Fighting A Wind Farm - This Might Help...
I am regularly asked to submit objections to wind farm developments across the country. This is actually quite a difficult thing for a Member of Parliament to do, as there are all sorts of problems with Parliamentary etiquette.
To hopefully overcome this, I would like to offer some words that I hope will be helpful to all those out there fighting wind farm applications; the quotes from Hansard and my letter to the PM and his reply should be useful.
You may, of course, choose to attribute them to me or not – but at the very least I hope they are helpful to your cause! So here we go:
Developers often spend a moment or two talking about climate change and how wind turbines can help mitigate this.
That is not, by a long way, the full story. Wind turbines are generally erected by companies to harness the generous subsidies currently available, not just the wind.
They cause issues on the National Grid, as wind, by its nature, is intermittent. Not even the Met Office can tell you when the wind will stop – or blow too hard. Thus, even when you see similar structures to these turning, you need to have about 80% backup of gas, coal or nuclear powered energy being produced – and mainly wasted – just in case the wind stops blowing. This is not taken into account by the wind industry when they tell people how much supposedly “green” energy is being produced.
Worse than that, when we need energy the most, to keep us warm in the winter, wind energy consistently lets us down. Two December’s ago, when we were mid-way through one of the coldest winters on record – that’s global warming for you – Britain’s existing turbines stood still. This is quite common, as our coldest weather tends to come when we have a massive anti-cyclone sitting on top of the country, giving us freezing and still conditions.
Developers also always mention targets; either regional, national or perhaps even European.
This again, is an argument that should be struck down.
Firstly, it is only a matter of days before regional targets are finally completely removed. Thus, I do not believe they should be used at all. However, I have noticed that developers tend to talk about them.
So let’s address them head on, as if they were going to exist forever.
Firstly, the European targets. There are two. They are known as the 20:2020 and the 15:2020. The first is a target to reduce our carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 and the second is to have 15% of our energy requirements produced by renewable energy sources by 2020.
As a country we are well on track to hitting the first and will almost certainly overshoot the second by a decent margin.
I was a Member of the European Parliament when these went through and I’d just like to point out that the Directive concerned did not state which method you could/should use to hit these targets. You could do it with no wind energy element at all should you wish.
Next: the national and regional targets. As I said, we are abolishing these, but nonetheless, let us pretend they are continuing.
The last Government set targets for each type of renewable energy for 2020. You might have heard this exchange in the House of Commons before; but it is important and so I do not apologise for mentioning it again here:
It is the exchange I had with the Rt Hon Ed Davey MP, the Secretary of State in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in the House of Commons on Thursday 8th March, 2012:
Chris Heaton-Harris: Can the Secretary of State confirm that if we add the number of existing turbines to those going through the planning system, we have enough in place to hit his Department’s 2020 targets? If that is the case, does that not suggest that the level of subsidy for these things is too high?
Mr Davey: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He and I may disagree about the significance of onshore wind, but I appreciate the measured way in which he has engaged with me and the Prime Minister on this issue. I can tell him that 5 GW of onshore wind power generation has already been built, that there is planning consent for a further 6 GW and that planning permission is being sought for 7 GW-worth of projects, only some of which will be approved. Given that the ambition was for 13 GW, most of the development that the country needs is indeed already on the table. As for subsidy, the subsidy levels go down as costs go down, and we are proposing a 10% reduction in subsidies for onshore wind.
Not only is the Government within weeks of finally removing these targets, but even if there remained in place, they are targets that are being hit nearly eight years early. In fact, based on the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s own figures, we’ll be hitting our onshore wind target for turbines constructed and approved awaiting construction by mid-summer 2012.
This proves two things: Firstly, that the subsidy level is too high. Secondly, that we can afford to be choosy as to where these things are sited now. We don’t have to put them within 500 metres of dwellings, or motorways, or historic buildings, or in the middle of beautiful countryside or in places where there is little wind.
I would like to mention a few words about localism and the new “National Planning Policy Framework”.
The National Planning Policy Framework further states “plans and decisions need to take local circumstances into account” (Para 10) and “ where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out of date then grant permission unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits”.(Para 14).
Since the NPPF’s announcement, I have clarified with the Minister for Planning – on the record in the House of Commons, a few matters.
Firstly that Local Plans can have pretty much anything in them:
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Following on from that question, I want to ask about the criteria to be built into local plans. Daventry suffers from a huge swarm of onshore wind applications. What criteria could be used? Could landscape, height and efficiency, for example, be used as local criteria to fight these things?
Greg Clark: As my hon. Friend knows, I am a localist, and to set out national criteria for what would be appropriate would not respect the completely different geography and historical environment of different places around the country. We have given authorities the power to set out criteria, but what the criteria for locating renewable energy sites should be is a local choice.
Thus the list of potential “adverse impacts” in each case could contain just about anything that local people feel it should.
In the same session (on 27th March, 2012) there was also this interesting exchange:
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): One of the monstrosities that have afflicted our green and pleasant land is the thoughtlessly over-rapid development of wind farms in the countryside. Many of my constituents fear the speed of development of such wind farms. Does my right hon. Friend’s framework offer any comfort to them?
Greg Clark: Two factors are relevant to that question. The first is the intended abolition of the regional strategies, with their targets. That will remove the imposition on local councils of those targets, as will be the case with other targets. The policy also contains the ability for local councils to map and set criteria for where renewable energy would be appropriate, and to use those criteria for subsequent applications to determine what would—and, by implication, would not—be appropriate in each of their areas.
In February I co-ordinated the letter to the Prime Minister calling for a change of policy relating to onshore wind. Onshore wind was not in the illustrious “Coalition Document” – offshore was. The letter was signed by 105 other backbenchers and a large number of Ministers, Whips and Parliamentary Private Secretaries who can not sign letters like this, agreed with it to the point that representations have been made at the highest level on this matter.
There are some interesting points to note in both the letter and the reply from the Prime Minister. The letter called for a handful of things:
For costs to come down: I was particularly pleased to note that in the Prime Minister’s key-note speech to foreign Energy Ministers a few weeks ago, the only mention of onshore wind was the drive to reduce its costs.
For the excessive subsidies to be drastically cut: And we are awaiting an announcement on subsidy levels by summer 2012.
For amendments to be made to the draft NPPF: And they were, reflecting landscape, historic assets etc.
The last point, I have to say, was directed at the Planning Inspectorate. It stated: “We would urge you to ensure that planning inspectors know that the views of local people and long established planning requirements should always be taken into account.”
The Prime Minster replied to this point directly in his letter: “...there are perfectly hard-headed reasons for allowing some onshore wind energy to be part of our energy mix – but if, and only if, local people have a proper say in planning decisions.”
To confirm this position, post NPPF, I asked this in the House of Commons on 24th April, 2012.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I am completely with my right hon. Friend on the consistent application of the plans, on the local plans themselves and on local people being involved, but what then of the final piece of the jigsaw, the reform of the Planning Inspectorate, which in many rulings completely contradicts all local input?
Greg Clark: Part of the problem with the Planning Inspectorate is that, in the regime to date, it has been required to interpret voluminous national planning regulations—many times in a state of inconsistency—and to apply regional spatial strategies. The conflict between those things, caused by successive Governments and, in particular, by the previous Government’s imposition of regional strategies, often leads in the planning system to a real tension and often antagonism, which is a disaster for the future prosperity of our country. By putting power into the hands of local people so they see that decisions are going to be taken locally and respected locally, part of the purpose of our reforms is to move away from the situation in which decisions taken locally are overturned by the Planning Inspectorate. I have made that very clear to the inspectorate. I went to speak to the inspectorate the morning after we published the NPPF, and I made it very clear that the framework is a localist document which it is to respect.
Thus, given the level of opposition locally to this proposal, I suggest you have more than enough reason to reject this appeal.