Energy Policy Blowing in the Wind? Recent Welsh Government Statements on Wind Farm Development Created Uncertainty, but There's No Alternative to More Wind Power, Chris Kelsey Writes
Byline: Chris Kelsey
Wales' renewable energy policy has taken a battering in recent weeks with politicians appearing to stagger under the pressure of anti-wind farm protestors, but there are encouraging signs that it is back on track.
The Welsh Government, like its Westminster counterpart, is committed to a massive expansion of renewable energy, both to meet carbon reduction targets and to improve energy security as gas and oil prices rise.
The UK Renewable Energy Roadmap, published this month at the same time as the Government's white paper on electricity market reform, reiterated this commitment to renewables.
While there was new emphasis on other renewable technologies, such as wave and tidal power and biomass, no-one seriously doubts that onshore and offshore wind must continue to play the leading role if the UK is to have any hope of meeting its target of 15% of energy consumption to come from renewable sources by 2020.
The Welsh Government agrees with this, with environment minister John Griffiths telling this magazine that it remains "committed to onshore wind because it's generally accepted that it has a particular role to play because of its state of preparedness, commercially and otherwise." (see pages 8-9).
Industry insiders were reassured when Griffiths wrote to planners and energy chiefs recently reaffirming the Welsh Government's commitment to a target of two gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind capacity, with 1.7GW coming from the seven Strategic Search Areas identified in planning guidance Tan8 in 2005.
But he combined this with a reiteration of Cardiff Bay's view that the grid connections from turbines in the SSAs should be by underground cable or carried on small wooden poles wherever possible.
And he finished off by backing his First Minister's call for the UK authorities to "respect" the Welsh Government view, until such time as decision-making powers on large scale energy projects are devolved
It seems unlikely that this manoeuvring will quiet the voices of protest that have risen loudly from Mid Wales, rather the opposite in fact.
What supporters of renewable energy would like to see is Welsh Government ministers more boldly making the case for new development - rather than appearing half-hearted in their support of what they acknowledge to be, for at least the next few years, the main game in town. …