On behalf of RenewableUK Cymru and its members, we’d like to offer our warm congratulations to all those newly elected and re-elected to the 6th Senedd.
As the Senedd reconvenes, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that these times are suffused with a liminality which, for some, might be unsettling.
This tension isn’t without merit, especially when a Government embarks on a sixth consecutive term of office.
And it is something Ministers and officials must work hard to harness to move at the pace our present circumstance prescribes.
Now more than ever, the Renewables sector in Wales requires a unified clarity of purpose and a commitment to make big, bold calls.
The second Welsh Government Low Carbon Delivery Plan, expected later this year, presents a major opportunity to demonstrate intent ahead of COP and to signal Wales’ post pandemic ambition.
To this end, RenewableUK recently published its own target recommendations for raising the bar across key low carbon technologies by 2030 at a UK level.
We’re keen to engage Welsh Government regarding how these could apply to Wales and the benefits Wales stands to gain from the adoption of concrete targets across key sectors.
But given there’s still blossom on the trees, there’s plenty to get moving on and make progress with long before we get to Autumn.
RenewableUK Cymru has identified five themes as priorities for this Senedd term (in alphabetical order!):
1 – Energy networks
This Welsh Government needs to level with the public about the practical implications of decarbonising Wales. If Wales is to have a boom in renewables, the grid’s motorways and A roads need to be strengthened.
Offshore is constrained by the scale of challenge presented by marshalling multiple generation assets while minimising onshore impact. Onshore wind has abundant potential in Mid Wales but nothing to connect to.
Informing the needs case must utilise local, data driven mapping of future energy demand but remember that Renewable energy generated in one part of Wales can help other parts of Wales to decarbonise (as well as other parts of the UK) so let’s not tie ourselves in knots about demand. We’re going to be a big exporter of renewable power.
This is also about the adaptations to the gas network to accommodate increasing quantities of blended Hydrogen (dictated to an extent by policy choices about Hydrogen’s role), ranging from the ubiquitous to the more niche.
These are massive, intrusive, systems engineering challenges, and we need to get a fair distance down the track in this Senedd. So, let’s work quickly to get something we can share publicly and consult on.
2 – Onshore investment
As the cheapest and most ‘shovel ready’ technology, Onshore wind can potentially continue to make a significant contribution to Wales’ decarbonisation roadmap.
Vivid Economics research suggested that deployment of the UK CCC’s recommended 35GW of UK onshore wind by 2035 could deliver 1600 jobs for Wales – with jobs in the O&M sector carrying an average GVA per worker of £180,000 (compared to an average GVA worker of around £45,000.)
Following considerable improvements to the planning framework for onshore wind, the incoming Welsh Government should explicitly state the role onshore can play in a fully decarbonised power system.
Stakes taken in projects on Welsh Government’s forestry estate could accrue revenues to benefit all of Wales and provide clear answers to the perennial vexed question of “Who benefits?”
More broadly, how can we collaborate more closely to create ‘sovereign wealth’, not forgetting the fact that rents accrued on Welsh estate already contribute to Welsh coffers?
Several party manifestos suggested the issuing of green bonds to democratise assets and guarantee investment and returns to Wales.
There is nothing to prevent the issuing of country, area, or even technology specific bonds, guaranteed by Government, with its various sources of revenue and assets.
3 – Planning
Given UK Government’s commitment to reviewing the National Planning Statements (NPSs), there will be potentially significant changes in planning and consenting Renewables in England (and >350MW projects in Wales) so there needs to be coherence between Welsh and UK planning and consenting regimes.
There are anomalies between the respective regimes which might potentially disadvantage Welsh renewables projects of over 350MW. For example, DCO scale projects (e.g., Awel Y Môr Offshore Wind Farm) need to work in tandem with Wales’ marine licencing which is devolved to NRW via Welsh Ministers. Granting of marine licences are not currently time limited by statute. It would help if they were.
With the Developments of National Significance (DNS) regime increasingly well established, the advantages it delivers can be cemented by the introduction of the Welsh Infrastructure Consenting regime. This will give renewables developers in Wales the ability to secure statutory powers while maintaining the DNS process as an option.
Floating offshore is also a colossal opportunity but not an area in which Wales can necessarily drive timescales. Given the scale of the opportunity and the predicted trajectory on cost of deployment (i.e., coming down very quickly), the incoming Welsh Government needs to influence the timing, scale, and speed of future leasing rounds for Floating wind in the Celtic Sea – which, let’s not forget, can power Wales and the UK out of synch with the North Sea.
4 – Ports
UK Government has signalled its intent for coastal areas to benefit from ‘levelling up’. Renewables are of course in the vanguard.
However, different parts of the UK have different requirements and are moving at differing speeds. This should not blinker decision makers to the very significant bearing many Welsh ports may have on the UK’s decarbonisation roadmap across several sectors and technologies.
We need to be sure that Wales’ recently acquired powers over ports is adequately resourced so that we pack the biggest possible punch when it comes to bidding for infrastructure adaptation funding.
UK and Welsh Government also need to quickly agree the parameters within which Welsh ports can apply for free port status, which is a limited offering and how, in the context of the Celtic Sea, could be an enabler for the emergence of a powerful Economic development zone.
If there are reservations about free ports, these either need to be resolved or there needs to be a comprehensive package for ports and the communities and the supply chains they serve.
The bottom line is Welsh ports should not be disadvantaged either in relation to ports outside Wales or in relation to their being able to access all available support.
5 – Workforce
Writing about women in STEM professions recently, I described RenewableUK and its members’ commitment to addressing the under-representation of women in the renewables industry.
Tackling this will be a defining feature of the just energy transition and goes to the heart of capitalising on a renewables boom in Wales.
Government, the renewables industry, and educational institutions must work together to spark pupils’ interest in the green jobs which will proliferate in the decades ahead and equip them with the skillsets to succeed.
Much has been done and is being done to address this but given the net zero timescale and given the havoc wrought by the pandemic on young people’s plans, this should be viewed as a generational challenge and part and parcel of the decarbonisation roadmap.
Yes, attracting investment is critical but everything starts with skills. That means harnessing all our talent.
So, there we have it. Welcome back, now it’s back down to business.