Energy firms warn about 'slow' Welsh planning process

wind turbine The first minister wants the next 10 years to be 'Wales' energy decade'

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Energy companies could shun Wales and invest elsewhere in Europe because of the complicated planning process, AMs have been warned.

Scottish Power says local planning authorities have been unable to progress wind farm applications in a reasonable timescale.

The industry also urged the Welsh government to clarify its renewable energy position.

The Welsh government said the process was not as clear as it needed to be.

Building wind farms and upgrading the grid in Wales had proved "slow and unpredictable", Scottish Power said.

'Alternative markets'

Without a reasonable timescale for planning applications "investors could ultimately turn to alternative markets where there is greater certainty, either elsewhere in the UK, in Europe or beyond".

Recent announcements by the Welsh government on renewable electricity policy have "left the industry confused", it said, adding: "We ask that clarification be provided in this area."

SSE, the parent company of Swalec, also said the Welsh government's position on controversial proposals for mid Wales "has caused a large degree of concern".

Start Quote

Overall developers will be reluctant in the future to invest in a country if they are repeatedly caught in constitutional battles”

End Quote Scottish and Southern Energy

Investing in Wales was "more complicated" in some circumstances than in other parts of the UK, it said.

"Overall developers will be reluctant in the future to invest in a country if they are repeatedly caught in constitutional battles," it said.

First Minister Carwyn Jones, who is responsible for energy policy in the Welsh government, has said the next 10 years must be "Wales' energy decade".

But meeting aspirations for more renewable energy required a "stable and predictable environment for investment", SSE told the assembly's environment committee on Thursday.

"This does not exist in the current situation," the company said.

WIND ENERGY IN WALES

  • Last year, 53 companies worked in wind energy in Wales.
  • The sector's annual turnover was an estimated £123.5m.
  • That's a bigger contribution to GDP than fishing and forestry, and more than two-thirds the size of agriculture.
  • It employed 789 people with an average wage of £44,000.
  • Businesses contributed more than £158m to the economy through jobs and spending.
  • (Source: Survey by Arad Consulting for RenewableUK Cymru)

Companies also raised questions about the Welsh government's desire to take control of planning policy for big energy projects. Consent for schemes of more than 50MW are not devolved.

Increasing the Welsh government's responsibilities would require a substantial amount of additional expertise, SSE said.

It called for closer cooperation between the administrations in Wales and Westminster.

The wind power industry in Wales has an annual turnover of about £120m and employs 789 people, according to a survey of businesses in the sector conducted last year.

The Conservatives' shadow environment minister Russell George said the planning process was not fit for purpose.

He said: "Losing this kind of investment would be a huge blow for Wales that would not just impact upon the renewable energy industry here, but the economy as a whole."

Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesman William Powell called for a full review of the energy planning regulations.

'Certainty'

"The fears raised by Scottish Power are both disappointing and an entirely accurate representation of the state of Wales' energy planning regulations," he said.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said the process for consenting major onshore and offshore energy infrastructure projects is "not clear or operating as efficiently as it needs to be".

"To ensure the maximum benefit to Wales from the predicted £50bn of investment in energy it is however vital that we address this, especially in the current economic climate," said the spokesperson.

"We need a process that is clear and provides certainty to the industry and the people of Wales. We are already working to streamline and improve the planning system more generally.

"Consenting major energy projects is currently the responsibility of the UK Government. This is why the First Minister of Wales has repeatedly called for the transfer of the responsibility to bring it in line with all other types of development and give us the tools to address it."

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