Plaid Cymru MS demands law change so communities benefit from solar projects
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Concerns that communities may not truly benefit from major energy projects on their doorstep have prompted calls for a change in the law.
Amid a number of applications for solar farms covering hundreds of acres on Anglesey, local Senedd member Rhun ap Iorwerth is looking at a new private bill that would compel developers to provide evidence of benefits they would bring to such communities.
He said: “The Welsh Government’s recent decisions to designate large parts of Anglesey for solar energy development has created an opportunity for multinational companies such as BP and EDF to have an easier path to consent to create huge solar farms.
“I am an avid supporter of increasing our output of renewable energy and solar has a big part to play in that.
“But I am a firm believer that there is a better way to do this than by licensing huge enterprises that leave a mark on our landscape, take away large swathes of agricultural land, and while making large profits for international investors, create little or no profit for our local communities.
“I have been in discussions with several developers of the proposed new solar farms on Anglesey. They have seen a business opportunity, but there’s little detail on potential community benefit. Very few local jobs are involved, even in the construction phase.
“A small cheque here and there is not enough.”
The island’s relatively flat terrain has been earmarked by several developers with some already submitting proposals, including Low Carbon’s bid for a 155 acre development near Llyn Traffwll.
According to the company the plans, currently out to public consultation, would offer “a significant opportunity to deliver clean, renewable energy without undue impact to the local area”.
With Elso Energy also consulting on plans for a 160MW development covering 750 acres of farmland to the south of Llyn Alaw, seperate proposals have also been revealed by Lightsource bp for a 350 MW farm over three sites near Amlwch, Llyn Alaw and Llannerch-y-medd.
But such is their size, any planning decision will not be made by locally elected councillors on the island due to being considered Developments of National Significance (DNS).
Instead, any decision on green lighting such widespread solar farms will be made by ministers in Cardiff Bay following input from the Planning Inspectorate.
Concerns were raised by Anglesey Council’s economic development portfolio holder over recent weeks, with Cllr Carwyn Jones claiming such development would also result in the loss of swathes of “fruitful agricultural land” while offering little benefit to local communities in return.
The island’s MS says that using a private members bill via the Senedd would be one potential avenue to try and enforce change.
Mr ap Iorwerth added that while he was eager to see more projects developed by local communities, external developers should be expected to “genuinely share profits with host communities.”
He concluded: “One development company recently claimed that giving hundreds of acres to a solar farm will be an opportunity to ‘rest agricultural land’. This is a patronising attitude towards Anglesey, an area where agriculture is so important.
“We need to ensure that energy developments of this kind are not something that happens to us, but with us.”
Members of the Senedd have an opportunity this week to submit their proposals for an individual member’s bill. A ballot will then be held to choose one proposal, and the chosen Member will then have the chance to put their proposed Bill before the Senedd for a vote.
In a statement, a Welsh Government spokesperson said that local communities are already encouraged to bring forward their own projects.
“Continuing to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, including solar, is a vital part of tackling climate change – which will clearly have a positive impact on people across Wales, including the people of Anglesey,” they added.