Monday, 30 June 2008

Don't get worked up over wind

When we signed up to the One Wales programme a year ago, one of the most significant commitments was a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 3% per year. To achieve such an ambitious target we will have to use whatever renewable energy sources are available to us. At the moment, wind power is the most advanced and readily-available form of renewable energy. As long as the main responsibilities for energy lie with Westminster, we will have to make use of whatever we can. To do nothing and wait for London to form our energy policies for us would be a dereliction of duty. Although Westminster does have this control, we do still have the power to determine projects with a generating capacity of up to 50MW.

I support the One Wales Government's decision to revise upwards the levels of planned wind farms in the Strategic Search Areas. While no-one wants to see the whole of Wales carpeted in wind farms, we have to make use of the abundant wind that we have. Most people seem to favour offshore wind power as an alternative to onshore sites. Offshore sites can provide far more energy than onshore wind can, and have less of an impact on the landscape. But because many offshore wind developments are greater than 50MW, Wales is not allowed to have a say. Some of the largest offshore wind developments in the world are currently being planned around Wales. This is to be welcomed because these projects will reduce the need for so many wind farms in our countryside, but the Government of Wales and the Assembly won't have the final decision on such developments.

The latest proposals for more wind power will result in less than 1% of the Welsh landscape accomodating wind projects. I can still sympathise with wind energy's critics when they state that even this small amount of affected land is a great loss to the Welsh countryside, but if we are to play our full part in fighting climate change we must make these sacrifices. In the long-term, Plaid Cymru would not advocate an over-reliance on wind, just because it is the most convenient source of renewable energy. We need to ensure that the One Wales Government does not neglect micro-generation and other decentralised energy options and that we continue to demand that Westminster gives us the powers to determine our own energy future.


Draig said...

Appreciate the sentiment re. climate change Leanne,but there are a few things that you need to realise.

1) Wales is already a net exporter of electricity. Effectively, we already shoulder more than our fair share.

2) As a consequence of this, any electricity generated by new wind developments constructed in Wales will be for export to England. Familiar scenario?

3) A good example of this are planned wind developments in Mid Wales (Strategic Search Areas B, C and D). All the electricity from these developments will be exported through a massive new powerline to England, and seeing as many of these developments will be on Forestry Commission land, thousands of trees will be chopped down - natural carbon sinks.

So it seems we now have a situation where, unlike the 1960s where these big projects were just imposed on us, we now have a Plaid/Labour administration happy to do the UK government's dirty work for it.

Without devolution of power consents, the Assembly's energy policy is basically a meaningless joke. It's certainly not what I joined Plaid Cymru for!

Check out more about the powerline at -

Leanne Wood said...

Thank you for your constructive comment.

Wales is a net exporter of energy and this energy is mostly derived from fossil fuels which are unclean and therefore undesirable. The aim has to be to replace this as much as possible by generating more from renewables, replacing the need for Wales to burn unsustainable fossil fuels. Producing more energy than we need is a great strength, especially if it is renewable energy. Of course, I look forward to the day when we have independence and can offer our excess clean energy to our neighbours elsewhere. To plan to produce less energy than we need and to rely on imports would be a weakness. At the moment Wales isn’t profiting from the excess energy that we import. If we were independent we could build our economy on renewable energy and food self-sufficiency. Wind will have to play a role in such a vision. We cannot afford a delay because of the threat of climate change. Wind is the most technologically-sound and effective way to generate renewable energy at present. It should be part of a mix, but there’s no way we can increase Wales’ renewable energy without it.

It is true that many new wind farms will be on Forestry Commission land, and that some tress will have to be removed to accommodate them. I believe that this is excusable, as long as the government is committed to increasing Wales’ forestry cover in the long-term. Such a commitment exists and as far as I know around 74 acres per year of native species are being planted, as opposed to the non-indigenous, coniferous plantations on Forestry Commission land. Wales’ forestry coverage will increase year-on-year to counter the trees which are removed.

Finally, I do agree that without devolution of the larger power consents our energy policy is severely hampered. Plaid Cymru has always called for these powers to be devolved to the Assembly. What I do not accept is that the One Wales Government is doing London’s bidding, especially when these wind farms are under 50MW meaning they are under our jurisdiction. Contrastingly, England has been criticised for not building enough wind farms, a position that is at odds with what the One Wales Government is doing in Wales.

Draig said...

Thanks for the reply to this Leanne. Wasn't sure if I could do it justice in a reply thread, so I've posted a full reply to you on my blog. Be warned - it's quite long!


swanzie said...

Do people in Plaid not speak to each other?

Leanne you need to speak to Adam Price as he appears to see the whole picture;

Leanne Wood said...

I don't disagree with anything Adam says. His line of arguement doesn't negate the need for wind.

swanzie said...

Thought you might find this enlighten,specifically the piece towards the end re de-centralising the grid.

David Lewis said...

Dear Leanne

Your so called vision on wind energy is driven by the fallacy that it will reduce CO2 emissions and influence climate change. Average global temperature has been steady for a decade and 30,000 scientists have challenged the concept that man made CO2 is the main factor in climate change. Your assertions are mainly political, and ignore some basic facts of science and economics.

Thousands of gigantic wind turbines might take up only 1% of our precious Welsh landscape, but will be visibly intrusive from many miles around. Turbines sometimes catch fire and would ignite any forestry nearby. The Davis Family in Spalding were driven from their home by turbine noise and that house is now unmarketable.

You fail to mention that the extra costs to the public will be around £15 billion through the Renewable Obligation hidden subsidies at a time when fuel poverty is growing. You wish to export this additional unreliable, intermittent but very expensive power to England at times when there might be no demand. If wind energy needs 90% back up from conventional base load generators, why do you pursue this ideal and risk the security of our supply?

If you or any readers don’t believe me, try “Phillip Bratby” into GOOGLE and read some excellent evidence to the Lords Renewable Energy Committee. My challenge to you Leanne is to produce reasoned counter arguments to that paper or rethink your policies.

Regards David Lewis

Leanne Wood said...


I'm sure that you will appreciate that the expansion of wind power in Wales is neither my 'vision' nor my 'policy'. I am simply responding to the policy of the One Wales government minister Jane Davidson in my role as Plaid's Sustainability Spokesperson. In this case, my response does happen to be a positive one, but I would like to see a much greater priority given to energy conservation, a decentralised, community-owned energy industry, tidal power and micro-generation over wind power.

I am sure that there are fire risks associated with any form of electricity generation. Wind should not trouble us in this respect because it is far safer and indeed healthier than the alternatives, at this moment. Likewise, any electricity generating station has a visual impact, and at least wind farms do not have associated smoke stacks or waste heaps. We are still fortunate that there remain vast swathes of Wales where a view unspoilt by any man-made construction can be enjoyed, and this will remain the case.

£15 billion susbsidies through the Renewables Obligation is far too small to build up a new green energy industry. A shift of UK-wide priorities away from war and nuclear weapons towards renewable energy and fighting climate change should enable us to properly safeguard our environment and secure a greener future for Wales. From a UK-wide perspective renewables are costing the taxpayer hardly anything compared to other more unsustainable forms of expenditure. How much subsidy does the nuclear industry get?

There may be interesting debates about climate change being caused by something other than human activity, but i'm afraid that in Wales we will have to move away from fossil fuels in any case because they are becoming more expensive, less secure and indeed are running out.

David Lewis said...


May I first convey my sincere thanks for your considered response and for the opportunity to expand an open dialogue on this vital issue. You are the first Welsh politician of any party to do so, and I find this refreshing even if we disagree on some basic contentions.

I support your stance on energy conservation, and this alone could ensure that the base load power supply in South Wales can cope with our essential needs.
Whatever our expectations of unpredictable or intermittent renewable energy, we could not survive without back up from Aberthaw Power Station, (now relying on imported coal), and its unavoidable smoke stacks. In this context we are fortunate to have good reserves of Welsh coal which could now, compared with other fossil fuels, be profitably and safely mined.

We share a deep concern about the environment and the future of Welsh energy, but we should not forget the global perspective. The power station carbon emissions in the UK total around 192 million tonnes pa, and Wales around 10 M. We should compare this with just China/India’s 3,000 M which is set to double in the next decade. It must be obvious that our first loyalty lies with the security of our electricity supply rather that a futile and costly unilateral gesture to change the Earth’s climate.

Sadly the Welsh Renewable Energy Route Map is founded on the need to “address climate change” and using wind energy as the main tool. I submitted a response to that document on 23 April, and will let you have a copy by separate email. It does explain my thinking in some detail.

I trust that you will take a fresh look at this, and seek to influence Jane Davidson that we should not compromise the status quo on the security of our power supply, our economy, and our precious Welsh landscape.

bluedun said...

With all this destruction of our wonderful Welsh landscapes it would be nice to see some results. Unfortunately a look at government statistics on electrticity generation provide only disappointment. They show that fossil fuel use in generation is growing much faster than the growth of electricity supplied. Much of this is due to the switch from nuclear to coal and gas but a significant amount is due to the increasing inefficiency of electricity generation. Politicians should understand the difference between wind-farm output and supply to the consumer. Much of the electricity from wind-farms is 'used-up' by the need to balance out the huge power-swings that wind-power introduces into the grid. More wind-farms magnify the power-swings. Consider: to produce an average 10% of UK electricity supply would require wind farms with the capacity to produce 40% at full blast (government stats. show wind output at 25% of capacity nationwide). That means swings from 0 to 40% of average total power output within a few hours and huge amounts of fossil-fuels wasted keeping conventional plant on stand-by and ramping up and down for all they're worth. Not to mention the maintenance and replacement of the stand-by plant and the wind plant.

Government figures show no evdence whatsoever of any benefit from the 2,500 giant wind-turbines now disfiguring thousands of square miles of Britan. No-one knows how much of their production is lost in the grid. To continue to defile our beautiful principality on this basis is a disgrace especially when there are much more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly means of reducing CO2 emissions.

The politicians who promote this policy mostly know these facts but are seeking either a ticket to power or a well-paid job further down the line (Mr Wilson!). They should be (and will be)recognised for what they are.

David Lewis said...

All your readers would appreciate a continuation of this dialogue started it and it is highly relevant to your Party Brief. The people of Wales need to know where you stand, and to decide who they wish to vote for.