Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2002
240. Why is it then that the obstacle to such
developmentsand I am thinking again mainly of wind farmsis,
for example, at the moment in Wales stuck at the National Assembly
level? That is not local opposition. It may have started there
but there is a crisis of decision making at a national level within
the United Kingdom, is there not?
(Mr Byers) I would prefer not to comment because otherwise
I would show my ignorance. I suspect that it is a particularly
Welsh issue. One just must respect that where the geography works
it works. In fact, maybe we ought to move to Wales to increase
the demand there.
241. And the jobs.
(Mr Wolfe) Can I pick up on one other point, not so
much on that last question but on the previous two, and it reflects
back also to what David said earlier on about NETA. So much of
the thinking and so much of the infrastructure historically has
been focussed on the concept of very large scale centralised generation
feeding through a distribution network to users at the end of
the line. That will change in the future and we need to start
addressing what the infrastructure will look like when we have
far more, far smaller sources of generation distributed out in
the network. We will be moving away, to use an analogy, from what
used to be huge great mainframe computers operating centrally
to something which looks far more like the Internet, lots and
lots of small pockets of local generation. At the moment NETA
just does not address that. The thought process does not address
that. The culture does not address that. We need to start realising
the effects that that will bring in terms of the way in which
we think about using electricity in particular.
242. Just to follow on with these planning points,
why do you think wind farms are so unpopular?
(Dr Pitcher) I developed three wind farms in the early
1990s. Because we spent a lot of time talking to local communities
and planners and so on, all of those gained permission, and I
have seen that happen elsewhere. There has been development of
a group of individuals forming organisations which are well publicised
who do not like these on principle. I can only assume that there
is a media contact with that which is saying that one the one
hand these people say one thing and on the other hand someone
is saying something completely different. However, when it gets
down to local levels I have found a lot of support for these projects
and the independent surveys which have been carried out over the
last decade have confirmed that and the British Wind Energy web
site gives the precise details of that. What it is saying is that
there is a very small but vociferous minority of individuals who
oppose this type of development and would oppose, I suspect, a
lot of development per se. I think that is perhaps one
of the things which has been exaggerated to an extent but when
you get down to talking to local people about this and how it
works and how they can do their bit it is a completely different
(Mr Byers) The evidence suggests that there is a vociferous
aggression before they are built and then not much afterwards.
The very fact is that they tend to go in rather attractive places
in open countryside and they are about as popular as high voltage
wire pylons that the National Grid put up, but they are actually
beneficial and, as I say, once they are operating they do not
massacre the bird population and they are not noisy any more because
that technology has been solved. There is a natural resistance
to having metallic or concrete structures in our countryside.
(Mr Carcas) But if something better does come along
they are very easy to take down.
243. Can I go back to Dr Pitcher's point about
the communities that you have worked with who have had an acceptance
towards them and locally there being support for them? Why then
in your submission to us are you strongly urging a shift towards
regional decision making which takes decision and responsibility
further away from communities? I was struck by this community
regionalism which seems to me like an oxymoron.
(Mr Byers) I think the effort is to partly change
the culture and not by an obligation but to make regions accept
a joint responsibility for a share of an obligation that Britain
has taken on.
244. Ultimately though would you not agree that
it does not boil down to responsibility on a region? If you live
in north Kent and you want to put a wind farm in West Sussex,
is that a regional responsibility or is it going to impact on
the people in West Sussex? It really impacts very much on the
people whose communities are going to be visually or otherwise
impacted by these developments.
(Mr Byers) It is an attempt to model what Europe has
done. Rather like, if you were in north west Scotland or Wales,
Austria itself has something like 89 per cent renewable energy
because they happen to have mountains but, as part of Kyoto they
agreed to take their incremental share of reaching a European
target and, arguably, for Austria to go from 90 per cent to 93
per cent is phenomenally difficult but they have taken their proportionate
part of the bargain and, whilst not devolving down to parish levels,
we think, as the Government is doing, that some form of regional
contribution to an overall national target is a fair balance given
the nature of the geography that exists in different regions.
245. Mr Byers, we have got a division taking
place and my colleagues will want to go and vote. We have very
nearly reached the end, so I would rather not delay you and then
come back as it were, but Mr Owen Jones has just one brief question
that he would like to put and you can follow up any others in
writing if that is possible.
(Mr Byers) Certainly; thank you.
246. The DTI report that they published on 6
March, which has got targets for each of the regions that the
regions have ownership of, looking at some of them, they are quite
bewildering to me: the fact that there is such a huge variation
between the high level and the low level, the fact that some regions
put massive amounts of apparent faith in certain sorts of renewable
energy. The West of England, for example, puts huge faith in biomass
but other regions do not, and presumably they are all governed
by the same governmental system. Could you comment on that? Exactly
how do you see these regions being able to speed up the planning
process and having ownership of these commitments and, if you
can manage to get it in, how are you going to get some reasonable
degree of consistency between these different regions?
(Mr Byers) Regrettably your assumption is wrong that
they were given the same guidelines. The methodologies applied
to reach the various regional suggestions were completely different,
depending on the consultant that they hired to do it. It is an
excellent start. I commend the Government for its initiative but
unfortunately the comparability between regions defeats us because
the methodologies were entirely different.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for that
brief reply. I am sorry to curtail the questions but if there
is anything you would like to add to that perhaps you would let
us have a small note. Thank you very much indeed for your attendance.
I am sorry we have had to end so rapidly. We are very grateful
to all four of you.