Wales politics

Carwyn Jones hails 'golden opportunity' of energy production

First Minister Carwyn Jones has hailed energy production as a "golden opportunity" for firms after unveiling a Welsh government plan for the sector.

The Energy Wales document sets out how ministers intend to maximise the economic potential of power generation.

Mr Jones urged Wales to "lead the way" in creating a low carbon economy at the launch event in Port Talbot.

Improved energy infrastructure and changes to planning and consent rules were also proposed.

Mr Jones said energy was the "lifeblood of the economy" and there was a needed to re-create the dynamism of early generations as a new low carbon energy economy was built.

He said there was "no escaping the challenges of climate change and energy security".

Announcing how his government plans to improve the economy through multi-million pound investments, Mr Jones referred to "unlocking the energy from our seas, making sure billions of pounds of investment delivers jobs and maximising opportunities for businesses and communities benefit".

He said 30,000 people already worked in the low carbon economy and the message to business was that Wales was very attractive for serious new energy investment.

Mr Jones was keen to outline the potential which could come to the Welsh economy through investments and jobs, adding that energy production meant the "potential creation of at least hundreds, if not thousands of jobs".

Many of the energy developers listening to the first minister applauded his positive message, but were disappointed that he barely mentioned wind farms or planned National Grid infrastructure. These are both thorny issues in mid Wales especially.

There were also few details on how the Welsh government would implement its commitment to improve the planning and consenting regime of local authorities.

Business and money

The arguments for and against wind farms are well documented, as are the debates about turbine efficiency or inefficiency, depending or your point of view.

Image caption The first minister wants the next 10 years to be 'Wales' energy decade'

This plan focuses on business and money. How investments, touted as being potentially up to £50bn between now and 2025 according to the Welsh government, will be spread throughout areas where renewable energy schemes may be given planning consent.

The £50bn figure is heavily dependent on actual proposals being given the green light - some by local authorities in Wales, and some by the UK government's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

On Tuesday, Powys county council formally objected to two large wind farm applications that will be decided by the DECC. The same councillors refused planning to a smaller wind farm last week.

Carwyn Jones's energy planwill be scrutinised by energy companies, and many people who demonstrated in Cardiff and Welshpool last summer against building more wind farms in Powys.


Myfanwy Alexander, a leading opponent of wind farms and new infrastructure in mid Wales, said: "We have lived with wind turbines for years and we know that they provide very few jobs.

"Tourism provides jobs which cannot be exported."

A commitment to improve the energy infrastructure would include either pylons or underground electricity cables in mid Wales.

This seems to suggest a change of emphasis by the Welsh government from a statement made last summer.

Russell George AM, Conservative shadow spokesman on the environment, said: "While these headline commitments lack any kind of clarity, they do suggest that the first minister has finally conceded that planning policy Tan 8 is fundamentally flawed and needs improvement.

"That's a welcome U-turn that is long, long overdue.

"I look forward to receiving more detail on what 'improving the energy infrastructure' actually means."

Tan 8 stands for Technical Advice Note, no 8 - a policy devised by the Welsh government in 2005.

It established seven areas called Strategic Search Areas (SSA) where energy companies were invited to submit planning applications to develop wind farms.

Jobs and prosperity

Those who oppose wind energy and wind turbines in mid Wales and beyond are calling on the first minister and his government to review Tan 8. So far there is no indication that will happen.

So the focus by the government is on how investments and new energy schemes - not just in the wind sector - could bring jobs and prosperity to Wales.

Gerry Jewson, chairman and chief executive of Flintshire-based West Coast Energy, an independent wind energy developer, said: "We feel confident that the government has listened to the representations of all stakeholders in Wales' renewable future and has a real understanding of the issues.

"The joined up thinking we are now seeing between departments is welcome and should now enable Cardiff to deliver action, not just aspiration."

On Twitter: @apdafyddi

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