THE BLOG

An Energy Surplus in Wales

11/07/2014 13:18 BST | Updated 09/09/2014 10:59 BST

The Wales Government is lacking inspiration and vitality. In Wales we have access to more than twice the renewable energy we can use. The implications for jobs, security and prosperity seem to be lost on Welsh AMs, but they are not lost on the Scots who know they must shake off the chains of Westminster mismanagement and forge a sustainable future for themselves.

For example, Scotland is equally well placed to harness renewables, and is on the way to energy security. Currently 65% of its electricity comes from renewables and Scotland is well on target to reach 100% by 2020. Contrast this with Westminster dithering, and the English fall-back on a status quo which values the international fossil fuel industry more highly than the need to combat carbon emissions and provide us all with secure home-grown energy.

Greens share the despair of communities who see opencast coal mining rearing its polluting head across the Heads of the Valleys. Nant llesg, Ffos-y-Fran and Varteg all have either planning applications in or are in appeal. Local communities reject them all, yet would welcome with open arms the prospect of solar farms and windmills on these very same sites.

Fracking is yet another business model designed to prop up the fossil fuel industries and add to global warming. Yet the investment which will see the industrialisation of the South Wales countryside from Swansea Bay to South Monmouthshire could so easily be used to promote and intensify our transition to energy self-sufficiency and lasting prosperity.

The Wales Government has not shaken off the Westminster chains of authority. The Wales Government is too feeble in its outlook to forge a way through Westminster ideology and strike out for what is good for Wales.

Renewables are the only way forward to the future. Community owned renewable generation is even better. In Germany only 5% of renewable energy is owned by utilities. The other 95% is owned by households, communities, co-operatives and farmers. This could be us.

Deep down we all share the desire to decarbonise the economy, to develop clean, resilient community-based energy and do our fair share to tackle climate change. But government is not engaged. A clear strategy needs to be developed to enable long term planning and investment. Such a strategy would engage finance, industry and technology. The prospects for employment would be huge, and importantly the jobs would be there for generations. If Germany is already employing 380,000 (2011) people in the renewables industry, it is not difficult to see that Wales, with its superior natural resources could set its sights even higher. More jobs, stable jobs, and more money circulating in the local economy - it makes too much sense.

And this, indeed, is the problem. The decentralisation of power ownership is a threat to the outmoded business models of the fossil fuel industry. It is a threat to the power of the industries which govern government.

Yes there are challenges, for example in guaranteeing first access to the grid for renewables (currently fossil fuels rule) in pricing reforms to protect the vulnerable, and in re-framing financial investment, but the rewards are huge and lasting.

We need to see vision and leadership. We need to see a clear Feed-in Tariff which drives costs down, provides stability and opens the market to ordinary people. We need local banks to transform investment, 1% long term interest rates, and an updated grid that prioritises clean energy and gives communities first right to use their own renewable energy at wholesale (not retail) prices. All this would drive yet more innovation in energy storage and energy sharing. The future is staring us in the face.

Wales already exports energy to England, so the precedent is set. The irony is that the exports come from renewables in North Wales, whilst at the moment South Wales imports energy, paying overinflated prices for this dubious privilege because there is no north/south energy grid. Elected politicians seem to be more than happy to let this stupidity persist, denying us all the prosperity and energy security others are eagerly grasping.