HL Deb 26 November 2001 vol 629 cc5-7

2.46 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions the Ministry of Defence has now reached on the potential interference caused by wind farms to low-flying aircraft.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, it was realised some time ago that the proliferation of tall obstacles might present a hazard to low-flying aircraft within certain areas of the United Kingdom. It is generally acknowledged that the rotating action of wind turbine blades can interfere with radar systems. The Department of Trade and Industry is therefore sponsoring research by QinetiQ into the effects of wind turbines on radar. The project started in September this year and is due to conclude next September.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am sure that he is aware that the DTI is in the process of preparing a paper on the greater use of renewable energy. The intention is that the expansion of wind energy will very much be part of what this country needs to do. Will he reassure us that we have joined-up government in this respect; that the DTI and the MoD are not at cross purposes; and that the actions of the CAA—the national air traffic centre—and the MoD, in vetting planning proposals, are not cutting across each other or causing costly delays? Can we also have some assurance about consultation with other governments? The Danes seem to manage with a very much larger number of wind turbines without these problems, as do the Germans. The Spanish, the noble Lord may be aware, are even proposing to fuel some of their airports through nearby turbines. Either we have something to tell them or they have something to tell us.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I confirm that there is complete joined-up thinking so far as these matters are concerned. My department is working closely with the DTI and has met the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office. The Government—including, of course, the Ministry of Defence—fully support the notion that 10 per cent of the United Kingdom's energy needs should come from renewable sources by 2010.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, what about physical interference? Have there been any near misses?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I know of no near misses. I shall undertake research and write to my noble friend if there have been any. I think not.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, can greater public access be afforded to the MoD estate? How might that be achieved?

Lord Bach

My Lords, there is already a presumption in favour of public access to the rural estate, although operational safety and conservation interests, for example, restrict unlimited access. I take this opportunity to tell my noble friend that there has been a publication within the past couple of days; I hold it up—

Noble Lords


Lord Bach

My Lords, I am not to do so. It is entitled Walks on Ministry of Defence Lands. It covers various walks in parts of the country from which I know noble Lords come. I shall make sure that a copy of the book—or more than one—is available in the Library.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, being allergic to intrusive land-based wind farms and, indeed, to too many low-flying aircraft—but not to walks—perhaps I may ask the Minister to assure the House that those two activities will, to some extent, restrain each other. I recognise that both are important. However. carried out to the extent to which they are in some parts of the country, both activities are thoroughly unpleasant environmentally and cause misery to many people.

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Lord has my assurance on that matter.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that making wind farms radar-friendly to our own aircraft should be purely for training purposes? Is it not more important to put increased resources into radar innovations to enable our Armed Forces to cope with any problems associated with wind farms which are not modified—ours may be modified in the future—in areas where those forces may be on operations?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Viscount uses the phrase, "purely for training purposes". The House may think that badly phrased. Training is of crucial importance if our pilots are to do their job, both at home and abroad. As regards the second part of the noble Viscount's question, I believe that the project sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry will come up with the result.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the Government's objective of 10 per cent of renewables by the year 2010. If that is to be achieved, there has to be a massive expansion of wind farms. We lag way behind our continental friends. In Germany, for example, there are nearly 7,000 megawatts of wind energy; we have only 400 megawatts, which is largely onshore. Unless the offshore question is settled quickly, we shall have no chance of achieving the Government's objectives.

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We must all work extremely hard to ensure that those objectives are achieved. That means that we shall need more wind farms. The Ministry of Defence is not opposed to wind farms per se; only when they cut across what is necessary for the defence of the realm.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, bearing in mind that we shall try to meet the Kyoto obligations or targets, is it not true that the issue is not solely concerned with wind farms and that the whole problem could be resolved by more nuclear power development?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the House will forgive me if I do not enter into that particular exchange.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the objections by the Ministry of Defence relate also to offshore wind farms and not simply to onshore wind farms? Offshore wind farms are one of the areas in which we had hoped there would be considerable expansion of wind power.

Lord Bach

My Lords, there is no objection as such, whether to onshore or offshore wind farms. The matter will depend on whether they affect our ability to train our pilots.