Simon Thomas AM sets out a vision for an energy efficient Wales.
Climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity, and with 2016 being on track to be the hottest year since records began, we are already feeling its effects.
If we are serious about cutting Wales’ emissions by 80% by 2050, as set out in the Environment Wales Act 2016, and reaching the cross-party agreed target of cutting emissions by 40% by 2020, we must act now. This means that we need to improve energy efficiency, through releasing fewer emissions from homes, businesses and transport. It also means we need to be producing energy from cleaner, renewable sources.
The Welsh Government’s programme for government ‘Taking Wales Forward’ is very thin when it comes to energy policy. It is not just Plaid Cymru saying this: as Shea Jones, the IWA’s Re-energising Wales Project Co-coordinator notes in the latest ‘Welsh Agenda,’ that ‘energy is hardly mentioned and there is a complete omission of any mention of energy efficiency…doesn’t bode well for the Government’s priorities over the next five years.’
Plaid Cymru’s own response to this challenge in our Programme for Opposition 2016 -21 sets out how climate change must be tackled across the entire remit of government. Both mitigation and adaptation to its effects must be pursued in order to provide a good quality of life for Wales’ current and future generations. The reality of climate change should have a real impact on government policies across transport, housing, the economy, education and our NHS.
Our specific vision for energy and the environment is for a Wales that reduces its carbon emissions, harnesses its natural resources sustainably, and seizes opportunities in the low-carbon and circular economies.
The link between energy and climate change is clear. However, we are unfortunately again in the position of having to wait for Westminster and the new Wales Bill to give us a few more crumbs from the table when it comes to powers over energy.
If the Wales Bill passes, Wales will have consenting powers over energy projects up to 350 megawatts. The logic behind the 350MW cut-off point is questionable – it would mean that the decision to give planning consent for Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would be made in Wales, whereas the decision over larger tidal lagoon projects in Cardiff, Newport and north Wales would be made in England. Even the Ffestiniog pumped storage scheme, a decision made back in the 1960s, would be retained at Westminster.
And this brings us to the other obstacle: both financial incentives over renewable energy and the future of the electricity and gas grids are decided in London. This means that Wales is constrained by UK Government policy decisions in terms of what types of energy projects are developed, even when they are under 350MW.
Even a game-changing development such as the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay is held up by endless reviews and indecision in London. And though Wales can boast innovative community energy schemes such as Ynni Ogwen or Awel Aman Tawe, they pale into insignificance set side by side with the wide community ownership and development of projects in countries such as Denmark or Germany.
However, there is a big step which the Welsh Government can take now to increase energy generation from renewables. That is to set up a national energy company, Ynni Cymru, which will run as a not-for-dividend company at arms-length from Welsh Government, investing profits in improved services and prices.
A number of actions would fall into the remit of Ynni Cymru, including: reducing the cost per unit of energy to homes and businesses in Wales, reducing the consumption of energy in homes and businesses and helping consumers to make informed decisions based on smart metering technology.
Ynni Cymru would be tasked with funding the mass installation, outsourced to local companies, of solar panels on the roofs of households, business premises and lampposts in Wales, beginning with public buildings and social housing.
The company would coordinate and facilitate the use of publicly-owned land for renewable energy purposes.
It could finance the acquisition and development of new large-scale generating and storage capacity, ensuring Wales becomes self-sufficient in renewable energy and becomes a renewable energy exporter.
It could boost our energy market by ensuring the development of a national producer cooperative among community energy organisations.
Ynni Cymru could be tasked with developing a national network of municipally- owned regional or local energy companies to match generation and demand for electricity at the district scale.
We cannot surely be satisfied with a government response to devolution which means we are outpaced in some of these areas both by local authorities in England and regions and nations elsewhere in the EU. If anything, the decision to leave the EU, and presumably the developing internal energy market also, means we should be accelerating the pace towards energy self-sufficiency.
The Party of Wales believes that we can produce as much electricity as is consumed in Wales from renewables by 2035. Ynni Cymru would have a crucial role in fulfilling this aim and also in contributing to the Welsh Government’s climate change targets.