What is the future for renewable energy in Wales?

Mike Parker says May’s General Election result has thrown a curveball at the renewable energy industry in Wales.

From a UK perspective, renewable energy in Wales has been dwarfed by activity in Scotland and even England. There are many reasons for this including consenting systems that have appeared from my perspective not to support development and which seem to cost twice as much and take twice as long as they do in other parts of the UK.

Many in industry also feel that political leadership on renewable energy issues has been cowed by a vocal, yet tiny minority, of articulate antis, and that splitting the energy portfolio between two Ministers – albeit each extremely capable in their own right – does not provide the coherent and strategic approach that is so desperately needed.

There are also systemic problems with the Welsh grid infrastructure which need to be addressed. At every scale of project the lack of availability of grid and the cost of new connections is a barrier to development. I’m sure, in many places in Wales, lack of distribution capacity is also preventing businesses from investing in new manufacturing facilities.

With the exception of Offshore Wind and Tidal Lagoons, Wales has been playing catch-up and the Welsh onshore wind development pipeline is generally less well progressed than it is in Scotland and England. By this I mean Wales has, relatively speaking, consented and built fewer wind farms than other parts of the UK. Reports commissioned by Renewable UK Cymru and the Welsh Government in January 2013 indicated that delivery of 2,000 MW for onshore wind in Wales by 2025 could contribute £2.3 billion of GVA to the Welsh economy.

Onshore wind is cost-effective, it is the cheapest tried and tested form of renewable energy and if we assume, as Government policy does, that low-carbon energy is needed to help address climate change then it seems crazy not to include it as part of the energy generation mix.

In playing catch up, I would argue that Wales has the opportunity – should it wish to take it – to do things better. Bigger more efficient turbines could lead to reducing subsidies. Shared ownership could democratise energy production so that everyone who wants to can own a share of a wind farm. Procurement and community Investment that really will make a real-long term difference to local communities and businesses. So potentially onshore wind offers a tremendous transformational opportunity for Wales.

But.. Just as the Renewable Energy Industry in Wales thought things were going to get better with changes to the planning system, a more responsive Natural Resources Wales and a renewed interest in energy matters in Cardiff, the unexpected general election result in May threw us a curveball (although it feels like a kettlebell). Conservative manifesto pledges to end subsidy for new onshore wind, coupled with the recent announcement of the early closure of the Renewables Obligation subsidy mechanism, threaten future inward investment into Welsh onshore wind projects and the potential for increased jobs, growth and wealth that these projects represent over their lifetimes.

Rightly or wrongly these are decisions being taken in Westminster and not Cardiff, but they have the potential to affect projects in Wales, staff based in Wales, funding of Welsh community projects and Welsh supply chain businesses. Capital that might have come to Wales will go elsewhere in the world. If Cardiff wants the benefits onshore wind can bring to Wales it is critical that it makes itself heard in Westminster.

Looking ahead, we have a year until the Welsh Assembly elections and during this year I believe energy and in particular the future of renewable energy in Wales will be a major discussion point amongst businesses and politicians. There are many questions to consider: What are the priorities? What energy mix does Wales want? What is the future for renewable energy in Wales? What role for community energy? Do devolution proposals go far enough? Does Wales need a Minister for Energy and Climate Change? How can Wales do things better?

The answers to these questions will affect every single person who pays an energy bill in Wales, pretty important questions really. It’s right that Wales has these discussions now.

Mike is Head of Onshore Wind UK at RWEI UK.

9 thoughts on “What is the future for renewable energy in Wales?

  1. To address Mike’s points; yes, Wales desperately requires a Minster for Energy. Mike makes some good points about needing more onshore wind projects, as opposed to the white elephant lagoon planned for Swansea Bay. Also, somebody in Welsh Government has to now look seriously at shale gas extraction. Having worked in the energy industry, here and elsewhere, I know that we are sitting on a gold mine. If Welsh Government doesn’t exploit it for the good of our people, then, before too long, someone else will and profits will flow out of our land – the same old story!.

  2. We can’t afford it!


    Renewable Energy – Question 3.16 pm

    Asked by Viscount Ridley

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the cost (£/tCO2e) of greenhouse gas emissions abatement in the most recent year for which there is data from each of wind offshore, wind onshore and solar, taking into account the additional electricity system costs appropriate to each technology?

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con): My Lords, based on support provided through the renewables obligation, the estimated abatement cost in 2014 was £65 per tonne of carbon dioxide for onshore wind, £121 for offshore wind and £110 for solar PV.

    Viscount Ridley (Con): I thank my noble friend for that reply and declare my interests in energy as listed in the register. Does he agree that the Ed Miliband/Chris Huhne energy policy that he inherited has been extremely effective at taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich but much less effective at decarbonisation—and particularly at decarbonisation in an affordable way? The numbers he gave for the abatement costs per tonne of carbon dioxide from those three technologies are higher than the numbers given for the total cost of climate change—the so-called social cost of carbon—as estimated by all economists, including even the noble Lord, Lord Stern. Would my noble friend guarantee to investigate these numbers to see whether we are getting value for money as consumers through these subsidies?

    Stern estimated the social cost of carbon offsetting to be around £44 per tonne or £55 in today’s money. Not bad for something you could until recently buy on carbon exchanges for as little 2.5 cents! And then even more obfuscation to try and cover the fact that heavily subsidised renewables are robbing the poor to pay the rich and racking up bills for domestic and business users alike – for no valid reason at all. As everybody should know by now, if they are paying attention, CO2 levels rise in response to temperature not the other way round!

  3. Once again John Walker makes confident assertions about climate change and CO2 that are at variance with the best science available and the consensus among scientists. They could be wrong,of course. But Damon Runyon said it best: the Bible says the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong – but that’s the way to bet. Renewables are the way to bet. If you are so worried about the poor, why not offer to pay more income tax like Charlotte Church?

  4. R Tredwyn – the best science available? Maybe, but unfortunately in this instance the best is basically political rather than factual. And the consensus is not the 97% that is so often misquoted. Sadly going against the herd doesn’t get you the funding to do your job or pay the mortgage. Plants love CO2, hence the extending growing season that we have experienced over the past 100 years. And see


  5. It amazes me that people see a political conspiracy in the policies to reduce carbon emissions. Just think where all the powerful,moneyed vested interest lie: in the multinational corporations producing fossil fuels and producing the machinery that uses them. It is not surprising that these interests dominate and so little is actually being done to restrict emissions. Where is the political impetus supposed to come from for green policies, other than genuine science-backed concern?

  6. @ Ross Tredwyn

    “Once again John Walker makes confident assertions about climate change and CO2 that are at variance with the best science available and the consensus among scientists.”

    That’s because so much of what you blindly accept as ‘best science’ isn’t! In my book much of it isn’t even science! The much vaunted consensus is no more real – read this for some insight but the world is awash with debunked CAGW consensus papers


    Science is now so discredited I’m almost ashamed to think of myself as being a scientist. So much climate ‘science’ doesn’t pass the most basic tests for science. So often the data is not published, or even available any more, or is deliberately withheld from other scientists – the methods and computer code are not published and this adds up to ‘science’ which is not open nor can it be replicated or tested by others. Even if the conclusions from large numbers of well known climate activist ‘scientists’ were correct, and paper after paper is being de-bunked, it is still not science by any acceptable definition.

    The problem of ‘secret science’ carried out by activists is so serious that the US Senate this month introduced The Secret Science Reform Act of 2015.


    This is aimed at the EPA’s refusal to publish data allowing some of its arguably ludicrous claims that small concentrations of small particulate matter is dangerous to be replicated and tested – but it could equally be aimed at the reams of climate activist papers with conclusions which are not testable either.

    But the real problem with claims that CO2 causes global warming is the data. CO2 has continued to rise but average temperature calculated from the relatively un-molested RSS satellite data shows 18 years and 6 months with a ZERO warming trend since 1997. The observational data has broken the theoretical modelling even though the modelling was clearly defective in its assumptions that the CO2 forcing was magnified way above the known logarithmic thermal effect. The basic hypothesis that CO2 (above ~200 ppm) causes global warming is a busted flush. Get over it!

    Meanwhile, if CO2 bothers you that much you can always do your bit to reduce it by not breathing out

  7. JRW.. The data you cite are contested, as you surely know. The polar ice cap doesn’t seem to have noticed and keeps on melting. You undermined your own credibility on this question when I asked you what probability you assigned to the consensus being right and you wrong. You replied zero per cent. In other words you know with absolute certainty that CO2 emissions have no effect whatever on the climate. So there is not even the smallest chance that all those climate scientists could be right. That sounds more like politically-inspired dogma than scientific judgement. I acknowledge there is a small chance you may be right – but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  8. Wales has the highest pullution levels in the uk and still rising. With over 400+ prescribed processes in a small area of the south wales m4 corridor, pouring out gaseous emisions into the atmosphere with no thought of the devastating effect of this for the welsh environment and health of all ecosystems. It takes a blind industrial/government combination of wag and the councils to congratulate themsrlves on building and commissioning an incinerator in the middle of cardiff bay. Presumably to combine with the other toxic rubbish that eminates from the assembly. This process has alresdy dumped illegaly toxic waste into the council landfill site and getting away with out prosecution. One law for one and one for another?

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