Carwyn Jones’s energy decade

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.

Llywelyn Rhys is Head of RenewableUK Cymru, the trade and professional body for wind and marine renewables industries

4 thoughts on “Carwyn Jones’s energy decade

  1. The problem Carwyn has it that most energy decisions affecting Wales are not devolved, so he can make grand statements but does not have the powers to do that much. However, showing a greater commitment to tidal energy would help and with his new mandate, I look forward to new exciting ideas being proposed. I have no issue with them not being in their recent manifesto as, in all honesty, there was not a lot there on radical renewable thought anyway.

    Let’s see what he has on offer.

  2. I do not know whether any irony was intended in the title of this article. However it is clear that the Welsh Government will need a great deal of energy to promote the interests of Wales in this area. The article mentioned the Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm project. This has a planned capacity of 576 Megawatts – equivalent to about 60% of Wylfa’s capacity and sufficient to supply 400,000 households. This is about 8% of Wales’ total current electricity production. It will involve an investment of some £2 billion and will be owned by three German entities including (another irony) the municipal utility company of Munich. Who benefits? Siemens, who will be building the turbines in Europe, and RWE the German power company which will sell the electricity. Who decides? The Crown Estate, a quango based in London, getting in money on behalf of the Treasury, and a number of Whitehall departments. Wales is already an exporter of electricity, this is the exploitation of the natural resources of Wales for the benefit of English electricity consumers and foreign shareholders over which the Welsh Government has little control, and will generate a minimal number of jobs in the locality. Whatever the merits of such a project from an environmental point of view, the lack of any say and limited financial benefit to the people of Wales, recalls the exploitation of Welsh coal in the nineteenth century. The project is emblematic of the whole energy sector in Wales (and much else besides) and is pertinent in respect of the recent announcements of the extent of shale gas resource in Wales. The Welsh Government, like that of Scotland, should demand control over the assets of the Crown Estate within its own borders; the energy (and other) assets of Wales should be exploited in a way which is decided upon within Wales and for the benefit of the people of Wales.

  3. Our approach to Renewables should mirror the Arbed approach to fuel poverty, look at the triple bottom line. Re-invigorate manufacturing sectors while creating site specific O&M jobs that can’t be outsourced. Sadly, in order to benefit most from this we first need to achieve decent Educational attainment, something which continues to elude us. Teaching science and maths through the medium of Welsh doesn’t help either.

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