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Cynnal Cymru and IWA discuss The Energy We Want.

13 November 2014

Recently the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) and Cynnal Cymru held a major conference in Cardiff to discuss the future of energy in Wales.

Peter Davies, the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures for the Welsh Government, was the keynote listener at the event to capture views and perspectives on ‘The Wales We Want’. The morning address, delivered by Dr. Richard Cowell (Cardiff University), highlighted some of the key figures and targets in the energy field. The main debate, ‘Wales’ energy future: fossil or no fossil’ kickstarted a lively discussion, as did the round table discussions throughout the day. Below is a report from the event, and links to the various articles which were presented at the event.

There is also a Storify for this event


The UK needs to have secure, clean and affordable energy supplies to provide a financially and environmentally sustainable nation for future generations. Through the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK Government committed to the EU target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Moving away from the traditional energy source of fossil fuels is a significant challenge, and low carbon and renewable options are key to reaching this target.

On Wednesday 15 October 2014, the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA), sponsored by Cynnal Cymru, held a major conference in Cardiff to discuss the future of energy in Wales. Peter Davies, the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures for the Welsh Government, was the keynote listener at the event to capture views and perspectives on ‘The Wales We Want’. He wants those working in the energy sector to be clear on “what are the measures which matter” and to define key messages and actions for the Welsh Government.

The morning address, delivered by Dr. Richard Cowell (Cardiff University), highlighted some of the key figures and targets in the energy field and outlined three powerful pressures – sustainability, security of supply and social justice/affordability. He noted that devolution has given Wales little powers over energy in comparison with the rest of the UK, with only power to shape planning policy towards renewable energies and local planning powers. In contrast, Scotland (with much greater autonomy) has set the pace for renewable energy development in the UK. Cowell, however, suggested that Wales could still make considerable steps forward in the energy field and financial dependence upon England/Westminster should not deter Wales from being a prominent and positive energy figure on the world stage. The Scottish referendum has “thrown issues into the air” which should be seen as an opportunity for Wales in many respects.

Cowell proceeded to highlight the conflicting approaches which Wales has on energy – on one hand there is the green energy showcase, whilst on the other hand the Welsh Government are also seeking consent for 50MW power stations. Energy is seen as a large inward investment which has wide impacts on the local economy. One of the key current issues is the focus on consumption, rather than production. He urged civil society to become more engaged, as people tended to show interest only on a local level only which failed to support significant progress on energy policy.

The first debate, ‘Wales’ energy future: fossil or no fossil’, saw the panel (Dr. Carol Bell (Welsh Government’s Energy and Environment Sector Panel), Colin Orr Burns (General Manager, Dragon LNG), Jane Davidson (Member of the Silk Commission and Director of INSPIRE, IWTSD), and Alice Hooker-Stroud (Communication Officer, Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)) field questions from Lee Waters, Director of the IWA, before opening up comments from the audience. Bell noted that population growth was often left out of the debate and caused a higher increase in demand, coupled with the varying policies of different nations causing differences in world progress. Hooker-Stroud, however, claimed that studies show that demand in line with population growth is sustainable and that the issue is political. When asked by Waters whether energy usage will change, Orr Burns didn’t think that it would be as significant as envisaged. The lack of political will, along with significant cost issues, means that although the target is achievable he described the likelihood as zero.

He pointed to a global problem which Wales, as a consumer of less than 0.1% of the planet’s energy, is not going to fix. From this bleak picture, Davidson then pointed out that whilst it is a challenge and no global response has been reached since Kyoto ended in 2012, Wales at least needs to position itself wisely and try to tackle the challenges faced over energy. Davidson called for coherent powers over energy in Wales and the requirement to attract investment in the energy sector. The audience posed questions around competition, implications of devolution and energy wastage. The panel raised a number of possibilities and further questions; with options such publically managed energy policies, economic sustainability, whether people actually care, and market driven changes. “We all have to take responsibility for using less” said Bell.

The second debate, ‘The end of cheap oil – what next?’, saw Iolo ap Dafydd (BBC Wales Environment Correspondent), Prof. Hywel Thomas (Professor of Civil Engineering and Pro- Vice Chancellor at Cardiff University) and Prof. Calvin Jones (Professor of Economics at Cardiff Business Schol) raise the issue of inequality in Wales and the need for delivering better change to ensure those with lower disposable income are not forced into fuel poverty –“we can’t afford to keep consuming oil at the existing rate”, summed up the points made.

Asked whether the price is relative, Jones said that it guides the entire market and Thomas made reference to US shale oil and the shift which this had created in the market. Thomas saw the US as key to change and suggested that the UK could also explore shale gas further, but this option was currently hindered by public acceptance. Members of the audience from Natural Resources Wales pointed out that the conversation needed to be broader to include food and water security. Creating a level playing field for renewables requires consideration of “needs over wants”, argued Jones. Derek Osborne (Chair of Cynnal Cymru) raised the topic of transport and asked how we are shifting to renewables. Jones summ ed up the lack of change – “it won’t happen when oil is cheap, as it didn’t happen when oil was expensive”.

Some things will need to be sacrificed if the targets are going to be achieved. Waters posed the question of whether the Welsh Government should encourage fracking and Thomas responded with reference to the North Sea gas diminishing and the need to seek alternatives.

Jones noted that Welsh Government doesn’t have autonomous control as energy is a privatised industry. The audience posed challenging questions around why renewables weren’t being pursued at a faster rate and the panel suggested there simply wasn’t the economic market to drive the change.

The afternoon saw the third and final debate, ‘Nuclear – the best low-carbon option?’, take place with Dr. John Idris Jones (Head of Socio-Economic Development at Wylfa Magnox Ltd), Gareth Clubb (Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru), and Dr.Christina Demski (Lecturer in Social and Environmental Psychology at Cardiff University). Demski highlighted the significant influence of public perceptions including how the phrase “reluctant acceptance”, which concerns forced change as a result of high level shifts, highlighted the lack of enthusiasm for climate change. Idris Jones argued the importance of nuclear in meeting targets and the huge economic benefits which a plant like Wylfa, in Anglesey, brings to the local economy. Clubb opposed this view, claiming there is no economic or environmental rationale for nuclear development and that Wales needs long-term changes. Clubb claimed that a 94% of renewable energy rate is feasible, when challenged by Waters about the need for nuclear, arguing that “needs are flexible whilst nuclear is not”. Dr. Nick Pidgeon (Cardiff University) referenced the example of Germany where feed-in tariffs encourage the use of renewables and this set the tone for energy production. Clubb claimed that Wales has one unique selling point – a good quality of life – which needed to be maintained and would not be on current trajectories. Demski suggested that there “needs to be a long-term vision for people to hook in to”.

In his closing remarks, Peter Davies highlighted the value of having open and active debates such as this, hosted by the IWA. He saw the importance of a transition to a low carbon environment and pointed out that Welsh Government have signed up to the World Bank statement on carbon pricing. “Although Wales has a small role . . . we should focus on what we want to be famous for”. Being driven by short-term pressures would not lead to the solution, he said, and there is potential to increase energy ownership on a local level. Raising the reference of Germany, Davies saw cultural change as focal to being more renewably focussed, producing less waste and greater education around energy. Davies concluded that “small changes can make a big impact” and leadership at all levels can help Wales to become the economically and environmentally sustainable nation it can be. Public involvement, in an open and honest environment, will help us to reach that position.


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Pathfinder Programme

A Welsh Government funded programme to support communities to take action on climate change.

Community Energy Wales

Bringing together communities acting on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Support For Sustainable Living

A scheme designed to bring about long-term changes in behaviour and lifestyle to help reduce Wales’ greenhouse gas emissions and help organisations and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.