An energy policy for future generations?

David Clubb says Wales must defend itself from the UK Government’s energy policy.

The general election of 7th May produced a result which was equally unexpected and unwelcomed by most in the UK.

The surprise of the night was not that an unwelcome party was to form a new government – only once since 1931 has a government won more than 50% of the popular vote – but that it was the Conservatives who had won an outright majority.

On the face of it, this could have been great news for the renewable energy sector. After all, this was the party led by David Cameron of wind turbine, husky and ‘greenest government ever’ fame.

However, there were some ill tidings amongst the spin, not least the desire to ‘get rid of the green crap’, and the manifesto commitment to getting rid of new subsidies for onshore wind, the cheapest form of renewable electricity generation.

It didn’t take long for the hostilities to commence.

Within the first few weeks the government was consulting early closure of the Renewable Obligation for onshore wind, medium-scale solar, biomass co-firing and on the ability of projects to seek pre-accreditation for feed-in-tariff projects.

Shortly afterwards there was the end of the Green Deal, the end of lower taxes for low-emission vehicles, the scrapping of the zero carbon homes plan  and the requirement for renewable electricity generators to pay the Climate Change Levy, a breathtakingly brazen counter-logical decision.

In the face of this onslaught against one of the UK’s fastest-growing sectors, investors did what they’ve always done when faced with uncertainty; considered their choices and started to look elsewhere.

Wales; a refuge from the storm?

Wales hasn’t escaped the economic vandalism. Although planning and environmental permitting are devolved, the UK-controlled renewable energy subsidy is pivotal to the viability of projects in Wales.

Unsurprisingly, projects are starting to be pulled. With around 40p of every pound spent on onshore wind projects coming to Wales, and the potential investment running to billions, the impact on direct investment and supply chains is colossal.

Sadly, Wales-based companies, including those in the rural areas that the Conservatives profess to cherish, are also struggling to cope with the uncertainty.

Dulas, one of Wales’ best-loved renewable energy companies, recently announced that jobs were at risk in Machynlleth, compounding the earlier announcement that Mabey Bridge of Chepstow was to close.

Community energy projects are in disarray as the certainty they enjoyed from pre-accreditation for the feed-in-tariff disappears in front of their eyes.

However, there are some ways in which the Welsh Government has acted to protect the interests of the people of Wales.

Firstly, planning policy is devolved to Wales. So whereas the UK government has effectively banned onshore wind in England, the Planning Act for Wales will enable Welsh Government to determine decisions for projects between 25 MW and 50 MW in size, and also to take decisions away from local authorities which are seen to be performing poorly.

Secondly the blanket hostility to the renewable energy sector from Conservative Ministers at Westminster is contrasted starkly by the fulsome support from Carl Sargeant, our Minister for Natural Resources. This contrast is not restricted to onshore wind; whilst the UK Government rushes to develop the shale gas resource (fracking) in England, it is likely to face a moratorium in Wales.

Devolution has required Welsh Ministers to embrace sustainable development, and the Bills and Acts for Active Travel, Future Generations and Environment are clear indicators of a Wales which is attempting to genuinely grapple with the complex issues which surround sustainability.

And whilst we have undoubtedly scored some spectacular own-goals – the most obvious of which was the token improvement in energy efficiency in the last review of building regulations – the general direction of travel is hugely encouraging.

Given that we will eventually see the devolution of energy policy to Wales with the passage of the next Wales Act, the likelihood is that the medium-term outlook for the sustainable energy sector in Wales will continue to improve.

Towards 2016

In June I predicted that the early activity from Amber Rudd would be pushing the business community of Wales and Scotland in a nationalist direction. I stand by that analysis, and conversation with people working in the sector reveals that they regard Wales and Scotland as potentially ‘safe havens’ from the whirlwind being created in Westminster.

As we move closer to the elections in Wales, we will start to see whether the political parties of Wales step up in support of the sustainable energy sector. Early indications are encouraging with Plaid stating their commitment to a target of 100% renewable electricity in Wales by 2035, should they be elected to form the Welsh Government in 2016.

This will – hopefully – start a sustainability ‘arms race’, in which the parties of Wales will be striving to produce a narrative for the 2016 election which appeals to one of the principal interests of the citizens of Wales, namely living within the limits of our environment.

The UK Government’s energy policy is not worthy of the name. As the Financial Times stated recently, “sweeping away much of what the prime minister allegedly called ‘green crap’ is not on its own an energy policy”.

Devolution is good for the people of Wales. Our renewable energy sector will be more productive and employ people with greater certainty than England. We will hopefully see improvements in energy efficiency regulation which upskill our workers and construction companies, and allow us to export more of our goods and services. And we anticipate much more activity in the fast-moving ‘smart energy’ sector, which have the potential to bring a whole new generation of businesses and entrepreneurs to Wales.

The paths of Wales and England are slowly diverging. For the sake of the renewable energy sector, for the sake of sustainability, and for the sake of future generations, that is something to be warmly welcomed.

David Clubb is Director of RenewableUK Cymru.

13 thoughts on “An energy policy for future generations?

  1. Really good article. Translating policy into doing has always been the Welsh Governments challange. The curret uncertainty is deep because of the slash an burn in Westminster at the moment. Moving into a long term committment at a Wales level is difficult to see if the main fiscal tools are held by someone else. We can do much to prepare the vehicle for the journey but if someone else has the fuel then we won’t get far. But there is much we can do! Grid, training, planning, statutory body alignement, access to capital, R&D… to quote the film ‘field of dreams’. ‘build it and they will come’ (‘It’ being the environment to grow energy and businesses) Lets get clever on the support mechnisms. Energy Trading, Local Energy, Demand side management and so on. Its not all FITs, CfD, ROCs and RHI’s. “Quit talking start doing” (Disney.)

  2. One of the difficulties for this extremely important and urgent issue is the ‘words’ (semantics) that don’t mean what they should mean. For example, energy, electricity and power are never ‘green’ as in the colour green. The word ‘renewable’ is horribly misused – energy is power and is used once (from whatever source) and not renewed as such. Batteries can be ‘recharged’ but are still not ‘renewed’. Nothing is actually ‘renewable’. Basic physics.
    The buzz word ‘sustainable’ has been abused long enough. Therefore, ‘sustainable green renewable’ energy has become a totally meaningless and compromised phrase.
    Green, as a word used in this context, has been compromised and often ridiculed ( crap) by political connotations as in green politics, green party ..und so weiter.
    Even the name of the organisation of which the esteemed author is a director says more about the politics than about the energy issues facing us.
    So cut out the green crap verbiage and concentrate on explaining the tangible benefits and risks – it should be a no brainer?

  3. No – the UK has to defend itself and its people against David Clubb’s energy policy!

    For the first time in a lot of years there is some glimmer of hope that it may be starting – all unsustainable subsidies on all inefficient renewables should be scrapped as a priority. If people want to develop and install renewables on a commercial competitive basis then so be it but I am sick of subsidising uncompetitive junk generation based on junk environmental science and junk climate science. Not to mention junk ROI figures…

  4. Last year more of scotland’s energy came from renewables than from all other sources put together – there is no reason why wales cannot do the same. All it will take is the political will to do so.

  5. ‘Last year more of scotland’s energy came from renewables than from all other sources put together’

    Not quite – ‘Using 2013’s gross consumption as a proxy for 2014, around 49.8 % of Scotland’s electricity consumption came from renewables in 2014.’ but obviously going in the ‘right’ direction. However, I think it will take more than political will in Wales.

  6. One would not mind so much if the UK government professed the same eccentric views as John Walker and proclaimed the scientific consensus as “junk” but Amber Rudd came on the radio and announced the government was concerned about climate change. She pretended to be concerned about it and did not renounce carbon emission targets – while scrapping every policy that might give them effect. Meanwhile Osborne is happy to subsidize fracking. No need for a “competitive or commercial basis” there. What lies behind such brazen hypocrisy? Would donations to the Conservative Party have anything to do with it?

  7. @R.Tredwyn.We are celebrating 40 years of fabulous ‘wealth’ from North Sea oil and gas which has helped to transform the UK,however in todays world I wonder if it would have been allowed,due to the ‘green’ lobby. The unholy alliance between a ‘socialist ‘government and ‘freebooting’ Texans showed how to get things done,however any major change to a)infrastructure)b),exploration for gas/oil with UK boundaries,c)airport development at Heathrow is met with howls of anguish by the ‘concerned’ green’s.The development of fracking in USA has transformed the energy supply undustry,and much to our benefit with collapse in oil/gas prices,however it has given the USA a great advantage over Germany in costs to industry for energy pricing,which could have serious impact on European economy. If there are huge oil/gas reserves to be found within our borders were would be MAD not to take advantage of them,subject to the necessary rules/regulations needed at an appropriate level.The drive for ‘green’ energy will be seen in long run as one of the most ‘wasteful’ policies ever implemented,except for the building of nuclear power plants which should be accelerated with immediate effect. The ‘green’ nutters are imposing huge additional costs/worry on our society over a whole range of areas and should be ignored.

  8. Howell, your position is consistent and I admire the courage with which you dismiss the opinion of the scientific majority. But my point is that the government does not profess your robust standpoint of let’s exploit all resources and to hell with future generations and people in low-lying areas. It says it accepts the science of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions. Then its actions give the lie to what it says. That is hypocrisy and deceit and unworthy of any decent government. If they share your eccentric views they should say so.

  9. @R.Tredwyn. The world is probably ‘warming’,however there is continual need for economic growth to sustain the current level of debt in both the a)public and b) private spheres of economic life. The idea that ANYTHING we do in Wales is going to have any impact on world consumption of energy is laughable,but sign of the ‘unreality’ of our current situation.If we wish to show that we are as a region of UK really serious about reducing consumption of energy,and are prepared to pay the price then why not close down the following a)Port Talbot Steelworks,b)Airbus in North Wales as part of plane manufacturing which seeks to massively increase numbers of planes in world,so as to get Chinese tourists to Bicester Village in Oxfordshire,c)Ford and all plants involved in motor manufacture!!.The WAG has recently bought a white elephant,no more than 15 miles from me in which it encourages increased useage of same by flying,and I therefore rest my case. The real ‘hypocrisy’ resides in WAG which is a posturing palace of world class standards,in which ‘hot air’ is causing part of global warming.

  10. Wag, carl sergeant and most of the political parties, along with the lobbyists who run this country as against the ordinary tax paying citizen or cash cows for mad politicians and multinationals. Are left cold by most of these personal debates on clickonwales. In fact very few people i speak too have even heard of this organisation because its only meant for the elites as they like to consider themselves. I do agree that most of the time there is nothing but confusing ideology given to the cash cows so you have to excuse them if they do not understand. But lets be clear about one thing. The planet is getting more polluted every day and wag and project green support for a multinational companies efforts to sell us the idea of energy from waste by building a toxic poluting incinerator in the centre of cardiff, as they are incompetant at handling recycling in any shape or form is taking the biscuit. It along with wheelie bins which contribute in cardiff alone now some 50 tonnes pa of carbon emmissions that were not there before is the sum total of these politicos abilities.

  11. Ps. Thats fifty tons per annum of carbon just from wheelie bins. The incinerator is given us a much richer cocktail of dangerous pollutanrs.

  12. I think that R.Tredwyn and Howell Morgan are both correct in accusing the UK and Welsh governments respectively of hypocrisy. Both claim to agree that climate change is a problem and both claim that we need to do something about it. However, neither the Conservative government in Westminster or the Labour one in Cardiff appear to be treating the matter with the seriousness they claim. Both, for example, appear to be guilty of supporting aviation, which has to be the most ecologically-damaging form of transport available. Both Westminster and Cardiff are also promoting major road building schemes (in Wales it is the proposed second M4 around Newport, in England there are a load of schemes proposed) which can only increase private car use at the expense of public transport.

    If we want to tackle climate change (and I believe that we should), governments of all colours need to lead by example. At the moment they are not.

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