In the last 12 months, the Welsh Government has taken a major step in declaring a climate emergency. However, while the Minister for Environment’s foreword to the Energy Generation in Wales 2018 report alludes to this, it doesn’t give any immediate sense of a strategic shift in thinking as a result.
The report itself shows modest progress being made towards Wales’ 2030 target to have 70% of electricity generated by renewables, with a 2% increase in 2018. This due in no small part to the commissioning of innogy’s 58MW Brechfa West wind farm in Carmarthenshire.
But with Wales having now achieved 50% consumption equivalent of power from renewable sources (up from 48% last year), I wonder whether the 70% target is beginning to feel slightly conservative in light of said climate emergency declaration?
More broadly, what do these targets actually signify?
In terms of power consumption, the 70% target is automatically in lock step with whatever future demand may be. That’s alright in theory but in reality, we don’t know how quickly the wider electrification of demand is going to happen.
Similarly, for local ownership, genuine local ownership with genuine tangible local benefits is laudable but what is the significance, or the requirement for it to be 1GW of renewable power in local ownership?
Collaboration between developer and community is something which planning policy should seek to establish, but anything which makes local ownership a material planning consideration is potentially counter-productive.
The starting point should simply be: “How does Wales build a resilient, reliable energy system based on renewable energy?”
Cruise control on climate change?
The recent Welsh Government climate change conference was an opportunity to learn more about strategy for dealing with the challenges we face collectively.
Opening the conference, the First Minister enjoined that “no pledge is too small [to make a difference.]” I wonder whether this captures the zeitgeist adequately?
If I was going to make a small pledge though, it’s to address a long overdue (to my shame) conversion to smart energy meters in my household. Without smart meters, consumers can’t play a meaningful role in or benefit from the transition to a flexible, digitised energy system – and a fair chunk of what we need to do to hit net zero will be down to behaviour change.
Back to the 2018 annual report on energy generation, and the ‘gently does it’ theme continues:
“Welsh Government continues to set a supportive policy framework to bring forward energy projects. Through the Welsh Government Energy Service, we provide support to the public sector and communities to help them deliver renewable energy projects.”
Again, this doesn’t really convey that anything significant has changed in the last twelve months when it so obviously has.
In the context of well documented headwinds facing the renewables industry, the National Development Framework, consultation on which recently concluded, is, to give it its due, a genuine attempt to put in place the framework which will affect the step change which is required to deliver a sustainable, low-carbon future for Wales.
Which is why it is so odd that the mooted priority areas for renewable energy development proposed by the draft document should miss the mark so spectacularly. Having looked closely at these areas, it is clear that they will not deliver the kind of uplift in project development we need to see. RUKC’s preference is for a sensible, criteria based approach to renewable energy development.
As an industry we will continue to engage Welsh Government and with other business sectors on this critical document. To be fair, this seems to be a genuine conversation with a shared determination to ensure that the NDF helps to get things moving at a pace.