Has the time come for a renewable energy revolution in Wales?

Published 17/10/2022   |   Last Updated 17/10/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

Set against the backdrop of COP 26 in late 2021, the then looming energy price crisis, and the ever present climate emergency, the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure (CCEI) Committee’s short inquiry into renewable energy focused its attention on what the Welsh Government is doing, and needs to do, to ramp up renewable energy generation in Wales.

The inquiry took place not long after the Welsh Government published the outcome of its Renewable Energy Deep Dive. Led by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, the Deep Dive aimed to identify barriers to the development of renewable energy generation, and the steps needed to address them. Its recommendations were well received by stakeholders. But there was also a sense that, in some areas, they only scraped the surface.

What are we aiming for, and how are we doing?

The Welsh Government’s strategy to decarbonise the energy sector and accelerate renewable energy development is set out in its Net Zero Wales Plan. The Plan outlines actions the Welsh Government (and others) need to take, over the next five years, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. It also takes a longer term view, looking towards the net zero by 2050 target.

The Welsh Government has a target for Wales to meet 70% of its electricity demand from Welsh renewable electricity sources by 2030. In the most recent data (for 2020) this figure stood at 56%, up from 51% in 2019. Progress towards the 70% target is affected by both electricity demand and renewable electricity generation – factors that can vary between years as a result of both predictable and unforeseen events. COVID-19 impacted electricity demand in 2020, in particular reducing non- domestic electricity demand as a result of reduced activity. Therefore, the Welsh Government has suggested the recent increase towards Wales’ 70% target may be temporary.

The Welsh Government also has a target for at least 1 gigawatt (GW) of renewable electricity and heat capacity to be locally owned by 2030, with all new energy developments required to have an element of local ownership. Furthermore, it’s pledged to expand renewable energy generation by public bodies and community groups in Wales by over 100 MW by 2026. Wales has achieved 86% of its 1 GW local ownership target, with 859 MW of locally owned renewable capacity in 2020.

However, these targets predate the declaration of a climate emergency, and the statutory net zero by 2050 target. The Welsh Government committed to review its renewable targets in 2022, and publish updated targets by Summer 2023.

Is the Welsh Government doing enough to secure a greener energy future?

The Deep Dive explored a breadth of issues relating to renewable energy, including planning and consenting, financial support, grid capacity, finance, and social and economic value for communities across Wales. It looked at short, medium and long term steps, focusing on “retaining wealth and ownership in Wales”. It set out the Welsh Government’s ambition, including to:

  • accelerate actions to reduce energy demand and maximise local ownership retaining economic and social benefits in Wales;
  • scale up local energy plans to create a national energy plan by 2024;
  • reduce energy demand and improve energy efficiency;
  • work with the energy regulator Ofgem to set out the investment Wales needs in its electricity grid;
  • review the consenting process for renewable energy projects, to ensure it supports development;
  • set up an expert group to explore ways of drawing down additional investment in renewable energy generation in Wales;
  • scale up resources to support local and community energy, including progressing plans for a publicly owned energy company, as set out in the Cooperation Agreement with Plaid Cymru.

The Committee highlighted that, whilst progress has been made, there has been a slow down in renewable energy development since 2015. Whilst it welcomed the findings of the Deep Dive, it felt its recommendations only scratched the surface of the action needed to ramp up development and enhance domestic energy security. It concluded:

The barriers to development identified by the Deep Dive, and by contributors to our inquiry, are not new, nor are the Welsh Government’s promises of action to address them. The Welsh Government’s 2012 energy strategy promised a range of actions to improve the planning and consenting process, and grid infrastructure in Wales, amongst other things. A decade later, the same promises are being made. Now is the time for the Welsh Government to deliver on its promises, and urgently.

At the end of September, the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MS, published an update on the deep dive. There have been a number of developments since the Committee’s inquiry. Key next steps identified in the update include:

  • publication of a draft Behaviour Change Strategy for consultation (was due in September), with a final strategy due early in 2023;
  • publication of a draft heat strategy at the end of 2023;
  • a final report on the end-to-end review of marine licensing;
  • outputs from the Investment in Renewables working group;
  • increasing funding for the Welsh Government Energy Service and Community Energy Wales;
  • determining the scope and scale of the proposed publicly owned renewable energy developer, Ynni Cymru; and
  • publication of the Net Zero Wales Skills Plan by the end of 2022.

The Senedd will debate the Committee’s report on 19 October. You can watch live on Senedd TV here.

Article by Chloe Corbyn, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament