I fully understand and appreciate people's concerns about fracking. However, it must also be recognised that the safe development of shale gas will be good for jobs, good for our energy security, and help the UK to decarbonise its economy. I believe that we need a diverse energy mix, and that shale gas can play a part in that.
I have been assured that the right protections are in place to ensure that fracking can go ahead safely without risk to our most beautiful and important natural sites. I have confidence that the UK's world leading environmental regulations will deliver clean, safe shale gas extraction. Regulations now protect some of the country's most beautiful areas, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, meaning shale gas exploration cannot take place at depths of less than 1,200 metres in these areas. The Government is also committed to banning wells drilled at the surface of these areas or within Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Solar 'Feed-in Tariff'
As you will be aware, the Government has recently consulted on this issue and, having considered the feedback and evidence, Ministers have decided to close the export tariff alongside the generation tariff to new applications after 31 March 2019.
While I appreciate your concerns on this decision, I can assure you that households and businesses installing new solar panels will be guaranteed payment for power provided back to the grid under new proposals set out by the Government. Our country generates electricity from increasingly low carbon sources and the electricity powering the UK's homes and businesses in 2017 was the greenest ever, with 50 per cent coming from clean sources, up from 19 per cent in 2010. Ultimately, the UK has been a world leader in cutting emissions while growing our economy, and in doing so has demonstrated to the world what is possible when government and industry come together to tackle big strategic challenges.
As proposed, the 'Smart Export Guarantee' (SEG) would replace the existing 'Feed-in Tariff' (FIT) scheme, with electricity suppliers paying new small-scale energy producers for excess electricity from homes and businesses being put back into the energy grid. The new scheme could create a whole new market, encouraging suppliers to competitively bid for this electricity, giving exporters the best market price while providing the local grid with more clean, green energy, unlocking greater choice and control for solar households over buying and selling their electricity. The Government is currently consulting on these proposals and more information can be found here.
With the cost of solar falling by 80 per cent since 2008, it is the right time to review the way these payments are made, with the FIT scheme currently costing bill-payers around £1.2 billion a year. The SEG would mean households and businesses installing new renewable energy generators would be paid transparently for the energy they produce, protecting consumers from cost burdens. It could also reduce strain on energy networks with a decentralised and smarter local network delivering resilience much more cost effectively.
Last year saw the launch of the Clean Growth Strategy which sets out 50 major policies and plans that will help us to cut the cost of energy, drive economic growth, create high value jobs right across the UK, and improve our quality of life. The Feed-in-Tariff call for evidence reaffirms the Government's ambition set out in the Clean Growth Strategy to consider its approach to small-scale low-carbon generation and to explore the clear cross overs with a smart energy system.
Wind Farms - Low-frequency Noise
Thank you for writing to me regarding the World Health Organisations report Wind Turbine Noise as a Health Hazard. I am grateful to you for bringing this to my attention as it is not a campaign of which I was previously aware. I will certainly maintain an interest in this topic and will keep your comments in mind if this is debated in the Chamber.
Wind Farms - New Onshore Wind Projects
I am pleased that clean growth has been placed at the heart of the new Industrial Strategy which aims to cut emissions while keeping costs down for consumers, create high value jobs and to grow the economy.
The development of renewable energy is already a tremendous UK success story and, thanks to significant investment and support, renewable capacity has quadrupled since 2010. Last year, a third of our electricity generation came from renewable sources and the Government has sent clear signals to investors and businesses that our country is transitioning to a low-carbon economy.
As I understand it, the UK Government currently feels that more large-scale onshore wind power is not right for England at this time. While onshore wind farms play an important role in supporting our renewable needs, it is important to appreciate that they often fail to win public support locally. That is why I believe it is right that more power has been given to local communities on where wind farms can be built, with the final say resting locally. On the other hand, established technologies such as onshore wind are reducing in cost and if this continues it will likely have the capacity to play a significant role in the UK's generation mix going forward.
In Scotland, energy policy is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. It is important that Scotland maintains its position as a global leader in offshore wind, and I certainly support the development of wind projects in the remote islands of Scotland, where they will directly benefit local communities. Ultimately, it is right that support should be focused on technologies where it is most needed, and the Government announced in the Clean Growth Strategy that it would make up to £557 million of annual funding available for less established technologies including onshore wind projects on remote islands that directly benefit local communities. I understand that the next funding auction is planned for spring 2019.