Blog: 10 October 2017How achievable is a 70% renewable energy target?

Ben Lewis

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Ben Lewis

Infrastructure Director

Cardiff office

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‘Ambitious’ is the word that popped into my mind recently, when I heard Lesley Griffith, the Cabinet Secretary for Environmental and Rural Affairs announce Wales should target generating 70% of its power from renewables by 2030 (with 1GW of this being locally owned by 2030). Admittedly, renewables generation has trebled in Wales since 2010 to a 32% share in 2016, but 70% is a considerable advancement on this. It’s applaudable, but surely ambitious.

"Wales must be able to compete in global low carbon markets, particularly now we face a future outside the EU. The ability to meet our needs from clean energy is the foundation for a prosperous low carbon economy."  Said Griffith’s statement. “The targets are stretching but realistic, which will help us to decarbonise our energy system, reduce long-term costs and deliver greater benefits to Wales."

She also pointed a finger at the UK Government for its “ideological exclusion of onshore wind and solar from the Contracts for Difference process” which has “decimated large parts of the renewable sector in Wales and developments potentially valuable to Wales have been stopped in their tracks”. Griffith’s also called for the UK Government barriers to investment in new clean energy capacity to be removed in the face of the need for the bulk of energy supplies to come from the most affordable technologies. A €100m of EU Structural Funds available for investment in marine energy would certainly help in terms of momentum – making best use of EU funding while it’s there is a great idea – but it doesn’t assist with wider renewables.

At the National Assembly for Wales’ Cross-Party Group on Sustainable Energy AGM, held on the day of the announcement, Llyr Gruffydd AM, Guy Piers, UK Country Manager for Vattenfall and Emma Pinchbeck, Renewable UK’s Executive Director with others from across our industry discussed how Onshore Wind might be the answer to much of this, given the technology’s affordability.  

 

According to their presentations, we are in the middle of an energy revolution with renewables now being the cheapest source of electricity in the UK, we are even seeing days where no UK electricity is generated by coal – something that hasn’t happened since Victorian times. Alongside this technology for renewables continues to advance with new wind energy turbines for example, being more efficient and capable of generating more electricity.

Today, renewable energy development supports a significant supply chain in the UK and can deliver significant benefits to the environment, economy and local communities. Not only that, 75% of the UK public are in favour of onshore wind – a proportion which increases if considered relative to other forms of energy generation. Perhaps this sentiment would assist in achieving Griffiths other target for a strong element of local ownership by 2020? If anything, it will be interesting to see how the commercial developer market responds to this.

There is therefore good consensus that the onshore (and offshore) wind industry, together with other forms of renewables, provides Wales with a considerable opportunity to be a world leader, but what we really need to realise it is a sustained and strong political ambition, alongside a clear planning policy framework to support it. Whilst there appears to be strong political will at the national level, it is critical that this is replicated at the local level. Some local planning authorities in Wales are still asking developers to justify the ‘need’ for renewable energy development which suggests that the current provisions of Planning Policy Wales are simply not strong (or clear) enough. 

The Welsh Government is in the early stages of reviewing Planning Policy Wales and I am delighted to have been invited to contribute. Let’s see if we can get policy in place which establishes the need for renewables as an absolute given.

Watch this space…..

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