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Guest Blogs, Politics

Guest blog: ‘Wales must make greatest possible use of the wealth from our resources’

We’re running guest blogs from the four main political parties in Wales, on the subject of environment and development in the country. Simon Thomas, Plaid Cymru AM for Mid and West Wales, calls for a national ‘wealth fund’ to be set up.

By Simon Thomas AM

A crucial question for the future of Wales is how we can become less dependent and more self reliant as a society and economy. As a nation, we are actually quite rich, not only in relation to developing countries, but in our natural resources which can underpin a first class economy based on true sustainability.

Simon Thomas AM

This means making the greatest use possible of the wealth our resources such as water and wind create. Water is excluded specifically from the Assembly’s purview and only energy projects up to 50MW are under our own control.

I have campaigned for over 10 years to gain the devolution of energy projects to Wales and at least now even the current Labour government agrees with me.

But control is one aspect, we also need to see the benefit of exploiting our resources come directly to the nation. That is why I want to see us set up a sovereign Wealth Fund to ensure that Wales takes part in the green energy revolution and ensure that the people of Wales get a full share of the energy and wealth created.

At present, wind farm developments will allocate some of their profits to local communities. Many see this as patronising and the sums often do not reflect the huge profits to be made. But ensuring planning gain is reflected in direct financial benefit is a recognised part of the planning system. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has introduced a levy on house development, which means if you get planning permission to build a new home in the National Park you will be asked to pay up to £25,000 towards a fund for affordable housing. This is how a Wealth Fund for Wales could work.

Using the principles underlying the Community Infrastructure Levy, we can raise a national levy on resource development and build up a Wealth Fund. To this, we could add the money directly raised by Welsh Government from resource development, such as the leasing of Forestry Commission land for windfarms. The Fund could act as a guarantee for further borrowing, when such powers are gained, and taken together a Wealth Fund could build to be an impressive multi-million pound source of money.

How could the Fund be used? Well, communities could bid for small scale renewable projects, or regeneration projects in their areas. This would encourage more community leadership, an increased Welsh ownership of renewable companies and more cooperative models of ownership. Loans could be available from the Welsh Wealth Fund for individual home micro-generation projects. People in areas around renewable energy installations should receive discounted energy to encourage more community involvement and take-up.

Rather than the current scattergun approach, which means financial gains from energy schemes are often targeted at thinly populated areas, a national Fund would ensure the nation benefited, whilst local communities could still have a guaranteed allocation to bid into.

Currently, Wales is being left behind when it comes to renewable energy. Our rich resources are being picked off in a jumbled way without a sense of national direction. Scotland, meanwhile, is forging ahead. Wales has abundant sources of renewable energy which could cut our carbon footprint and find sustainable solutions to our energy needs. They could also bring significant business and employment opportunities to our country.

The natural resources of mid and west Wales, the region I represent, are crucially important to regenerate those communities. To achieve this, and as a first step, the Welsh Government has to press for full powers of determination over all renewable energy production but also for those over development levies. Then, we can move to set up a Wealth Fund, using our natural resources for the benefit of the country’s economy and the environment, by investing in offshore wind, wave and tidal power.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Guest blog: ‘Wales must make greatest possible use of the wealth from our resources’

  1. This man epitomises all that is wrong about Welsh AMs and renewable energy.
    There is no such thing as “renewable” energy because it all has to be backed up by 100% Installed Capacity, 24/365, demandable conventional gas generation. No means on earth can replace the renewable energy used. It is even more non-sustainable than coal, oil, gas or nuclear generation because it is using up the Universe resources just like everything else.
    Mr. Thomas is talking, like the other intellectually technically illiterate politicians, out of his proverbial.
    I suggest he reads and digests the 2009, 2011 reports from Spain, Denmark, Germany and Scotland regarding the economics and employment DAMAGE to these countries caused by the futile ideologies of renewable energy. Only absolute idiots keep trying, against the practical evidence, to reinvent the wheel.
    I would suggest that Mr. Thomas starts to surround himself with real professionals for a real understanding of what affects the lives of his constituents and Wales as a country; for a start, ditch the renewables like you would hot bricks.

    Posted by Norfolk Dumpling | October 28, 2011, 11:04 am
    • As one of Chris Huhne’s “armchair engineers” (i.e. now retired after a professional working life spent in Electrical and Electronic Engineering”) It amazes me that Simon Thomas has written what he has written and that it appears he actually believes what he has said! He is either deliberately flaunting his ignorance or else has a poor sense of humour. If however he has simply been mistaken, but now wishes to learn more he can start his re-education back in Primary One with this first lesson –

      Wind and Nuclear are just two of the energy sources used to provide us with electricity with other contributions coming from fossil-fuel and hydroelectric generation. Wind power, because of its inherently capricious output, is additional to the three conventional technologies and cannot be used as a permanent replacement for any one of them. Wave and Tidal power are possible future sources but are presently in their infancy and may never become either affordable, reliable or of any significant consequence. Biomass burning has proved to be of limited potential and its future is now discredited. To understand how best to combine these various elements within a supply network capable of providing us with the electricity we need, at the times we need it and at an acceptable cost requires a knowledge of the working characteristics of each generator type and an understanding of the transmission, distribution and supply networks of the National Grid. There is also the question of how, in the UK, these sources compete with each other within the free Electricity Market and how this is deliberately distorted by the Renewables Obligation to allow the purchase of otherwise uncompetitive onshore/offshore wind power and other potential renewables. Those best situated to understand and present informed opinions on the complex problems encountered in making best use of these sometimes conflicting resources will have been educated and have had their minds trained within an Engineering or Scientific discipline. It would, in all fairness, be expecting too much of those with only an Arts, Economics, Classics or Politico-Sociological University Degree to make sense of such complex technology whilst lacking the required basic grounding and subsequent experience which would enable them to do so. Yet most journalists, environmental lobbyists, newsmedia commentators and all politicians fall into this latter category and theirs are the voices almost exclusively heard by the general public! Add to this the fact that the Renewables Obligation feeds massive subsidies of more than £1 billion/year to developers and owners of windfarms and that these ever increasing subsidies are paid for by “stealth-taxes” on our electricity bills. This latter is something that the vested interests enjoying exorbitant profits from windfarming are anxious to keep hidden, as also are the facts that windfarms are unnecessary, ecologically damaging, expensive, unsightly and relatively useless at reducing carbon emissions. Regrettably none of these considerations are properly presented to the public, instead our politicians and newsmedia seem to have been hypnotised and seduced by the incessant propaganda and siren songs emanating from the professional lobbyists and propaganda mouthpieces of the windfarming industry and within the various anti-nuclear, anti-coal, anti-gas and anti-anything-sensible activists on the lunatic fringes of otherwise respected organisations. With more rational warning voices heard only distantly in the background it seems that this country of ours, heedless of any danger, is blissfully sleepwalking into an era of electricity rationing, random black-outs, outrageously high electricity bills and economic collapse. We, ordinary householders and taxpayers, may look to the horizon hoping to see the first glimmer of rational thought heralding the dawn of a new era of reality common sense, security – and lower electricity bills, but unless our politicians are persuaded otherwise than what they presently are – it may never come!

      William Oxenham. MA, C.Eng, MIET, FRIN

      Windfarming and Nuclear Power are just two of the energy sources used to provide us with electricity, the other main contributions come from fossil-fuel and hydroelectric generation. Wind power, because of its inherently capricious output, is additional to the three conventional technologies and cannot be used as a permanent replacement for any one of them. Wave and Tidal power are possible future sources but are presently in their infancy and may never become either affordable, reliable or of any significant importance. Biomass burning is of limited potential and is in any case simply another, less effective, form of fossil-fuel generation. To understand how best to combine these various elements within a supply network capable of providing us with the electricity we need, at the times we need it and at an acceptable cost requires a knowledge of the working characteristics of each generator type and an understanding of the transmission, distribution and supply networks of the National Grid. There is also the question of how, in the UK, these sources compete with each other within the free Electricity Market and how this is deliberately distorted by the Renewables Obligation to allow the purchase of otherwise uncompetitive onshore and offshore wind power and other potential renewables. The people best situated to understand and present informed opinions on the complex problems encountered in making best use of these sometimes conflicting resources are those who have been educated and whose minds have been trained within an Engineering or Scientific discipline. It would be expecting too much of those with only an Arts, Economics, Classics or Politico-Sociological University Degree to make sense of such complex technology whilst lacking the required basic grounding and subsequent experience which would enable them to do so. Yet most journalists, environmental lobbyists, newsmedia commentators and all politicians fall into this latter category and theirs are the voices almost exclusively heard by the general public! Add to this the fact that the Renewables Obligation feeds massive subsidies of more than £1 billion/year to developers and owners of windfarms and that these ever increasing subsidies are paid for by “stealth-taxes” on our electricity bills. This is something that the vested interests enjoying exorbitant profits from windfarming are anxious to keep hidden, as also are the facts that windfarms are unnecessary, ecologically damaging, expensive, unsightly and relatively useless at reducing carbon emissions. but none of these considerations are properly presented to the public, instead our politicians and newsmedia seem hypnotised by the incessant propaganda
      Unfortunately they all seem to have been seduced by the siren songs emanating from the professional lobbyists of the anti-nuclear, anti-coal and pro-windfarm factions. With other warning voices heard only in the background it seems that this country of ours, heedless of any danger, is blissfully sleepwalking into an era of electricity rationing, random black-outs and outrageously high electricity bills.

      Many of us may be looking to the horizon hoping to see the first glimmer of light heralding the dawn of a new day of hope, optimism and security but unless our politicians are persuaded otherwise – it may never come!

      William Oxenham. MA, C.Eng, MIET, FRIN

      Posted by William Oxenham | October 28, 2011, 3:50 pm
      • Agree with everything you have said. The galling aspect of all this is that informed comments like ours are invariably buried in obscure discussion forums like this and cannot compete with the publicity advantages which are so readily available to politicians.
        Quite a lot of useful windfarm comment can be found on the “Country Guardian” website.

        Regards ,

        William

        Posted by William Oxenham | October 31, 2011, 4:39 pm
  2. So Mr Thomas would allow extensive rape and pillage of the Welsh landscape in return for 30 pieces of silver into a so called “weath fund”? What a montrous and ill informed idea. The natural landscape is the jewel in the crown of Wales, drawing people from far and wide to visit it, generating millions of pounds in revenue for tourist based businesses. He should be conserving it, not destroying it. An environment once destroyed, cannot be easily replaced .. but perhaps Mr Thomas can be? … with someone who cares a little more about what affects the lives of his constituents in mid and west Wales.

    Posted by windfarm warrior | October 28, 2011, 1:27 pm

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