Who said that political participation was dead? Earlier this month Truro saw not one but two protests, one in favour of renewable energy, another calling for fewer large on shore wind turbines and solar farms on Cornish fields. It is good to see people taking part in these campaigns, which for me are not incompatible, both having concerns about Cornwall’s environment at their heart.
Cornwall is pioneering the development of one of the most innovative forms of renewable energy; marine energy. Since my election I have worked with Ministers and local experts to help develop the South West Marine Energy Park. The Park designates the South West coast as a marine energy hub, where private and public sectors work together to enable the further growth of marine energy. New marine energy testing facilities at Falmouth, known as ‘Fabtest’ are at the heart of the Park. The FabTest site, operated by a partnership including Exeter University and Falmouth Harbour Commissioners, uses the calmer waters of the Fal to test the efficiency of new marine energy technologies before they scale up and move to the ‘Wave Hub’ off Hayle. Earlier this year I was pleased to show Energy Minister Greg Barker round the FabTest site so that he could see firsthand the excellent work being done there and I am delighted that in June the Government provided £777,000 of Regional Growth funding to help the project to expand. This investment is creating high skilled and well paid jobs.
This is cutting edge energy technology being pioneered by the UK that draws on, rather than mars, our beautiful landscape. In the mind of many, large on-shore wind turbines and solar farms on green fields cannot be described as such. Every week I am contacted by constituents concerned by the impact that large turbines or solar farms could have on the surrounding area, constituents who believe in developing sustainable energy in the UK but don’t think that this should be at the expense of Cornwall’s natural beauty. I agree that roof tops and former industrial sites are preferable to greenfield locations.
Last year, along with a number of colleagues, I called on the Prime Minister to shift subsidies from large scale onshore wind energy generation, and to give communities more powers to resist unwanted large scale greenfield wind and solar developments. I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister listened and that the Coalition Government has given new planning guidance that instructs Cornwall Council to give more weight to local views, and visual impacts, when considering onshore wind and solar applications.
As these changes begin to take effect it is important to remember that we do need to develop new renewable energy generation capacity in the UK. Non renewable sources of energy are just that. Support for renewable energy and giving communities more power in the planning system should not be viewed as separate efforts; both are in fact helping communities make well balanced decisions to conserve our precious countryside.