UK government wind farm plans 'slap in face' for Wales

Wind turbines Planning applications for major developments are decided in London

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First Minister Carwyn Jones says having the UK government decide on future wind farm plans is a "slap in the face" for Wales.

His spokesman said it was ridiculous that the people of Wales cannot decide on such matters.

On Monday the UK government denied there is ongoing discussion on devolving power on big energy schemes.

Mr Jones had said UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry confirmed he would consider calls for greater powers.

But a spokesman for Mr Hendry said it was discussed last year, and further devolution of power had been ruled out.

Mr Jones had raised the issue at the British-Irish Council summit.

The latest twist on Monday came after the Welsh Government said its UK counterpart had agreed to consider a request to transfer the power to decide major energy projects to Wales.

Mr Jones said it was unacceptable that planning decisions on wind farms in Wales were being taken in London.

But a spokesman for Mr Hendry said there had been a referendum on further powers for the assembly in March, and there were "no current proposals to make further changes to the Welsh devolution settlement".

Analysis

By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst

The UK government's refusal to grant devolved powers to Wales over major wind energy installations is no surprise.

Shifting the policy would constitute a major change to the devolution settlement, and could cause big problems for renewable energy targets.

In fact at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) they're wondering if the Welsh Government's statement on wind energy contains an element of posturing.

The statement opposes "over-capacity" from wind farms without defining overcapacity. "Everyone of course opposes over-capacity", the Whitehall source told me, "but what do they mean?"

The statement says wind farms should not exceed projections in the Tan 8 strategy. But the Whitehall source argued that Tan 8 allowed several different permutations.

What's more, there's a lack of clarity over Cardiff's attitude to pylons. The statement opposes "large pylons" in mid Wales.

But this opposition could simply be placated if National Grid agreed to bury the cables leading from the projected new sub-station at Abermule of Cefn Coch. That would protect views in the Severn Valley.

What's exercising locals is the prospect of smaller pylons carrying electricity to the sub-station across the hilltops.

This issue is not addressed in the statement. It proves yet again that all energy sources are troublesome one way or another.

He added: "The policy on devolving energy powers to the assembly remains the same as it did under the previous Westminster government. Charles Hendry explained he had set out the position in November and it remained the same today."

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it had had constructive discussions previously with Welsh ministers.

But UK ministers had decided "that they should continue to be responsible for major energy infrastructure decisions in England and Wales" via a streamlined process "that minimises delays and ensures investor confidence is best delivered through a unified planning system".

A spokesman for Mr Jones said: "The statement by DECC is a slap in the face for the people of Wales.

"By stating this the UK Government has now made it clear that they will in future take decisions over wind farms in Wales and consequently this is nothing to do with the Welsh Government.

"It's a ridiculous state of affairs that the people of Wales cannot decide on such matters. Why are the UK Government so afraid of Welsh people having control over their own energy resources, like they do in Scotland?"

He added that it was "interesting to note" that in a press conference in London on Monday the deputy prime minister did not rule out further devolution on energy.

"As far as the Welsh Government is concerned, discussions on these matters are most definitely ongoing."

Last week the Welsh Government announced plans to limit the number of wind farm developments, in the seven so-called Tan 8 areas.

It followed a big campaign in mid Wales against National Grid plans for a 19-acre substation and miles of pylons to serve new wind farm developments and any more turbines to add to the 200 already operating in Powys.

In May 1,500 people protested at the Senedd in Cardiff.

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