The electric car revolution won’t drive itself – the Welsh Government needs to get behind the wheel
Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Economy and Finance
Welsh Government recently announced its Low Carbon Action Plan, outlining a commitment to tackling climate change. I welcome the report as a step in the right direction, but experience tells us that words in themselves don’t clean up our environment.
We must be relentless in our pursuit of a lower carbon future, be that through energy production or saving, or through the rolling out of new technologies. One area or particular interest to me both politically and personally is the forthcoming revolution in vehicle propulsion. We’re going electric!
First things first. Let me get accusations of being a hypocrite out of the way! We have 2 cars in our family. Neither are electric. It frustrates me hugely, but I’m hoping that 2020 will be the year we can go electric.
Why not now? My children are learning to drive, and I want them to learn to drive a manual (all EVs are automatic), and the other car is used regularly for long journeys, so I sympathise with those who have suffer from EV ‘range anxiety’.
Why 2020? Because motor manufacturers are poised to turn the current trickle of plug-in vehicles on the market into a steady flow, if not quite yet a flood.
But I’ll be going electric because I want this to happen. I don’t get the feeling that Government is trying to push me in that direction.
We can look to other countries for examples of Governments deciding with real determination that ‘it’s time for EVs’, and as a result we start to see consumer behaviour change.
There are a number of challenges which stand in the way of Wales taking real strides towards that EV future:
- Developing a significant public charging infrastructure across Wales to address range anxiety and giving people the confidence to buy an EV;
- Strengthening our national and local energy grids to accommodate the enhanced demand for electricity;
- Developing better renewable energy infrastructure.
All of these points are referenced in the new Welsh Government report, and there are some ambitious broad-stroke plans, but we now need delivery.
We’re already so far behind the rest of the UK in terms of our EV infrastructure, with the few hundred publicly-available charging points in Wales only accounting for 3% of the UK total.
Plaid Cymru secured £2m budget negotiations with Welsh Government towards developing a rapid charging network, but progress on implementation has been slow.
I presented a Member’s Legislative Proposal to the Assembly almost a year ago calling for an Electric Vehicle Charging Planning Bill for Wales. I suggested the introduction of planning guidelines for new developments, ensuring that new buildings must include charging points for electric vehicles to make it easier for people to access the EV market and reduce carbon emissions.
My proposal was well-received by fellow politicians and from EV enthusiasts alike. I’m pleased that these ideas have been included in this report.
They propose changes to planning policy which would require non-residential developments to have charging points in at least 10% of the spaces available – which would be the first national policy of its kind in the UK.
But I would encourage Welsh Government to think bigger. Only one in ten? In 20 years’ time ten cars out of ten will be ULEV (ultra-low emission vehicles) after petrol and diesel engines are phased out.
I also think there’s room to use legislation as a force for change. A year on for the last Legislative Proposal, the Assembly’s Business Committee has just granted me the opportunity to present another.
This time I’m turning to the Welsh public service vehicle fleet, calling for a strategy to move to ULEV across public bodies – councils, health boards etc.
Many are already introducing EVs in their fleets, and I congratulate them. But we can’t just leave this to chance in the hope that there are individuals within organisations that have an interest in pushing this agenda forward.
I recently proposed (and had accepted) an amendment to the Public Health Bill which ensures Government is legally bound to produce a strategy to tackle obesity. I’ve no doubt Welsh Government wanted to tackle obesity… but for whatever reason they weren’t getting to grips with the issue. Now they must.
I recently visited Scotland to learn about the work done there by Scottish Government and in particular by Dundee City Council – a centre of excellence in the EV world – and I found the visit to be inspiring.
Their need for change was very much driven by the same factors as ours – climate change and the need for a cleaner, greener future. So six years ago Scotland set out its roadmap and off it went to the point where it now has one of the most comprehensive EV networks in Europe and is on course to reaching its emissions targets by 2020.
I look forward to presenting a report from my visit to the Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in the coming weeks, following on from their recent draft report into EV infrastructure.
I remember asking one of the councillors in Dundee what advice they would give to others wanting to move towards becoming an EV friendly city or even carbon neutral – which is what Dundee claim to be very close to becoming.
The response: “don’t be afraid – just do it.”
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