HL Deb 18 November 2003 vol 654 cc1848-51

2.46 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall asked Her Majesty's Government: How many wind turbines of typical current design would be needed to generate the amount of electricity currently generated by Britain's nuclear power stations.

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

My Lords, to replace the 81 terawatt hours generated in 2002 by Britain's nuclear power stations would require in the range of between 10,000 to 15,000 wind turbines, assuming a mix of onshore and offshore, and a load factor of 30 per cent onshore and 35 per cent offshore. The range is dependent on turbine size, where developments are moving rapidly. To supply 7 per cent to 8 per cent of our electricity generation by wind turbines by 2010, which is what is likely to be required to achieve to our renewables target of 10 per cent by 2010, would require in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 turbines, using the same assumptions. There are currently some 14,000 wind turbines in Germany, and 7,000 in Denmark.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful response, putting on record what will come as a revelation to many people.

Many of us welcome the contribution of wind power as a source of carbon-free energy, but we seek confirmation, first, that my noble friend's arithmetic means that even 10,000 wind turbines—or 15,000, if we take the higher number—generating three megawatts each would only just fill the gap being created by running down the nuclear industry. Secondly, does my noble friend agree that, even if we were to meet that rather astonishing figure, it follows that we still need to plan for some new nuclear power stations to replace those being phased out over the next 20 years if we are to make any net addition to the amount of carbon-free electricity?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the figures that I have already given demonstrate that we would require between 10,000 to 15,000 wind turbines to fill the gap left by nuclear power generation. However, the present target is to secure 10 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2010. Beyond that year, there will be other ways of filling the renewables gap. We would expect to see other sources of energy such as energy crops, solar voltaics, wave and tidal power generation gradually come into play. I do not think that one can say that there is an exact correspondence between the number of wind turbines and the reality of the situation which will follow as regards nuclear power.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, last week, the Minister kindly answered my Written Question which asked by what factor—that is, what is the number—will renewable power installations have to be increased in order to meet the Minister's 10 per cent renewables target by 2010. The Minister gave a detailed and interesting response, but he did not actually answer the question. I ask again: what is the factor?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we have slightly over 1,000 wind turbines in operation and we need to reach a figure of 3,000 to 5,000 turbines by 2010. Where the line is drawn will give the factor of increase. What 1 pointed out in my response to the noble Earl and what I shall point out again is that this is only about half of what has been done in Germany over recent years and about the same level of installation as that achieved in Spain. So it is not impossible to achieve that rate of installation.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, will the Minister write to planning authorities instructing them that there should be a presumption against the construction of wind turbines in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, under our planning system we consider these issues on the basis of planning laws and we shall continue to do so. We shall certainly not be changing them.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in the light of the answers so far given by the Minister in regard to the issue of renewables filling the gap that will be left by the withdrawal of nuclear plants, and in order to meet our environmental objectives, will not the Government now consider further incentives to other ways of minimising emissions and applying the principle of the renewables obligation—for example, to combined heat and power (CHP), which is now going through a difficult time, to the recovery and treatment of methane from coal mines and to clean coal technology?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, renewables are not at this point replacing nuclear power stations. We closed only one nuclear power station over this period. They are providing extra capacity which will be put into the system. We shall probably reduce other inefficient forms of energy rather than nuclear, where there is only one nuclear power plant closing down over this period.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the Government will not authorise any new nuclear power stations until a proven method of disposal of radioactive waste—some of which, 1 believe, has a half-life of 1,000 years—has been found?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we are not at the moment ruling out the long-term nuclear option. No proposals are being brought forward at the moment. Clearly the way in which we treat waste is important—as well as the cost—before we consider any further nuclear power plants.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that residents near Cucklington in Somerset are extremely concerned about a proposal for wind turbines of 330 feet, which will dwarf King Alfred's tower and be visible from Stourhead? They do not feel that their concerns are being properly addressed.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I cannot comment on that situation. It is interesting that, as a whole, people are extremely favourably inclined towards wind turbines. Polling information suggests that people who live near wind turbines are more favourably impressed than people who live in other areas.

Lord Jordan

My Lords—

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister—

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there will be enough time if we take the questions very quickly. I suggest that we hear first from these Benches and then from the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Lord Jordan

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Government's present policy of decommissioning nuclear power stations, together with the proposed alternative of Heath Robinson-style wind turbines and so on, means that by 2020 the base energy requirements of this country cannot be guaranteed?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is rather unfair to describe these extremely efficient wind turbines as "Heath Robinson". They do a perfectly good engineering job. I do not agree that we will not have security of supplies going forward; it is clear from the present figures that we will. If we do not, as I said, we will reconsider the nuclear power programme.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as the wind does not blow all the time, there will have to be a back-up capacity for any wind turbines that are built?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, clearly there is a question of capacity. The calculations that I have given assume a load factor of 30 per cent onshore and 35 per cent offshore. They are realistic figures. If we take those into account, the variability of supply is not very different from other energy sources.

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