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Malcolm Wicks: It may help if I give an example. I am advised that the university of Edinburgh halls of residence have a gas-fired combined heat and power plant. Clearly, a number of students will be in those halls of residence who should not be there at that time of night, but it is an indication of the scale that might be required under the heading of community energy.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the Minister for intervening. If the university already has such a plant, I cannot understand why we are saying that we need clause 16 to enable it to have one, but that is a separate debate. It goes back to the theme that has run through the last two Fridays—that there is a lot of stuff in the Bill which is exhortatory and not necessary, because most of the things that it promotes can already be done. I had the privilege of receiving a university education in Scotland, albeit not at Edinburgh, but at St. Andrews university. I doubt whether it would want to put up these large wind turbines, even if they are for the benefit of the students.

A 1.8MW turbine—about half the limit that my amendment would introduce—would have rotor diameters ranging up to 65 m and towers ranging from 25 to 80 m in height. The Government are asking for something that is 20 times as large as that.

Mark Lazarowicz: Of all the exaggerations, the idea of a 1,000 m rotor, which is the logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's argument, is the most ridiculous that we have heard. Does he accept that no planning legislation would be changed by the clause? All the planning requirements that will apply to such a "monstrosity", to use his word, would apply in such a case. Nothing would be changed by the clause as far as planning controls are concerned.


 
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Mr. Chope: I accept that the clause would not affect the planning controls. What worries me is that it is entitled "Promotion of community energy schemes", and the scheme that I have described is precisely the kind that the Government would have a duty to promote if the Secretary of State thought fit.

It is absurd to suggest that wind turbines would have to be 20 times as large in order to generate 20 times as much as 1.4MW. I am envisaging, say, 20 1.4MW turbines, which would constitute a gross intrusion on any community. The Minister mentioned biomass. We do not need those excessive limits even for biomass. According to a helpful written answer published on 10 February 2005, the total output from the 11 biomass power plants operating in this country amounted to only just over 100MW. There is no need for such high limits to accommodate one biomass plant. I fear that we are talking not about community schemes, but about enormous schemes.

Mr. Letwin: I hope my hon. Friend will accept that those of us who support the measure do not just want biomass and wind turbines, although of course they are important. We also want to decentralise the electricity generation system, so that communities are served by smaller power plants rather than the country being served by 1,000MW or 2,000MW plants through a vast grid. In that context, surely, the limits proposed by the Minister are reasonable.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful for that intervention, because it returns me to a major issue for my constituents. They will be expected to take most of the waste fuel from the whole of Dorset so that it can be converted to energy. What worries my constituents and me is that the proposed plants are so grotesquely large. It is causing a good deal of consternation. We think it would be better to have smaller plants in small Dorset towns—perhaps one in Dorchester, in my right hon. Friend's constituency—than to have waste transported across the county to those very large plants. I recognise the virtue of the plants, but a plant with a capacity of up to 20MW cannot be described as a modest plant. A 4MW limit would allow much more local combined heat and power, which is greatly preferable to the centralisation that we are experiencing in my constituency.

Mr. Letwin: I see the force of my hon. Friend's argument, but I understand that his favoured method of generation is nuclear. The lower of the two limits, 20MW, is approximately 1 per cent. of the likely size of nuclear power stations. We are talking about rather smaller stations than those that he is proposing elsewhere.

Mr. Chope: I am not suggesting that we should have nuclear power stations, although nuclear generation would be possible at Winfrith in Dorset. Unlike my right hon. Friend, I believe in a mix of energy from different sources, including nuclear. I should like the proportion of energy from nuclear power to increase beyond the present 20 or 21 per cent. level. I am certainly not suggesting that we should use this provision to set up the equivalent of nuclear power stations. That is a wild red herring. I wish to ensure that the principles of
 
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decentralised energy production are carried through, but I do not see that happening properly if we allow individual units of production to generate as much as 20MWe or 100MWt. That is why I tabled the amendment. I do not intend to press it to a Division, but unless the Bill is changed in the other place, it will cause much consternation in local communities. They may feel threatened by community energy schemes, not assisted by them.

The large figures are counter-productive for the purposes that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and I agree are worth while. We are not at odds with each other on that, but I think that it would be much better to include in the Bill provisions that would encourage community combined heat and power schemes in small towns in Dorset, instead of them all being concentrated in Ferndown, as is proposed at present. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend gave evidence at the public inquiry, but I did so and suggested that we should have fair shares across Dorset and I am pleased that he agrees with that proposition.

This is a useful group of amendments and I am sorry that the Minister has not accepted the reductions. I hope that we will have the chance to reflect on that in due course. We wait with bated breath for the Minister's report before the end of the month, which will inform our debate on Third Reading and mean that we may have a much more informed debate on the whole issue of climate change and sustainable energy.

I shall not comment further on the amendments relating to parish councils, except to say that I am very concerned that the Government amendments—tabled at the behest of my right hon. Friend—could result in parish councils, which have to raise all their money from people living in the parish because they do not get any grants from Government, being encouraged to go on a mad spending spree. Let us hope that that does not happen.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend has parishes in his constituency, but I do not, because my constituency is in a London borough. Can he give me some idea of the staffing and resources that a typical parish council might have? What is his judgment on whether they could begin to fulfil the aspirations set out in this clause?

Mr. Chope: I cannot generalise, but Burton parish council, for example, has one part-time clerk and tries to meet once a month. Hurn parish council, which is much smaller, has probably fewer than 1,000 residents, although it includes Bournemouth international airport. It also has only one part-time volunteer to assist it. We delude ourselves if we think that clause 17 is of great significance, but it could lead to larger parish councils running up substantial bills.

Mr. Forth: Does that not mean that there is a risk that the alleged benefits of microgeneration will be unevenly spread? If some enthusiastic parish councils promote them as the clause suggests, but others do not have the resources to do so, someone somewhere will miss out.

Mr. Chope: As always, my right hon. Friend makes a fair point. We do not have parish councils in the
 
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metropolitan areas, so this is very much an issue for rural communities. Sometimes parish councils get together to develop policies on a co-ordinated basis across a county—there is an effective organisation called the Dorset Association of Parish and Town Councils which might be able to produce a collective response to the demands set out in clause 17.

I do not think that I can take the matter any further at the moment, without risking the possibility that we might not be able to complete the Report stage today. I have always made it clear to people who have discussed the issue with me that my concern is to ensure that the Bill is properly scrutinised, rather than that it should be wrecked. That is why I want to put on the record my concern that e-mails have been flying around suggesting that by speaking and participating in this debate one of my hon. Friends is guilty of something greater than denying the holocaust. One might describe that as a slight exaggeration. I am sure people will realise that there are people who could be described as eco-fascists, and we must not allow them to browbeat us into doing anything other than scrutinising this important legislation.


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