We’re running guest blogs from the four main political parties in Wales on the subject of environment and development in the country. William Powell, Liberal Democrat AM for Mid & West Wales, calls for a renewable energy strategy that balances Wales’ energy needs with input from local communities.
By William Powell AM
Few would disagree with our essential need to reduce Wales’ dependency on unsustainable fossil fuels. With rates increasing by the day, and no end in sight, it is clear that the status quo benefits no one in Wales. It is squeezing household budgets, it is damaging our environment, and it is jeopardising our economic future.
As the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development it is my role to work towards a solution to this problem, and to help secure a long-term sustainable strategy for Wales.
This strategy must be different to the years of mismanagement which have preceded it. It must no-longer be defined by electoral cycles and short-term political needs. Instead it must act to reform existing legislation so that it is clear, consistent, and fair. It must act to address the trust deficit which has grown between rural communities and government. And it must act to invest in our renewable energy industries so they can help us reach our goals and safeguard Welsh jobs for decades to come.
Looking first to legislation, it is clear that the elephant in the room remains TAN 8. Despite containing several positive proposals, its obvious shortcomings mean that revisions are necessary if it is ever going to serve as a meaningful guide to the future. Although the Welsh Liberal Democrats remain committed to expanding off-shore renewable energy projects, we understand that a multifaceted approach is the only way we can reach the target of reducing our carbon footprint 75% by 2050.
This approach must not be limited to power generation. We must reduce our consumption around the home. This is why organisations like the Energy Saving Trust are so important to our economy, and why the Welsh Liberal Democrats continue to support their campaigns. However, we need a strategy which recognises the fact that conservation is only part of the solution. As such, on-shore wind farms must also play their part.
For too long we have allowed junk science and misinformation to dominate discussions around on-shore wind developments, and for even longer we have ignored the voices of local communities in the decision making process. Taken together these practices have contributed to the trust deficit which now threatens Wales’ sustainable future, and it is only through addressing both sides that a viable solution can be found.
We need to follow the lead of places like Scotland, and establish a meaningful public consultation process. A process which informs the public about the realities of renewable energy; while also providing the forum for the public to air their concerns to government and industry.
However, more than anything else we need a long-term sustainable strategy which admits the fact that renewable energy is about more than the environment alone. It is about our economy and it is about jobs. This is why I continue to call for immediate action to reform our planning laws so that world leading renewable industries don’t abandon Wales entirely. We need to change these laws so more voices are heard in the planning process, and we need to change them so that firm decisions are made within reasonable timeframes.
In an unfavourable economy with high rates of unemployment, the renewable energy sector is an avenue Wales must pursue. We need to work towards establishing a profitable base upon which these industries can flourish. As an Assembly we need to invest in the supply chain which is needed to support these industries, and allow them to export their products across Wales and beyond.
Wales has the capacity to lead the world in energy generation in a way never seen before. We were once the global centre for high-carbon industry, and now we have the opportunity to do it again with low-carbon. We must not let this opportunity pass us by.