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Natural Resources - Seizing Our Own Destiny
I recently spoke on the Draft Wales Bill and the missed opportunities it denies Wales to harness our natural resources.
I particularly wanted to refer to the exclusions around the all-important issue of energy policy, not just the specifics, but the whole policy around energy generation and transmission, which is absolutely key to Wales’s future. The Draft Wales Bill permits us to have planning consent for energy projects with a generating capacity of up to 350 megawatts, which is welcome, and this is in line with the Silk commission recommendation.
But, it does mean that larger schemes of strategic importance would still be decided by the UK Government. The Silk commission based their recommendation on the Swansea tidal lagoon, which comes within the benchmark of the 350 megawatts, but it does mean that schemes like the Cardiff tidal lagoon, which is somewhere between 1,800 and 2,800 MW, would, under this proposal, in all likelihood be decided outside of Wales. The Royal Town Planning Institute wants the 350 megawatts threshold to be removed.
There’s an exhibition in Assembly that some of you may have seen that demonstrates just how amazing the Swansea lagoon is, not just as a piece of engineering, but also as a piece of landscaping, and as an amenity for people to enjoy, which is very much down to the imaginative way in which the landscaping has been devised. Because the decision on the planning aspect of it was decided in Whitehall, it was disaggregated from the landscaping and environmental aspects of it, which was unfortunate and I wouldn’t want that to happen in the case of the Cardiff one, because how it looks and how people can engage with it are really important to engage with public acceptance of such a large project. Therefore, it is crucial to be able to see those things as one.
So, the RPTI argued on two grounds that if all energy decisions are devolved, it promotes a comprehensive strategy around renewables and, as well, it would bring Wales into line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. I can see no reason for Wales to have less say on energy than the other two nations.
However, planning decisions around energy are just one thing. Strategic decisions about the generation, transmission, distribution and supply of electricity, which are specifically excluded under the draft Wales Bill, are a considerable concern to me.
The other exclusion that seems to make a mockery of our ability to seize our own destiny—economically and socially—is that energy conservation is also excluded, other than the encouragement of energy efficiency, otherwise than by prohibition or regulation. So, we’re not in a position, under this draft, to provide any financial incentives or penalties to get people to do the right thing, which means that it really does tie Wales’s hands. So, I think that is something that really needs looking at.
It also prevents the Welsh Government from prioritising community energy schemes getting access to the grid. We know that this has killed several community energy schemes stone dead, as the grid has asked for a connection fee that has been several times the value of the product’s construction costs. Ofcom, which came to see the environment committee today, said they cannot act on this without specific guidance from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. If that is not forthcoming, the reserved-powers model means that the UK Government policy would take precedent, whatever the will of the National Assembly, and I do not think that that is a matter that should be decided in London. It would be much more appropriately decided here in the National Assembly.
I have other concerns, particularly around food policy. The longer the UK Government fails to act on the regulation of non-food masquerading as food, which is poisoning our populations, the more I want the National Assembly to have the powers to act to protect our people, although I acknowledge that it would be more sensibly done across the UK.
But, to go back to the crucial issue for me of energy generation and transmission, the current system gives inordinate and dominant power to private monopolies, locks out new entrants, hampers our ability to deliver on cheaper, more reliable clean energy, deliver on our climate change obligations, as laid out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, stifles innovation and enterprise, and prevents us developing one of our most promising assets—i.e. our natural resources—in support of a healthier, wealthier Wales. So, I do hope that the UK Parliament will think again on this, and that the UK Government will see sense.
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