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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.

Climate

Solar power partnership lighting up community energy fortnight

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THE PARTNERSHIP between Pembrokeshire County Council and a community energy charity has recently helped two sites reduce costs and carbon emissions with solar panels.

During community energy fortnight, running until July 14th, the Green Pembrokeshire team is highlighting the second phase of work with Egni Co-op, a community energy organisation that installs rooftop Solar PV systems.

Egni cover the cost of installation and then sell the generated electricity to the building owner at a discount, with all profits generated used to fund further projects and environmental educational programmes.

In early 2023 Egni was awarded the contract to install systems on around 20 schools and leisure centres across the County and will manage and maintain the systems for 20 years.

It’s estimated that the solar panels will prevent the emission of approximately 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and should save the schools and leisure centres £180,000 per year in energy costs.

This second phase has seen Fishguard Leisure Centre add a 170kW system to its existing 50kW provision and the energy will be sold to the building at a reduced rate. With the combined systems generating around 187,000 kWh a year, nearly 40 tonnes of CO2 will be offset.

During the first part of the month more than half the Centre’s electrical energy has been provided by the solar panels and daytime dependence on the grid is almost zero during the summer.

Also boosting its solar panel system is Tavernspite School where a 27kW system has been installed with discounted electricity reducing dependence on the electrical grid and offsetting approximately five tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

The school is one of many also benefiting from Egni’s education programme, alongside Sustainable Schools Pembrokeshire.

Egni Workshops challenge pupils to make the connection between energy and climate change, and school to reduce their energy through campaigning for behaviour change.

Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change Cllr Paul Miller said: “These two sites are the latest to benefit from this innovative scheme that is helping the Council and its buildings make carbon savings, as well as saving money, without capital costs.”

Jenny Carlisle, Egni Development Manager, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Council and young people in Pembrokeshire schools. It’s a great example of co-operation. We all need to work together to tackle climate change and keep money in the Welsh economy.”

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Climate

Marine Energy Boosts Welsh economy by £30m, Pembrokeshire leads

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IN the 2023/24 financial year, Wales’ marine renewable energy sector delivered a substantial £29.9 million to the Welsh economy, as revealed in the latest State of the Sector Report by Marine Energy Wales. This brings the total cumulative spending and investment in the sector to an impressive £292.9 million.

Despite a notable reduction from the previous year’s £103.4 million, this year’s figure remains the second highest annual spend recorded to date. The decline is attributed to the conclusion of European grant funding and the completion of significant infrastructure projects, such as the Morlais development on Anglesey, which inflated last year’s expenditures.

Jeremy Miles, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language, expressed optimism about the sector’s future: “Wales is well placed to be at the forefront of marine energy technologies. Maximising this opportunity is an important step towards our path to net zero, attracting investment and creating highly skilled and well-paid jobs, particularly in coastal communities.”

The report highlights the considerable contribution of the tidal stream sector, which has injected £116.1 million into the Welsh economy since 2019, largely due to the Morlais infrastructure and the efforts of tidal kite developer Minesto.

Anglesey and Pembrokeshire are at the forefront of this growth, with Anglesey leading with £103.8 million in investments to date, closely followed by Pembrokeshire at £97 million. Swansea is also emerging as a key player, with £39.2 million invested in marine energy development.

The sector currently sustains 429 full-time jobs across Wales, with Pembrokeshire employing the highest number of people in the sector at 260 FTEs. This is due to the county’s established supply chain, which includes fabricators, engineers, and environmental consultants. Both Swansea and Anglesey also contribute significantly to employment in this sector.

Tam Bardell, Chair of Marine Energy Wales, underscored the importance of maintaining momentum: “We have just over a decade to meet the Welsh Government’s target of 100% renewable energy by 2035. While generating around 59% from renewable sources, we still have a long way to go. This report is not just a reflection of our achievements but a call to action.”

The future of the sector looks promising, particularly for tidal stream and floating offshore wind (FLOW), with a projected £486 million spend over the next five years in Wales. Continued support from governmental policies and increased private sector investment are essential for overcoming current barriers and ensuring Wales’ progression as a global leader in marine renewable energy generation.

As the sector grows, improving gender balance and diversifying roles remain positive steps forward, ensuring the industry’s sustainable development and its pivotal role in Wales’ economic and environmental future.

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Climate

Lifting of onshore wind ban will bring cheaper bills for consumers

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RESPONDING to this week’s announcement by the Chancellor Rachel Reeves that the Government will reform the National Planning Policy Framework before the end of this month to end the de facto ban on onshore wind in England, RenewableUK’s Chief Executive Dan McGrail said: “Lifting the onshore wind ban in England was long overdue and we’re delighted that Labour has made this one of its first priorities in office. This shows that the new Government is determined to act fast to tackle some of the longstanding barriers which have held the UK back on developing vital new clean energy infrastructure.

“Public support for onshore wind remains sky-high throughout the UK at 78% according to the latest official polling, as billpayers know that new wind farms provide electricity at very low cost, as well as strengthening our energy security and tackling climate change. Polling also shows that most people want to see the planning system reformed, as they’re frustrated that an onshore wind farm proposal which is overwhelmingly popular in a local area can be stopped by just a handful of opponents.

“The onshore wind industry is committed to ensuring that communities are properly consulted about any proposals, including the wide range of economic benefits they will bring to local people. This process can take several years, including measures which help ensure that wildlife is protected, so it will be some time before brand new projects go ahead in England.

“Modern turbines are substantially more efficient and powerful than the turbines built in previous decades, so doubling the UK’s onshore wind capacity by 2030 won’t mean doubling the number of turbines in the UK. We can generate more power from fewer new turbines, and we can replace older turbines with far more powerful ones, making the most of our superb natural wind resources. Our research shows that delivering 30 gigawatts of onshore wind by the end of the decade would boost the economy by £45 billion and create 27,000 jobs”.

More details on the Government’s onshore wind announcement are available here.

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