Give Wales energy powers to speed up ‘slow’ Westminster plan to tackle ‘crippling’ bills say Plaid Cymru
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP has called for Westminster to pass energy powers over to Wales as they’re “taking too long” to deliver solutions to the climate change crisis and “crippling energy bills”.
The UK Government’s plan includes developing a new Wylfa nuclear site “as soon as possible this decade” and an ambition for more offshore wind.
But Liz Saville Roberts said that the lack of clarity over investment for Wales was “exasperating” and called for the devolution of more energy powers to Wales in order to “deliver the green investment needed to create jobs and opportunities”.
She also highlighted the need for a national energy company, Ynni Cymru, which forms part of Plaid Cymru’s Cooperation Agreement with the Welsh Government.
The Welsh Affairs Committee found earlier this year that while Wales could be a leader in renewable energy, infrastructure issues, such as grid capacity, could hinder renewable energy projects and pose a significant challenge to the ambitions of both the UK and Welsh governments in meeting net zero commitments.
“Weeks later than promised, this half-baked strategy disappoints on many counts – its level of ambition lacklustre, the level of funding too low, and its lack of urgency in terms of decarbonisation utterly disheartening, including inexplicable new oil and gas developments,” Liz Saville Roberts said.
“Westminster is taking too long to deliver the net-zero solutions to our climate and energy crises – leaving households struggling with crippling energy bills.
“The lack of clarity about what investment will come to Wales as a result of this so-called strategy is exasperating. All we have is a non-committal objective for Wylfa and no mention of Trawsfynydd, despite Welsh Government’s development body, Cwmni Egino, already being in place.
“Neither do we have any details of what new investment will be made for offshore wind in the Celtic Sea. We urgently need more powers over energy in Wales so that we can deliver the green investment needed to create jobs and opportunities.
“Today is a missed opportunity for the UK Government to back Wales by increasing our capital investment powers so that we can make the long-term investments that net-zero requires. This clearly underlines Wales’s need for its own energy development company to responsibly maximise our own renewable energy potential, as set out in Plaid Cymru’s Cooperation Agreement with the Welsh Government.
“Worse, a clear failure of the strategy is to address a main roadblock under Westminster’s remit to renewable energy development in Wales – grid capacity. Glossy Westminster announcements about energy supply mean nothing when the underlying energy infrastructure to connect renewable energy projects to homes and businesses simply doesn’t exist.
“Net-zero requires less Westminster spin and more hard work to deliver the gritty and expensive upgrading of our national grid to make it fit for the 21st Century.
“The elephant in the room today is energy efficiency. Reducing our use of energy is the quickest and most effective of reducing energy bills – so it is perplexing that the UK Government has yet again failed to deliver a rigorous, accessible and transformational energy efficiency programme for households. Better home insulation not only leads to better quality of life, but also puts more money in people’s pockets.”
‘Too little, too late’
Prime Minister Bois Johnson earlier defended the Government’s new energy strategy in the face of criticism it does nothing to help people with soaring bills now.
The Prime Minister said the strategy, which sets out aims to boost new nuclear power, offshore wind and hydrogen, is a long-term plan focusing on energy supply, “undoing the mistakes of the past and taking the big decisions now”.
He said the Government was “already doing a huge amount to help people with the immediate cost of living and of course we are going to do more”.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the energy strategy is “not enough” and is “too little, too late” to help families with rising costs.
“All we’ve got today is a cobbled-together list of things that could and should have been done over the last 10 to 12 years, and it doesn’t even tackle really important things like insulating homes, which could save £400 on everybody’s bill,” he said.
The strategy is published as western countries wrestle with high energy prices and consider how to reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas, amid wider calls to end the fossil fuel era to tackle dangerous climate change.
A fleet of new nuclear power plants is at the heart of the strategy, with Mr Johnson claiming “nuclear is coming home” and suggesting a new reactor will be built every year, in a social media video to promote the plan.
A new body, Great British Nuclear, will bolster the UK’s nuclear capacity with a target of up to 24 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2050 – 25% of projected demand, including a nuclear project at the Wylfa site on Anglesey.
As part of an aim to make 95% of electricity low carbon by 2030, the strategy has a goal to produce up to 50GW of offshore wind energy by 2030, which officials said would be more than enough to power every home in the UK.
Some 5GW should come from floating offshore wind in deeper seas and planning reforms will slash approval times for new wind farms from four years to one year.
The strategy also includes an aim to double the goal of 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030, with at least half from “green” hydrogen, produced from renewable electricity rather than natural gas.
A £30 million competition to manufacture heat pumps will be launched, and there are ambitions to increase solar capacity with a consultation on the rules for solar projects.
A new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas projects is planned for the autumn to cover the “nearer term”, despite a UN report this week which called for rapid and substantial cuts to fossil fuel use to avoid dangerous warming.
The Government also this week commissioned a review into the science around fracking, which could pave the way to lifting the moratorium on the controversial process, imposed over the tremors it caused.
There was little evidence of a reversal of Tory opposition to cheap onshore wind, and nothing new on making homes better insulated to cut gas demand and reduce consumer bills, which have jumped by more than 50% this month.
The Government said it will not introduce “wholesale changes” to planning regulations, which have effectively halted the development of new wind farms in England.
But it will consult on “developing partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for guaranteed lower energy bills”.
Mr Johnson said onshore wind farms are controversial because of their visual impact, saying new sites “will have a very high bar to clear” and would have to reward local residents with cheaper energy.
Speaking at under-construction nuclear power station Hinkley Point C, Mr Johnson said the energy strategy will deliver on offshore wind and revive the nuclear industry.
“This (energy strategy) is about tackling the mistakes of the past and making sure that we are set well for the future and we are never again subject to the vagaries of the global oil and gas prices and we can’t be subject to blackmail, as it were, from people such as Vladimir Putin, we have energy security here in the UK.”
He said people were being helped with the cost of living through other Government policies, including a £6 billion energy efficiency fund, and support for heat pumps.
But Sir Keir told broadcasters that “because of political squabbling it leaves out of account really important initiatives like keeping homes warm, insulating homes, which I’ve seen for myself can make a huge difference and reduce bills by up to £400, that’s the sort of real action we were looking for today”.
He said Labour was calling for “turbo-charging” renewables, including onshore wind, fast-forwarding nuclear, developing hydrogen and insulating homes to help people reduce bills.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “There is a major missing piece of this strategy: energy efficiency.
“Improving the energy efficiency of homes in this country can help bring down bills right now, it means safer, warmer homes and it protects people from future price spikes,” she said, as she also warned consumers should not be left to pick up the tab if nuclear projects were late and over budget.
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