Source: BBC Radio 4: Any Questions
Date: 29/04/2011
EventA lively edition of Any Questions - Chris Huhne, Nigel Farage and wind farms
Attribution: BBC Radio 4

  • Jonathan Dimbleby: BBC presenter, chair of Any Questions
  • Matthew Hancock: Conservative MP for West Suffolk
  • Nigel Farage: Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • Chris HuhneSecretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK
  • Teresa Moutafis: Questioner on Any Questions
  • Gisela Stuart: Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston

Jonathan Dimbleby: We'll go to our next question... Please.

Teresa Moutafis: Teresa Moutafis. Given that there were times in December when wind power produced absolutely no electricity across the country, what are the members of the panel's ideas for generating power for the future? What is the point of industrialising many parts of our beautiful countryside when the gain is for developers and landowners and not for the nation as a whole?

Jonathan Dimbleby: Is this an issue for you in this area? [Audience are applauding.] Sorry?

Teresa Moutafis: Yes, there is in the Berkeley Vale. There have been - there was a proposal for a wind farm, which has been voted against, but the developer may well appeal. And it's not really an appropriate area - too close to houses, business, no wind, and lots of other reasons.

Jonathan Dimbleby: Secretary of State.

Chris Huhne: Well, I don't know about the, um, particular proposal in this area, and obviously it's important than any development should be appropriate to the area. But just to specifically deal with the question about wind not producing electricity at certain times - I mean, this is not, I have to say - this is a problem we have to face normally, anyway, even if we were totally reliant on coal, for example, or nuclear, er because what happens is that our electricity demand varies so enormously. When we have an ad break in Coronation Street, and everybody goes and puts the kettle on, there's an enormous increase in electricity demand and we need to have backup in order to handle that, and we have backup, in the same way, for those periods, you know, the few still, cold days in February, when the wind is not blowing but people still want electricity. So we need a mix, we need a mix of different technologies, renewable technologies and, er, clean coal and gas, and new nuclear, because this is the way in which we can ensure we keep the lights on at an affordable cost and also in a way which meets our need to make sure that we are not destroying the planet for our children and grandchildren...

Jonathan Dimbleby: Just on that, not so long ago you were vehemently opposed to the production of energy from nuclear power. Have you changed your mind on that because of the conditions, the challenges that we face, or because you see different arguments running?

Chris Huhne: I think that there has been a shift in the argument, and a lot of people who are very worried about climate change see that the dangers of climate change are actually greater than the dangers of nuclear power. But I think that also, the key point to remember is that the Government policy is to avoid the problems that we've had in the past with nuclear power, which have been - led us to enormous subsidies - we're still paying them to clean up, for old generations of nuclear power, we've said very clearly there will be no public subsidy for nuclear. This will be an investor decision, and they will have to be committed to cleaning up and decommissioning fully, meeting the full costs of the power, rather than putting it on the taxpayer, which sadly is what happened to the past generations. 

Jonathan Dimbleby: We're running very short of time, I'm afraid. Nigel Farage.

Nigel Farage: Wind farms are ugly, expensive, ineffective, unreliable and one of the greatest cons of modern times. The - [applause and cheering from the audience.]

Jonathan Dimbleby: Matthew Hancock.

Matthew Hancock: I think too often when we talk about the environment, we think only of carbon emissions, important as they are, and not about the beautiful surroundings that we have, for instance, here in Gloucestershire and in Suffolk, where I represent. In the heart of Constable country, a company wants to put up a bunch of wind turbines. And they - 

Jonathan Dimbleby: So are you against wind turbines, or do you just want them in cases where your constituents don't live? 

Matthew Hancock: I'm in favour of them offshore, but I'm not in favour of them where they destroy the natural environment that we all live in and enjoy.

Nigel Farage: They're even more expensive offshore. They don't work offshore. They're more expensive.

Jonathan Dimbleby: Gisela Stuart.

Gisela Stuart: We need to use less energy, as a starter. It will include nuclear, and I'm glad to hear that Chris has changed his mind, because you have changed your mind. Er, and - 

Jonathan Dimbleby: He conceded that - [inaudible] -

Gisela Stuart: - and, and to think that wind farms are the solution - I think they may have a minor role to play offshore, but I think on the mainland, I think they're just one of those fantasy things which won't produce what people tell you they will. 

Chris Huhne: Well, if I can make the point, I mean, actually on the mainland, one of the points about onshore wind is that it is actually the cheapest renewable electricity there is - [a man in the audience is shouting.]

Nigel Farage: - taxpayer subsidies - 

Chris Huhne: It is actually - no, curiously enough, if you look at the recent study which we have done by an independent consultancy - you can look at it on the departmental website - onshore wind is competitive, for example, with nuclear [shouting still going on in the background]. And all I would say on - and I'm going to really annoy some of the anti-wind campaigners here - I think wind turbines are beautiful. [Nigel Farage is groaning, and there is applause, cheers and shouting from the audience.] And - and - not only, not only - not only do I think - 

Gisela Stuart: How many are there in Eastleigh? How many are there in Eastleigh? [Continuing applause and general noise from the audience.]

Chris Huhne: There's one on my roof - there's one on my roof in Eastleigh.

Jonathan Dimbleby: Would you allow the Secretary of State - [raising his voice above the din] would you allow Chris - would you allow Chris Huhne to finish his point - 

Chris Huhne: - I think they're absolutely beautiful, and they're - [other panellists are interrupting] the most popular tourist attraction in my constituency happens to be the Bursledon Windmill - 

Nigel Farage: Rubbish! [Laughter from someone.]

Chris Huhne - I admit it was built 200 years ago [groans and laughter from Nigel Farage and others] but at the time, it was regarded as absolutely cracking new technology, and the NIMBYs didn't get their way, and it's been a joy ever since. And the great thing about these onshore turbines is that they're the same technology, they're a lot more modern, er, they look a lot more elegant, and they produce - 

Nigel Farage: - and the poor people have to pay for them. [Applause from the audience.]

Chris Huhne: No.

Nigel Farage: Don't they. [Continuing applause.] Isn't the - isn't the reality of this, Chris, the reality of wind energy is - whether they're ugly or not, I think you're barking up the wrong tree there, but - the reality of wind energy is all these people here have to pay for wind power by an extra 14%, on average, on their electricity bills so that the money can go into the pockets of rich men and rich companies to produce something that without subsidy not only isn't justified - [inaudible, audience is applauding, some are cheering.]

Jonathan Dimbleby: - just a word only - [continuing applause.]

Chris Huhne: You're - you're - Nigel, you're quite wrong about that. We produce - we produce the numbers on this every year - I'm absolutely committed to openness on this - and the reality is our total policies, including renewables, including energy saving, actually leads current oil prices and gas prices, it leads to a reduction in our bills. 

Jonathan Dimbleby: And that's where - 

Chris Huhne: If you want to rely - if you want to rely on oil and gas, given what's happening in the oil and gas markets worldwide, more fool you.

Jonathan Dimbleby: We - [audience are applauding.]

Chris Huhne: We need domestic energy, which is going to give us energy security and green -  [continuing applause.]

Nigel Farage: - barking up - 

Jonathan Dimbleby: Barking up wrong trees, more fools you, it's another quiet edition of Any Questions. Any Answers 03700 100 444. Next week the Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams and another, join us there, but from here at the Wotton Arts Festival - goodbye. [Applause.]

BBC Announcer: Any Questions came from the St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, Wotton-under-Edge and the Wotton Arts Festival. The guests were Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne, the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston Gisela Stuart, the MP for West Suffolk Matthew Hancock and the leader of UKIP Nigel Farage. Jonathan Dimbleby was in the chair, and the producer was Victoria Wakely.