WALES FALLS FURTHER BEHIND SCOTLAND IN RENEWABLES RACE
Figures for renewable energy generation in 2015 have just been published. They make mouth-watering material for our friends in Scotland, where 22 GWh of renewable electricity was generated – 58% of the country’s electricity demand.
But it’s rather depressing for those of us who see a green, 100%-renewable future for Wales. We generated just 5.1 GWh of renewable electricity in 2015.
In 2015, Scotland generated 13 GWh more green electricity than it did in 2008. And Wales? A shade over 3 GWh.
What is it that makes Wales such a poor performer when it comes to renewable electricity production?
Part of the problem can be traced to powers. For the full treatise on this, read our submission to the Silk Commission on devolution of energy powers to Wales. Put simply:
Westminster control of energy powers has meant that Wales has already missed out on first-mover advantage in most renewables industries.
The complexity of the energy arrangements puts in place a barrier that is additional to all other factors and is absent from the planning and consenting regime in Northern Ireland and Scotland. There is no logical reason for this complexity.
The absence of planning and consenting powers has meant that energy policy in Wales was almost entirely impotent. Regulations passed on 1 March 2016 mean that all powers over onshore wind have become vested with the National Assembly for Wales.
Because Westminster has been busy consenting new fossil fuel power stations in Wales – and failing to close existing ones, Wales generates a much greater proportion of electricity from fossil fuels than any other part of the UK. These fossil energy jobs are jobs of the past.
Powers over the electricity grid are still retained by Westminster and represent an effective veto of Welsh powers.
But at least as significant a part of the problem has been a historic failure by the Welsh Government to visibly support the renewable energy industries. The Welsh Government’s energy policy, for example, mentions onshore wind 5 times. Nuclear – with a marginal to nil prospect of one new nuclear power station ever – gets 19 mentions.
And current Welsh Government policy is that the wind power ambitions outlined in TAN 8 should be the “upper limit” of wind development in Wales. This policy was re-iterated by then Environment Minister John Griffiths at a wind industry event on 30 January 2013.
This antipathy to onshore wind in particular was partially responsible for the mid Wales furore. With no advocate at Welsh Government countering voices opposed to onshore wind, the anti-wind groups filled the vacuum and ran a highly vocal – and counter-productive – campaign against wind developments in Powys.
Additionally, the renewables industry in Scotland knows that it is not competing with nuclear for a share of low carbon generating infrastructure for the future. By supporting new nuclear, the Welsh Government is making life more difficult for renewable developments in Wales.
Political and policy developments next door have seen the Welsh Government come out much more supportively of renewables since May 2015. Could this have resulted in the slight uptick in installation and generation in 2015?
And will those newly delivered consenting powers over onshore wind finally enable Wales to take its place in the forward-thinking countries of the world, forging ahead with renewables?
Gareth Clubb is Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru.