Wales goes to the polls with renewables firmly on the agenda

The UK recently celebrated its ‘greenest ever’ Easter with low-carbon energy sources making up nearly 80% of Britain’s power supply.

The Spring break’s perfect combination of sunny and windy weather placed zero coal demand on the grid and proved yet again that the UK enjoys optimum conditions for clean energy production.

This is just the latest of a long line of records broken over the past couple of years, and unsurprisingly, such frequent affirmations of our energy-producing potential is having an impact on the frontline of politics.

Wales goes to the polls on May 6th and the ‘green economy’ has become a central proposition of all of the main parties. Given the practicality and the fiscal benefits of increasing renewables infrastructure across the country, it makes sense for campaigning politicians to focus on this area.

After all, Wales is famously a country of mountains, rivers and coastlines and these topographical features couldn’t be more suited to sympathetic energy generation.

Additionally, some industrialised areas in Wales have suffered terrible losses from the dissolution of the coal industry. Regeneration via clean-tech seems karmically just in many ways.

And this concept isn’t ‘pie in the sky’ – we’ve already seen remarkable transformations in some of the most disadvantaged parts of Wales.

Port Talbot, for example, has been historically synonymous with coal extraction and oil refinement but it now boasts the highest renewable energy generation (1122 GWh as of 2019) in Wales. Much of this is derived from community-owned projects that bring ownership, community, work and money to the region, transforming Port Talbot’s fortunes rapidly.

Given these factors and the groundwork that has been established, all four of the main parties are making a big play for the green vote.

What are they promising?

In a nutshell, billions of pounds into ‘all things green’. There’s no shortage of ambition outlined in the canvassing materials drawn up by Labour, the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats:

  • Labour – the socialist party of Wales have promised a 10-year infrastructure investment plan for a zero-carbon economy. Their shopping list includes 20,000 new, low-carbon homes for rent and they also want to invest in greener transport options to encourage the public to cycle, walk or to take public transport.
  • Conservatives – if voted in, the Tories will legislate to make all new homes carbon neutral by 2026. They also want to create a fast-charging network for electric cars and to introduce a Clean Air Act to cut pollution and reduce respiratory disease.
  • Plaid Cymru – the national party of Wales is promising £6bn of green economic stimulus to ‘create 60,000 new jobs over five years’. They also want to reduce carbon emissions in Wales to net-zero levels by 2035 and to substantially reduce car usage by investing in public transport alongside new walking and cycling infrastructure.
  • Liberal Democrats – the Lib Dems have earmarked £1bn to help to tackle the climate emergency. They propose large-scale investment in renewable energy and environmental protection that they say will lead to high-quality, sustainable employment and new green homes.

The Welsh Senedd has already declared a climate emergency and has pledged to be at least 95% carbon neutral by 2050. The arm’s race to win votes in May could accelerate that goal if the nation’s leaders make the right decisions once in office.

Support for Wales’ existing green industries would be a welcome boost and would enable home-grown companies to increase employment levels across the country.

Wales led the charge back in the 1980s with its (then) groundbreaking Centre for Alternative Technology and this proud legacy still endures in the Welsh business landscape. From renewables kingpin Dulas in Machynlleth, to hydrogen-car manufacturer Riversimple in Llandrindod Wells, Wales is a country of ingenuity that is often only hamstrung by the myopia of its politicians.

Over recent years, ambitious plans to install large scale hydro power in Swansea bay have been hampered by political infighting, and smaller scale installations have become political footballs between warring parties.

It’s crucial at this juncture that The Senedd (whatever the house’s make-up will be post-election) follows their electioneering with tangible action. Case studies such as the regeneration of Port Talbot are stellar examples of how renewables can not just improve an area, but wholly benefit it from the ground up.

A frequent stumbling block of Welsh installations is that the country is abundant in natural beauty and that can induce NIMBYistic conflict, but it’s now the case that most renewable installations can be consonant with the environments that they live in.

Renewables have the potential to position Wales as an energy producing leader and as a blueprint nation for modernity and self-sufficiency.

Over to you politicians!

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