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SARAH WOLLASTON: We must focus on renewable energy

By Herald Express  |  Posted: September 06, 2012

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WHEREVER I hold public meetings, opinion is divided on the issue of renewable energy. While everyone accepts that we should reduce our reliance on imported oil and gas, there is far less agreement about the alternatives, their costs and the issue of climate change.

I will put my cards on the table and state that I do believe we should take climate change seriously.

Of course, long term fluctuations may be aggravated by other causes beyond our control and increasing emissions from countries like China dwarf reductions made by the UK.

These facts do not mean we should ignore the threats to our coastal community from rising sea levels as greenhouse gases are adding to the problem and there is no doubt over-reliance on imported oil and gas threatens our security.

There is great potential for the UK economy in the development of renewables, not just in research and development but also in manufacturing.

There is also good evidence that as technologies are increasingly taken up, their costs go down and therefore the need for subsidies can fall.

The balance of those subsidies lie at the heart of the debate; I often meet those in fuel poverty who want to know why their energy bills are £10 per year higher to the advantage of the landowners and shareholders who benefit from the subsidies to wind farms.

There has to be a fair balance not just on subsidies but also recognising the widespread concern about the visual impact of wind farms and the concerns about their efficiency.

The coalition was right to reduce the renewables obligation subsidy to onshore wind by 10 per cent.

The gap between the costs of onshore wind and the costs of combined cycle gas turbines has halved in the last five years which illustrates just how initial subsidies have the potential to lead to reductions in production costs long term.

The problem with onshore wind is that the incentives have driven wholly inappropriate levels of development in many areas and I for one do not want to see that spreading to South Devon.

Schemes should always be considerate in siting away from those who would be affected by noise and flicker effects and should allow for community shares so local people can benefit.

There are many other ways to decarbonise our energy supply and I want to see greater focus on tidal, wave, biomass and solar energy which are far more predictable and appropriate for the South West when it comes to meeting our share of the 15 per cent renewables target. I am also convinced of the need to press ahead with nuclear power.

For those with an interest in this area, the Government is calling for evidence on industry costs in the autumn and will take further action if those are demonstrated to be out of balance with the subsidies which ultimately come from the rest of us as taxpayers and consumers.

We must keep household bills to a minimum while recognising that without sufficient initial subsidy renewables such as solar would never have reached such popularity and subsequent reduction in costs.

THIS week I am leading a debate in Parliament to highlight the importance of our community hospitals. If you would like to be more involved in supporting those across Torbay and South Devon please contact me and I will put you in touch with your local league of friends.

I WILL be holding a surgery on Friday, September 28 in Totnes from 10.30am to 12.30pm and a CSA surgery from 2.30pm to 5pm. I will also be holding an open meeting in Townstal on Friday, September 21 from 7pm to 9pm. To arrange an appointment please call Nina Smith on 01803 868378.

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