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Climate

Fears raised in Senedd over coal tip reclamation projects

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PROPOSALS to reclaim disused tips risk opening the floodgates to coal extraction under the guise of remediation, the Senedd heard.

Delyth Jewell led a Plaid Cymru debate on coal tip and opencast mine remediation, warning a new industry is emerging with reclamation coming at the price of coal extraction.

Ms Jewell, who represents South Wales East, raised concerns about Energy Recovery Investments Limited’s (ERI) proposals for reclamation of Bedwas tip.

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader said: “Before the land is restored to its former glory, it seems it must be ravaged and plundered again.”

She said some make good on promises but others do not, “claiming at the end of projects that not enough money remains for restoring – it’s all gone on draining every drop of profit.”

Hefin David urged fellow members to keep an open mind to ERI’s plans to remediate coal tips in Bedwas in his Caerphilly constituency.

Dr David said: “We need to keep an open mind about any opportunity or avenue we have to remediate, but at the same time we must ask sceptical questions.”

He stressed: “This isn’t Ffos y Fran, this isn’t ‘leave it as a disaster zone and exploit the land.

“This is a company that is saying, ‘Yes, we’ll take the coal as a by-product and we’ll make a profit, but we are there to remediate the land.’”

Dr David added his voice to a chorus of calls for the UK Government to urgently provide additional funding for proper long-term remediation of disused tips.

Plaid Cymru’s Peredur Owen Griffiths raised concerns about the “troubling” proposals for a coal-extraction project in his South Wales East region.

Mr Owen Griffiths said ERI is planning to extract coal from the Bedwas colliery site over seven years, with a possible extension.

He told the chamber: “The potential implications of the project are far-reaching and alarming, with many questions yet to be answered satisfactorily to alleviate the concerns of residents.”

Warning it could set a dangerous precedent, with more than 300 at-risk coal tips in south Wales, he said the project risks allowing coal extraction under the guise of remediation.

Mr Owen Griffiths said: “It’s imperative that we ask many searching questions to guard against attempts to revive the coal-mining industry through the back door.”

Rhianon Passmore said people in her Islwyn constituency have deep concerns about ERI’s plans for the former coal tips at Mynydd y Grug in Bedwas.

Ms Passmore raised constituents’ concerns about 18 to 20 lorries a day travelling down a haul road that passes through the Sirhowy valley country park.

Pointing out that a planning application has yet to be submitted, she said: “While we want to see coal tips removed and remediated, it cannot and should not be at any cost.”

The Labour MS said the Welsh Government has committed £47m but the UK Government has yet to contribute funding for long-term remediation of disused coal tips.

She called for the UK Government to step up to the plate and take responsibility.

Sioned Williams said there are more than 900 disused tips in her South Wales West region, warning that the landscape has been scarred with environmental hazards left behind.

The Plaid Cymru MS raised the example of Godre’r Graig in the Swansea valley.

She said: “Due to an assessment of the risk of the quarry spoil tip to the village school, children have had to be educated in Portakabins miles away from the village since 2019.

“The school has now been demolished, causing absolute heartbreak in the community.”

Heledd Fychan, who represents South Wales Central, called for new legislation to reflect the realities of today, pointing out that the Mines and Quarries Act dates back to 1969.

The Plaid Cymru MS said: “It is absolutely appalling, in my view, that the UK Government has not played its part in helping to fund the work.”

Joel James, for the Conservatives, rejected Plaid Cymru’s “alternative reality” that paints Wales as a victim of exploitation during the industrial revolution.

“The truth is that our national resources were used to help to enrich us,” he said.

Mr James argued the UK Government should not be expected to pick up the bill for remediation while the Welsh Government brings forward proposed legislation on disused tips.

The South Wales Central MS said the Welsh Government has resources at its disposal, criticising the estimated £18m-a-year cost for 36 more politicians in Cardiff Bay.

Mr James said Wales should engage with ERI on remediation works.

Julie James – who could not comment on the Bedwas proposals – said her father was a miner who died of cancer, almost certainly because of his mining history.

She said: “That will be the case in many families across Wales. To say that that isn’t exploitation beggars belief, quite frankly.”

Wales’ local government and planning secretary urged the UK Government to recognise its moral responsibility to help fund remediation because coal tips long predate devolution.

Ms James said a forthcoming coal tips, mines and quarries bill will reform outdated laws around tip safety and give greater security to people living in its shadow.

MSs voted down Plaid Cymru’s motion, 12-45, with Conservative amendments also falling. The motion as amended by the Welsh Government was agreed, 41-16.

Climate

Social landlords in Wales ‘can help the country meet green targets’

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SOCIAL housing providers in Wales could lead the way in helping the country meet targets to reduce its carbon output by refurbishing their stock of affordable homes, according to NorDan UK, one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of high-quality windows.

NorDan UK, which has just opened a new office in Cardiff, says housing associations can help residents keep their homes warmer and reduce their heating bills, while also reducing the carbon output and wider environmental impact of their housing stock, by installing its low-carbon window systems.

The company says social landlords should consider windows when they access the Welsh government’s £270 million investment into upgrading social homes. The investment is part of the Wales Housing Quality Standards (WHQS) scheme, which aims to improve the living conditions of residents, and the Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) in Wales, which focuses on retrofitting homes with energy-efficient technologies that reduce carbon and improve energy performance.

Lou Johnson, NorDan UK’s Regional Director for Wales and West of England, who is heading up the Cardiff office, explains: “Decarbonising social homes hinges on hitting energy performance targets. For housing associations in Wales, this means grasping the critical role of windows and doors, which are responsible for around 20% of a home’s total heat loss.

“Establishing a permanent base in Cardiff will enable us to provide even better support to our clients and partners in Wales. This is about NorDan UK’s deep-seated commitment to supporting sustainable housing practices in Wales, helping social landlords find the best and most cost-effective solutions for their residents.”

NorDan UK has a wide range of potential customers in Wales, from private new build developments and retrofit schemes, through to smaller self-build and DIY projects. Because Wales has hundreds of miles of rugged coastline, NorDan UK’s products will be perfect as they are designed for tough Scandinavian conditions.

Demand for NorDan UK’s products from affordable housing owners and developers in England and Scotland, for new build and refurbishment projects, has soared in recent years as providers strive to meet the UK’s net Zero targets.

The company counts ten of the twelve major G15 social landlords in London among its customers. Not only do their windows deliver long-term cost savings because they last longer than PVC windows, they also help keep homes warmer, meaning lower energy bills for tenants.

This is why the company is extending its expertise and innovative solutions with the inauguration of a new Wales headquarters and showroom in Copse Walk, Cardiff. By establishing a local presence, NorDan aims to forge strong relationships with housing associations and private developers in Wales, while highlighting the vital role windows play in the overall mix of improvements to homes.

Founded in Norway almost 100 years ago the company now has 12 factories across the UK and more than 2,200 employees, with project management offices in Exeter, Gloucester, Birmingham, Manchester, Livingston, Aberdeen and Inverness, and now Cardiff.

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Climate

Calls for all new power lines to be placed underground narrowly rejected

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THE SENEDD narrowly rejected calls for all new power lines to be placed underground.

Adam Price led a debate on a Plaid Cymru motion to make it mandatory for all new electricity distribution lines to be underground rather than overhead pylons.

He explained that current Welsh Government policy says new power lines should be laid underground but it includes a caveat on cost grounds.

Mr Price warned the policy is not working as intended, saying: “As long as the caveat exists, developers will always exploit it and build pylons as their preferred option.”

He said this has been a catalyst for a “rash of proposals for long-range pylon lines traversing large swathes of our country”, including in his Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency.

Mr Price urged the Welsh Government to mandate underground power lines, following the example of other European countries.

He said Denmark has reaped the benefits of a more rapid path to decarbonisation, with  public opposition to renewables much more muted as a result of undergrounding.

The former Plaid Cymru leader said underground cables do not spoil the landscape, are cheaper to maintain and more reliable, with reduced outages improving grid resilience.

He added that they are less susceptible to storms and high winds – “a phenomenon that will become more important in future as climate change-induced extreme weather increases”.

Mr Price welcomed a review but said: “If we want to prevent the kind of mass pylonisation that much of our country is currently facing, then we can’t afford to wait for the outcome.”

Mark Isherwood, for the Conservatives, told the chamber his party would support the motion, agreeing that the wording in Planning Policy Wales needs to be toughened up.

The North Wales MS said Welsh ministers need to be stronger in following guidance rather than allowing arguments of cost to justify “circumvention” of planning policies.

He stressed that the health impact of undergrounding near homes must be considered.

Russell George, the Tory MS for Montgomeryshire, raised concerns about overproliferation of windfarms and power lines “thundering” through the hills of Mid Wales.

Sian Gwenllian, the Plaid Cymru MS for Arfon, warned the caveat allows costs to take precedence over environmental, social and aesthetic factors.

She said: “By removing the cost-based caveat, we can prioritise the long-term benefits of underground power lines, we can protect our landscapes, and, vitally, we can gain the public support needed to achieve our climate goals.”

Julie James, who is responsible for planning, said the Welsh Government and opposition are not miles apart but she took issue with the “problematic” wording of the motion.

The local government secretary said: “The only real difference in this motion today is that we differ on whether it’s appropriate to mandate all cables to be underground where possible.”

Ms James told the chamber the words “where possible” are important “because it is physically possible to do it in places where I think we’d all agree we don’t want”.

The former lawyer acknowledged that the Welsh Government needs to “tighten up what we mean by ‘unaffordable’ in a very big way”.

Ms James said Jeremy Miles, who is responsible for energy, has set up an independent advisory group and Planning Policy Wales will be updated to reflect its review.

Cefin Campbell, who represents Mid and West Wales, warned Wales’ beautiful landscape is being “sacrificed on the altar of profit”.

“We must underground these cables,” he said. “In doing so, we as a Senedd will be taking a strong stance to protect the natural beauty and the ecology of our unique landscapes.”

He told the meeting on June 12 that the extra upfront cost of undergrounding cables is a small price to pay for preservation of the landscape.

With the vote tied 25-25, David Rees – the Senedd’s deputy speaker or Dirprwy Lywydd – broke the deadlock by using his casting vote against the motion.

Under the Senedd’s rules, the chair was required to vote to maintain the status quo.

Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, backed the motion, while Labour backbenchers and ministers voted against.

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Climate

REA appointed Trevor Hutchings as its new Chief Executive

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THE Association of Renewable Energy & Clean Technology (the “REA”), which represents around 500 UK companies and organisations working across the renewable energy and clean tech sectors, has appointed Trevor Hutchings as its new Chief Executive. Trevor will join the REA on July 1st. Trevor succeeds Dr Nina Skorupska CBE who is standing down as the REA’s Chief Executive after more than 10 years.

Trevor’s immediate priority will be to press the incoming Government to put the energy transition and net zero front and centre of its legislative programme.  The REA has urged all UK political parties to promote and commit to policies that support sustainable energy growth, low carbon innovation, and the country’s legally binding net zero carbon emissions targets.

Prior to taking over the chief executive role at the REA, Trevor Hutchings was Partner for Sustainability at the international consulting firm, BIP.   His career has been shaped across the public, private and NGO sectors in multiple roles supporting clean energy development, net zero, the environment and climate action.

Trevor has worked at Gemserv, the energy services firm (where he led the firm’s the growth and diversification strategy), within Whitehall departments, and with the European Commission in Brussels leading climate and environment programmes, including policies to support the renewables market in the UK.  He has also worked at WWF, the global conservation NGO, where he was Director of Advocacy, focusing on improving public policy and environmental governance.

Trevor is also Chair of the Green Purposes Company set up by the UK Government to safeguard the green mission of the Green Investment Bank, following its 2017 sale to Macquarie, the global infrastructure investor.

Trevor Hutchings said: “I take up my role at the REA as the country goes to the polls, and we reach an inflexion point in the journey to a sustainable, low carbon future. Net zero is within our grasp and the actions taken by the next administration will determine whether we get the job done.   The businesses that make up the UK clean energy and technology industries – many of whom are our members – have the innovation, skills and expertise to cement the UK’s position as climate leader.”

“But the next Government must take vital steps in providing the policy and fiscal regimes that encourage, rather than deter, investment.  This is crucial in not only addressing the pernicious effects of carbon emissions but also reducing energy bills and providing domestic energy security.”

“And while there is a clear moral imperative to emissions reduction, it is also an enormous opportunity for economic growth and international competitiveness. By 2035, jobs in British renewable energy could reach 210,000, while its contribution to the UK economy could double to £46bn. But there’s still much to be done to ensure that clean & green is at the heart of the country’s industrial growth strategy.  We must make sure that UK businesses are not shut out of the low carbon race by policies that fail to compete with the significant investment in clean technology from the US, Europe and China.”

Martin Wright, Chair of the REA, said: “Trevor’s deep-rooted commitment to the environment and sustainability, combined with his career experience, will be invaluable to the REA.  The UK’s pathway towards net zero has reached yet another critical moment with a new Government soon to be elected. The REA, under Trevor’s leadership, will do everything to ensure that Government, across every department, delivers on its net zero commitments and that it fosters a business environment that can accelerate the growth of the UK renewable and clean tech sectors.”

Martin Wright added: “We are hugely grateful for Nina’s leadership over the past decade.  She strengthened the REA’s voice and influence in government, fostered greater collaboration within the energy industry and during her time as Chief Executive widened the breadth of REA’s membership to more than 500 companies.  We wish her well in the next stage of her career.”

Dr Nina Skorupska said: “I am thrilled that Trevor is succeeding me.  We have achieved so much in the past decade and under his stewardship, the REA will continue to have a major influence within government and an effective voice for its members. I wish Trevor the very best in the future and thank the REA team, past and present, the REA Board and all of the REA’s members for their friendship and the support given to me over the past decade.”

Following her tenure as REA Chief Executive, Nina will continue to be involved in the energy sector, joining the Electricity System Operator and National Grid Distribution as an advisor.  Nina will retain her non-executive directorship at Royal BAM Group, the construction and energy services company, and she will continue to be a board member for Transport for London (TfL).  In 2016, Nina received a CBE for her services to the UK renewable energy sector and for promoting diversity in the energy industry.

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