Sunday, 27 March 2011
Time to control our own resources
One of the themes of this weekend's Plaid Cymru conference was the economy. Wales's economy is in a poor state and not getting better despite billions of euro-cash.
With public sector cuts resulting in job losses and cuts to workers' wages hitting at the same time as big rises in the costs of living, allowing the Welsh economy to continue to decline is not an option.
As Dr Calvin Jones pointed out in a Stop Climate Chaos Cymru fringe meeting, Wales will need three nuclear power stations to replace oil, which is fast increasing in price as world reserves run out. Calvin presented a chilling picture of what can be expected: he asked how Mrs Jones living at the top of the valleys will be able to get to hospital when there are no buses, taxi's are unaffordable and the NHS can't afford to put fuel in its ambulances. This is the sort of consequence we can expect from peak oil, if we continue to live the way we do.
It's important to understand our history if we are to avoid making the same mistakes. One of the reasons that Wales's economy is in the state it is, is that we failed to control our own natural resources in the past. Those areas which produced the coal which fuelled the Britsh Empire should today be wealthy. Instead the land and the people of those areas were exploited, colonial-style, as the profits from coal lined the pockets of those elsewhere. It is those former coalfield areas, the valleys, which are among the most deprived part of Wales, the UK, even Europe - which is why we still qualify for EU structural funds. If Wales is to host another energy revolution, control over and the ability to realise the profits from those energy sources is going to be vital.
The valleys and parts of our coasts are due to see a vast expansion of wind power. Wind turbines being contructed already. Opposition continues, with one of the chief objections being that local communities will see little benefit. Electricity will not be cheaper and any benefits from compensatory 'wind-falls' to local councils are likely to be swallowed up by the cuts. In future, all renewable energy developments should have an element of community ownership and tangible benefits for the local communities before they are allowed to go ahead.
Decisions about large energy projects should be made in Wales, by devolving the power for energy consents for power generation of more than 50 MegaWatts. And the land owned by the Crown Estates in Wales should be owned by the people of Wales, with the profits being invested back into green infrastructure instead of into the coffers of the Windsors.
And there are more proposals in the Valleys Greenprint to make sure small communities in Wales see the benefits from controlling and owning the renewable energy we have to produce.
A green revolution has the potential to provide a vital boost to the Welsh economy. If we can make sure people have the right skills - green construction, co-operative and business skills and access to finance, co-operatively-based, where possible, and we can implementing some of the other proposals contained in the greenprint and those put forward in the conference fringe by Stop Climate Change Chaos and recently by Friends of the Earth Cymru, we have the potential to create thousand of jobs and prepare Wales for a future less reliant on carbon emitting fossil fuels AND save people money on their home energy bills. No brainer? What are we waiting for?