is a lot of rubbish to talk about the noise that wind farms make.

The wind farm is adjacent to what is called Telstar, not far from where Marconi sent his first radio messages across the Atlantic. To begin with, Telstar rather objected to our windmills, saying that they might disturb the balance of the messages from America. We overcame that and now Telstar includes our wind farm as part of its sightseeing tour. It is very popular. It is now very popular in the district. There were protests originally but now you can see those lovely windmills from Mullion, where we supply the electricity. To begin with, I thought that they might not be very attractive but they are in fact extremely attractive. As they continue to develop they will become smoother and more Rolls-Royce like in their manner and there will certainly be no noise at all anywhere.

I have heard about gears. There is nothing wrong with them, but I have never heard a gear noise on our wind farm. It is rather backward looking, even for the right reverend Prelate who made such an interesting maiden speech, to take us back to the days of the noble savage and say that the land must not be disturbed in any way. You can disturb land for industrial purposes and make it more beautiful.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Kenyon

My Lords, perhaps noble Lords would care to imagine coming into the Chamber this evening and finding that the Public Works Department had been in beforehand and replaced the chandeliers and the lighting with fluorescent striplights. What would the reaction be? I suggest that it would be shock, horror and outrage that the beauty of the place that we know and love so well had been desecrated in the pursuit of economy. Those of us who appreciate the beauty and peacefulness of the wide open spaces in the countryside feel just the same emotions when faced with the euphemistically named "wind farms".

As many noble Lords already know, I come from Wales. As can be seen from the number of Welsh faces in the Chamber this evening among those who are taking part in the debate, it is a question which affects Wales far more than England. Perhaps I may give your Lordships a statistic. The total consumption of electricity in Wales in 1994 was 18 million megawatts. The total generated by all wind power stations in the United Kingdom was just 1.67 megawatts—that is, 1 per cent. of what Wales requires. If we are to produce 10 per cent. by the year 2,000, that is 10 times what we already have. We just do not have enough hillsides.

I should like briefly to address the question of noise. In this modern industrial society we have to accept the intrusion of noise, be it from roads, airports, industrial estates, discothèques or just day-to-day life. We learn to live with much of it and our planners do their best to regulate the levels, but in the countryside the intrusion is much more noticeable. Whereas in a town a specific noise might not be noticeable more than 100 yards or so away, that same noise in the countryside can be heard several miles away. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee in another place recognised the particular circumstances in the countryside and recommended that very stringent noise levels be set up to 1½ kilometres from a windmill. Industrial sites are the places for industrial noises; the hills and valleys of Wales are not.

It is self-evident but, nevertheless, worth pointing out that the demand for power comes from the urban and industrial areas of the country. Why not address the problems there? As my noble friend Lord Addison said, investment in energy conservation is the only answer in the long run. Naturally, because it is not in the interests of the generating companies which want to sell more and more electricity, it would have to be funded by central government. But it is the only way that we will be able to leave this earth in good order for the next generation.

I know that it is not the right thing to do to acknowledge a maiden speech, except for the speaker who speaks immediately afterwards. However, I, too, should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his speech, and also take the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins—

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, perhaps noble Lords will forgive me, but I should point out that we are very tight on time.

Lord Kenyon

My Lords, I have but four lines to complete my speech: Elected silence, sing to me And beat upon my whorled ear Pipe me to pastures still and be The music that I care to hear".

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Give him 100 lines!

7.44 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, time precludes the ordinary courtesies but I must welcome a fellow Westcott man to your Lordships' House, even if I disagree with practically everything that he said. First, this country committed itself at Rio to a sustainable future. The direct and unavoidable consequence of this is that we must learn to live on renewable energy. Dependence on fossil fuels is not sustainable. Nuclear power is not acceptable for reasons outside the scope of tonight's debate but which were largely dealt with in the proviso that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, outlined in his speech. To make ourselves totally dependent on renewable energy would be expensive in conventional economic terms and it will take a long time, but it must be done.

Secondly, the appearance of the countryside does matter. We shall not be able to preserve it as it is, nor should we wish to. Our countryside is man, as well as God, made and as we move from classical to ecological economics it will reflect that movement. But it is our duty to see that what appeals to most of us as beauty is not unnecessarily marred. Thirdly, the level of decision-making should be local. The people who live near wind farms should have much more say than even the best-intentioned national pressure groups.

The corollary of all this is that we must have an industry which cares and a planning system which works. I submit that we have both of these, even if the industry cares because it must and the planning system works despite the difficulties sometimes faced in the way of local authorities. The proof of the pudding is that surveys show overwhelming local support by those who live near wind farms. My conclusion and that of my party is that the Government should be putting more money into wind energy, not less. We hope that they will do so.

7.47 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I very much endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I should also like to align myself with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, in that I too think wind turbines are both beautiful and exciting. It is essential that we have a strategy for dealing with the energy needs of this country in the future. We are fortunate in being on the north-west fringe of Europe, having 40 per cent. of the potential wind energy in this country, of which at present we exploit only 1 per cent.

It is of course important that wind farms are sited sensitively and that they do not despoil those areas of the country which we have set aside as national parks. However, I find electricity pylons much more offensive, and we have allowed them to march across many of our valley landscapes. It seems that some people are particularly sentimental about hills and they sometimes take less notice of beautiful river valleys which we have already despoiled.

It is important for us to have an overall energy strategy which includes energy saving. It is estimated that 20 per cent. could be saved through better insulation and technology. In that regard, perhaps I may repeat what I said yesterday. It is disgraceful that the Government took £31 million off the home energy efficiency scheme last year. However, part of that strategy should be the use of renewable energy, not just wind farms. We should also be subsidising the exploration of wave power. Tidal energy, of course, creates all sorts of ecological problems for river estuaries and is not necessarily an alternative solution to wind power.

Perhaps I may briefly outline what was said in the most recent report in January of the Government's round table on sustainable development. The Government are urged to develop a strategic energy policy which promotes energy efficiency and conservation, incorporates costs relating to climatic factors in energy prices and provides continuing support for non-fossil fuel sources of energy. I believe that we should continue to explore all possible ways of developing non-polluting, non-greenhouse-effect-making sources of energy. I am enthusiastic about wind farms but I feel that they need to be sensitively placed and that local planning arrangements are extremely important.

7.50 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for introducing this debate on wind farms. As I expected, it has produced a variety of opinions. However, it was graced with the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. He was quite right to say that these are not farms; he said that they are huge industrial power stations. He may have used a little poetic licence. But, of course, they are not strictly farms. However, those sponsoring the wind turbines cleverly call the sites wind farms as it gives them an agreeable countryside feel.

The right reverend Prelate transported us with his picture of wind farms. We are grateful for his contribution. It was bad luck to have to make a maiden speech in three minutes but he did it with great aplomb and great success. We look forward to hearing from him on many occasions when he will possibly not be restricted to three minutes and will be given a little more licence than he had today.

Wind farms are always a controversial subject. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said that he would try to hold the ring between opposing views. I am bound to say that I thought that that was what I was supposed to do. I shall do my best. It is difficult for your Lordships to make speeches in three minutes. I feel slightly privileged in having rather longer than that. I hope that I shall not abuse the privilege. I would add that it sharpens the mind enormously if one has to express one's views in three minutes.

The noble Viscount, in his Question, asks to what extent the Government have taken into account the impact of wind farms on the rural environment. It is not for the Government to be, as it were, for or against wind farms. As your Lordships have pointed out only too graphically, there is a variety of views about them and different arguments on both sides. Some people feel that they are a total desecration of the countryside—the view of those with whom I slot the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford—and should not possibly ever be erected. I believe my noble friend Lord Marlesford also falls into that category. He said he would rather have a nuclear power station. I am not sure that that is particularly agreeable. I was slightly surprised to hear the chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England say that. However, everyone has his views.

By the nature of things, wind farms tend to be in the country, usually in a quiet setting, which, say their opponents, should not be spoilt by having a whole host of propellers whirling round, although some noble Lords feel that to be peaceful and agreeable. Wind farms are a means of producing a clean, permanent and non-polluting source of power, as has been pointed out. Of course, unlike a coal-fired or nuclear powered station, they can be removed leaving no scars or pollution. They also bring a source of revenue to the countryside. As some noble Lords have said, they have been beneficiaries of that. All that is good.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, says that wind farms are closing down in the United States. I believe that the picture varies across the world. Many new wind farms are being built, for example in Europe. As regards the Government's policy, we want to stimulate the development of new and renewable energy technologies where they have the prospect of being economically attractive and environmentally acceptable. Therein of course lies progress. That is good, particularly if it contributes to a variety of energy supplies and to a reduction in the emission of pollutants.

One of the most serious problems which faces not just this country but the whole world at present is climate change. Climate change—the raising of the world's temperature—might have a major effect, much of which would be unwelcome, in this country. This morning I went to the Hadley meteorological centre at Bracknell where, with the aid of a £10 million computer, people are trying to predict what the climate will do over the next half century or so. The prediction in a nutshell—one cannot put these things into a nutshell easily—is that the increase in carbon dioxide will result in the climate becoming warmer and the greenhouse effect becoming greater. The problem is how we balance our needs for energy, industry and agriculture with the problems which are caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, which are produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Wind farms, of course, produce no carbon dioxide, no sulphur dioxide and no oxides of nitrogen. Therefore they do not contribute either to global warming or to acid rain. Therein they have an advantage.

There is nothing particularly new about the harnessing of wind for man's purposes. It has gone on for years with windmills helping to grind corn and to lift water. What is new is the type of windmills, the number of them in any location, and their purpose. The Government want to promote the development of wind energy generation but, at the same time, we want to try to conserve the country and the countryside. That involves a delicate balancing act. If one thinks of England, one conjures up pictures of green fields, lush meadows, mooing cows, bustling farms and quiet villages clustered around church spires. That is a countryside worth preserving. In that respect it would have the approval of my noble friend Lord Marlesford. That is part of what we are. However, if the countryside is to be maintained it must be industrious and efficient. It must be more than just something nice to look at. There have to be jobs, homes and workplaces too.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was right when he said that the countryside is made by God and also by man. There is nothing wrong in that. As there are these difficulties, we have a planning policy. The planning policy is operated through national guidance and through local development plans. The policy is to try to allow appropriate development in the right place which will enable the countryside to thrive without destroying what is unique to it. Last year my department issued for consultation a draft revision of our main planning guidance note on the countryside, Planning Policy Guidance Note 7. It attracted over 400 written responses which we have now analysed. I hope that we shall be able to publish a revised note shortly which will reflect the aims I have just tried to outline.

My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment, for Wales and for Scotland have each issued guidance on renewable energy for their local planning authorities to take into account. For England, this is Planning Policy Guidance Note 22. My noble friend Lord Marlesford said he wanted it redrafted. So too, I think, did the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. The Government believe that Planning Policy Guidance Note 22—it was produced as recently as 1993—already provides pretty comprehensive and relevant advice on planning and renewable energy but, like all planning policy guidance, the relevance of its advice is kept under continuous review.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, were concerned about the note. In the recent past the Government have amended the environment assessment regulations to include wind farms. Hence planning applications which are likely to have a significant impact on the environment have to be accompanied by an environmental statement. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and other noble Lords were concerned about noise. Noise produced by wind turbines can be regarded by some people as a nuisance. But noise can be taken into account by local planning authorities when they consider planning applications for wind turbines.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford referred to the non-fossil fuel obligation. Its purpose is to encourage the development of energy which, without that encouragement, might never come about. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said that there should be a presumption against wind farms in sensitive areas. If an applicant proposes something which is clearly in conflict with a development plan he will need to produce convincing reasons why the plan should not prevail. Each local authority has to produce a development plan. Planning applications for renewable energy projects have to be determined in accordance with the development plan. Development plans have to recognise that energy which comes from a renewable source can usually be developed only where it occurs. And development plans have to include policies about conserving wildlife and its habitats, and the natural beauty and amenity of the land; improving the physical environment; and taking account of the Government's policy for renewable energy.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred to energy efficiency. The Government recognise the importance of that. They have for example the energy savings trust and the home energy efficiency scheme. I can assure your Lordships that the planning system does not give any special presumption in favour of the development of wind farms. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, was concerned about national parks. I can assure her that in areas protected by international and national designation, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, special considerations apply. The same is true of other areas such as The Broads, areas of archaeological or historic importance, and sites on the coast.

Wind farm developments should be permitted only where they do not have a detrimental effect on the landscape or where they will not cause unnecessary noise or interference. They should not be permitted in areas which are sensitive to wildlife or if they interfere, for example, with the flight paths of migratory birds.

If there were the possibility of an adverse impact on the countryside, the Secretary of State would expect an environmental assessment to be made. The present guidance indicates that a formal environmental assessment should be required where the proposed development exceeds 10 turbines or if the generating capacity exceeds five megawatts. It is possible, though, that an environmental assessment could be required for smaller developments—if, for example, the proposed development were to be in a sensitive location.

Any proposal for a wind farm has to be considered not only in the context of planning policy but also in the context of our policy on renewable energy, our sustainable development strategy, and of the undertakings which we gave at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

Planning Policy Guidance Note 22 makes clear that the local authority has to balance the benefits of developing a clean and renewable energy source against any impact which that might have on the environment. There is no evidence that local planning authorities are giving less weight at present to the environmental impact of wind farms than they are to the important contribution they can make to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Each proposal has been, and is, considered on its planning merits. That is quite correct. Our planning system is designed to protect the rural environment but at the same time to enable the development of properly sited, well designed and efficient wind turbines.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until five minutes past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.2 to 8.5 p.m.]