HL Deb 19 November 1998 vol 594 cc1367-70

3.21 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What encouragement or assistance they are giving to the development of offshore wind generation of electricity.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, two offshore wind projects comprising 13.5 megawatts have already been awarded contracts under the general wind bands in the fourth Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation Renewables Order. In addition, the Government are working with the British wind industry and others to see how the UK's offshore wind resource can best be developed in order to contribute significantly to the UK's electricity supply from renewables. To this end the Government have issued a consultation document on possible arrangements for incorporating the development of offshore wind energy into a specific offshore wind band in the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation Order process.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. In view of the Government's commitment to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by certain dates, might this renewable source of energy, taking full account of the needs of navigation, be preferable to wind farms on land, which give rise to many objections? There is plenty of wind around the coasts of Britain, especially Scotland.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I do not comment on where wind is most prevalent in the British Isles. A 10 per cent. contribution to UK electricity supplies from renewals by the year 2010 will require the use of four main technologies: onshore wind, offshore wind, waste such as landfill gas and energy crops. Therefore, as we begin to harness offshore wind, we will need a significant contribution from onshore wind at the same time.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, if the Government are anxious to have a large offshore wind farm, have they considered undertaking a feasibility study to establish one on the Dogger Bank?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, at the moment a review is looking at all of the possible sources of offshore wind production. I am sure that that review will also consider the point just raised by the noble Lord.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while the wind power that has been mentioned is welcome, the most important factor in electricity generation is the state of the British coal industry? Can the Minister say whether further help is to be given to the industry, particularly as productivity has increased out of all recognition and also because it is the cheapest form of energy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is true that renewable energy still represents a very small proportion of total electricity supply. In total it is about 2 per cent., half of which comes from large-scale hydro. Coal still represents 37 per cent. The health of the coal industry remains very important. On a marginal basis it is true that coal is often the cheapest but on a long-term basis gas is cheaper.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the possibility of energy from wave power has been eliminated altogether?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we must also look to the future. While it is a very small proportion at this stage, in terms of security of supply it is sensible to look to the long term.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. Can my noble friend confirm that any onshore wind energy arrangements will be subject to the most rigorous planning permission and will not obscure the delightful hills of rural Wales?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we monitor the planning applications. This reveals that, broadly speaking, 50 per cent. of wind farm applications are granted and about 50 per cent. are refused. There is no evidence that local planning authorities either disregard advice that is given by PPG.22 or fall prey to concerted lobbying groups with a particular interest in the countryside.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in order to meet only three-quarters of the 10 per cent. renewables target, 9,000 wind generators will be required—rather more than the 2,000 suggested by Mr. Meacher in Buenos Aires?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is true that to provide a substantial amount of wind energy will require a large number of turbines. I do not have the exact figures with me, and I shall certainly write to the noble Earl when I have them.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, can the noble Lord give an indication of the current cost of producing electricity from offshore wind energy? I have heard estimates of between 5 and 6p. per kilowatt hour to be compared with 2.5p. from conventional sources. If that or anything like it is correct, how do the Government propose to close the gap?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is extremely interesting to look at the pattern of prices over successive NFFO rounds of agreement. It has come down from 7.98p. at NFFO -1 to 2.88p. These are large wind band contract prices. One can see that it is beginning to become economical.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I should like to help my noble friend on the number of windmills that are required. Does he realise that in order to replicate the output of, say, Pembroke power station in rural Wales (2,000 megawatts) more than 4,000 windmills, each 100 metres in height at 100-metre centres over an area of five square miles will be required?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as I am becoming increasingly aware in this House, there is no type of energy generation that does not have its critics.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that whether these installations are offshore or onshore design is crucial so that they become worthy additions to the landscape or seascape and not eyesores? Will the noble Lord undertake to consult the Royal Fine Art Commission, which has considerable experience in these matters?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the department has issued good practice guidance for wind energy developers to cover these issues. I shall look at that. If we believe that it is productive to consult the Royal Fine Art Commission we shall certainly do so.