Is the Welsh Government cooking the books to make Wales seem green?
The latest announcement from the Minister for Climate Change Julie James for 100% renewable electricity by 2035 has been on the whole welcomed, even being praised by Green Members of the European Parliament.
The thought of all lights and electrical activity across Wales being sourced entirely by renewables in just 12 years gives the impression that Wales is fulfilling its obligations to decarbonise. However, this is not the case, as polluting fossil gas is here to stay under the current programme.
This new target is part of a package of objectives outlined to meet net-zero emissions by 2050, which was set following the Welsh Government’s declaration of a climate emergency back in 2019, in response to the climate activism of groups such as Extinction Rebellion.
While this increase in ambition has been welcomed by campaigners, further scrutiny is required to assess its true impact.
Cooking the books to make Wales seem green
It is vital to understand the delicate wording chosen by the government when making this announcement.
This is a target to meet “100% of Wales’ electricity needs”; a focus on the electricity we consume, but not the total electricity we produce.
Wales is a net exporter of electricity, listed in 2018 as the fifth highest electricity exporter in the world, exporting double what it consumes. If this 2:1 ratio remains, Wales can claim to have met this target by only requiring one-third of its electricity production to be renewable, and labelling the other two-thirds as exported, primarily to England.
Many may argue that the 100% renewable claim is accurate, as why should Wales count emissions that England has indirectly burnt? However, it is nothing more than a trick of accounting that makes Welsh consumption seem green.
During periods of high energy demand coupled with little sun or wind, a truly renewable system would use energy storage, such as batteries, hydropower, and even hydrogen, to release previously produced clean electricity. Additionally, households and industry would be incentivised to change what times they consume.
However, in the 2035 plan, fossil gas-fired power plants would ramp up to provide needed electricity, produced in Wales, and consumed in Wales. These are Welsh emissions, whereas England would at other times pay Welsh producers for renewable power.
Welsh ambition is not up to scratch
In its Re-Energise Wales report, the Institute of Welsh Affairs recommended Wales meet its total energy needs 100% renewably by 2035, and consume 100% renewable electricity by 2030, 5 years earlier than the Welsh government proposal. This paper was based on a now out-of-date 2050 emissions target, which suggests an even higher target is now required. It is important to note that there are new gas-fired power plants in the works across Wales, locking us further into a carbon economy.
At COP26, in Edinburgh, Wales proudly signed up to Costa Rica and Denmark’s Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, committing to phase out gas extraction from its territory, however, the country still prepares to continue burning gas supplied by UK and European markets.
As Europe has weened itself of Russian gas following its invasion of Ukraine, new sources have flooded the market from other countries also accused of human rights abuses and war crimes such as Qatar and Azerbaijan. Through continued gas consumption, indirect Welsh support cannot be ignored.
In the government’s 2035 scenario, Wales would still be home to fossil electricity production, benefiting from land and profits in Wales, polluting the local and global environment, and damaging the health of Welsh residents, particularly those from marginalised communities.
Holding Wales to account
Net-zero by 2050 is required globally, not just in Wales, to keep rising temperatures below 1.5°C as called for in the Paris Agreement. Following a just global transition, all past emissions must be accounted for to ensure the largest historic polluters, such as the United States and Europe, do not continue to eat up the remaining carbon budget in order to give the Global South flexibility in its transition.
While historic uneven power relations between Wales and England should be acknowledged, we cannot write off the role Wales has played in industrial development and colonisation aided through the use of fossil fuels as simply being a “colony” of England.
For Wales to live up to its responsibility, the Welsh Government needs to set a phase-out date for all fossil fuel production in its territory, cover all of its energy needs renewably by 2030 or sooner, and become a world leader in bringing its net-zero target forward. Though the question remains, how far can Wales raise its ambitions without further powers or full independence?
Thomas Lewis is a Brussels-based energy policy officer.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.
How to run a country into the ground 101. Play by the rules of those who have long since used your country as a play ground and a cash cow!
Why are you worried about gas heating when wood burners are 40 times more polluting? Forcing net zero on us sooner is utterly impractical and won’t work. Nor is it necessary. None of the elites forcing this self inflicted poverty on us have stopped using private jets! The so called little people aren’t the problem.
Quoting figures from 2018 is not necessarily reflecting where we are today. Since that date Aberthaw B, a 1GW plant, has closed and other (far smaller) renewable schemes have opened eg Aberystwyth Uni Solar at Pentre Jane Morgan or Llyn Brenig Wind Farm.
While the articles main point remains it also does not seem to acknowledge that the larger generating plant is authorised by the UK Government and so the Welsh Government influence is minor.
Personally I would like to see more action on helping all households and businesses to reduce demand.
The real fun will start when people find out just how much it will cost them to rip out their gas central heating and replace it with useless, noisy heat pumps.
Not to mention the main modes of transport for the vast majority being cycling or walking .