Llywelyn Rhys asks whether Wales will miss out on the renewable energy revolution
At RenewableUK Cymru’s fifth annual conference in Cardiff at the end of May, First Minister Carwyn Jones AM told industry representatives that the new Welsh Government will embark on an “energy decade” under his leadership.
The low carbon economy in Wales has already emerged high on the political agenda as the Fourth Assembly finds its feet, with the First Minister’s new responsibility for energy policy indicating that Wales’ energy policy warrants his full attention.
At the conference both Cheryl Gillan, the Secretary of State for Wales, and the First Minister set out a vision of Wales as a world leader in renewable energy, with the advanced manufacturing, high level skills and employment that this would generate. The sheer scale of the potential benefits of wind energy are often missed – figures have shown that wind energy alone currently contributes £158 million directly to the Welsh economy every year, and this could reach £1 billion by 2020.
One only has to look at Mabey Bridge’s recently opened wind turbine tower manufacturing facility in Chepstow to see the tangible benefits of renewable energy – in this case, 240 jobs and a £38m investment.
In her speech Cheryl Gillan MP described an “unstoppable shift” towards a low carbon future for the UK, and rightly pointed out that other countries, such as China, are putting the pieces and investment in place to make sure that they are poised to take advantage of this growing business opportunity.
But is Wales on track to be able to achieve this vision, or will the opportunity pass us by? Wales already has strong plans and strategies that were put in place by the last Government, and “energy and environment” was identified in the Economic Renewal programme as a key focus for Wales’ economic growth. We now need strong leadership and delivery on these bold plans and targets, and the initial signs appear hopeful for a reinvigoration and stimulation of the renewable energy sector in Wales.
With a number of projects moving ahead, such as the plans for the Gwynt-y-Môr wind farm and other large scale offshore wind development, Wales has the chance to continue these promising starts and radically increase and improve the development of the Welsh renewable energy sector.
This feeling was reflected at RenewableUK Cymru conference. There is still much to be done to position Wales as a future leader in carbon technologies and Wales will need to make substantial progress in the next decade compared to the last. Not least in working to remove the planning, transport and grid connection barriers which the sector faces across Wales. Only when these barriers have been broken down will Wales be able to truly develop its renewable energy sector, and the longer these obstacles are left unresolved the further Wales will fall behind in the global low carbon race.
Of course there is no simple solution when it comes to the complications of energy planning, transport or infrastructure, and the recent protest showed that public feeling must be heeded. But strong leadership and a clear vision – and a clear plan to implement this vision – could make all the difference.