HL Deb 03 February 2004 vol 656 cc557-9

3.9 p.m

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have ceased permitting the erection of onshore wind farms in the light of recent evidence of their effect on human health.

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

My Lords, we have no plans to change current procedures for giving consent to onshore wind farms. Currently planning authorities take into account the recommendations and methodologies for the measurement of noise in the case of wind farms as set out in the report ETSU-R-97: The Assessment & Rating of Noise from Wind Farms.

The methodologies applied during the planning application stage to satisfy authorities that noise emission levels will fall within accepted levels do not include the measurement of infrasound, as we are not aware of any scientifically validated evidence that infrasound emitted from wind turbines affects human health.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, the Minister will undoubtedly be aware that the Danes have ceased the erection of further on shore wind farms, in part as a consequence of health concerns. I hope he will also be aware that his colleagues in Defra have commissioned an investigation into the effects on health of infrasound; that is, low-frequency sound. Does that not suggest at the very least that the Government should consider a moratorium on further construction until the matter is properly cleared up?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I have no reason to suppose that the Danes have started to build more offshore wind turbines because of health reasons. They have done so for the good reason that offshore wind turbines can be larger, which is more economical. Denmark already has a density of wind turbines 30 times greater than this country.

Defra is carrying out a further study on the effect of low-frequency noise on health, but it is not related to wind farms. The study by Dr Harry, which suggested that low-frequency noise from wind farms could have an effect on human health, is contradicted by the study carried out in 1997, which showed that vibrations from wind farms have no impact on low-frequency vibration levels at the distances we are talking of.

Lord Watson of Richmond

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the light of well documented research on the damage that offshore and coastal wind farms have done to bird life in Spain, the greatest care will have to be taken on the location of wind farms? Will he assure that House that the matter is subject to active research by the Government?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, clearly this issue is of great importance and we are very aware of it.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, will the Minister say why the Ministry of Defence still objects to the erection of windmills in south-west Scotland on the basis that they interfere with radar? I understand that the only interference they make is similar to that of a heavy rainstorm or a clump of trees. I do not think that that justifies such objections

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, this matter is being considered by the Ministry of Defence. As far as I know, no health issues are involved—which is what the Question is about—but if they have an impact, obviously we need to take it seriously.

The Earl of Liverpool

My Lords, given the controversial nature of wind farms, will the Minister consider that the time might be right to expend more effort and finance on tidal power, which is a guaranteed source of energy for 20 hours out of every 24,365 days of the year? If it was applied through tidal lagoons it would cause no problems to marine or avian life and could be as beneficial as wind power.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, tidal power is extremely expensive at this stage compared to wind turbines. Wind turbines are by far the most economical option. There is no kind of energy generation that does not have some downside. The question is therefore to balance the risks, the costs and the energy security objectives. The health downsides of wind turbines, as I hope I pointed out, are non-existent at this stage.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the psychological health of the nation is deeply related to the quality of our countryside, which is becoming at a premium? Will he assure the House that in future policy towards wind farms—which have an indispensable contribution to make—great care will be taken to ensure that the quality of our countryside is not threatened?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is a major part of the planning process that the important consideration of the impact on the environment is taken care of.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, what does the Minister believe to be the safe separation between dwellings and wind turbines in terms of low-frequency considerations?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the latest figure in the planning guidelines is 300 to 400 metres. Some bodies producing wind power such as National Wind Power use a more stringent guideline of 600 metres, which is probably desirable, but not necessary.