Wales stands to lose hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue because the licensing and taxation of its own energy resources are controlled by the UK Government, Plaid Cymru’s annual conference was told yesterday.
Independent business consultant Madoc Batcup told delegates in Aberystwyth that Wales was being “stripped bare of its natural resources for England’s power needs”.
Mr Batcup said: “We are all well aware of the way in which the resources of Wales have in the past been used largely for the benefit of others.
“Although the exploitation of coal and slate in Wales created jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, the great majority of the profits were spirited out of the country by mine owners and the slate quarry owners.
“The likes of the magnificent edifices of Cardiff Castle and Penrhyn Castle stand as testimony to the enormous wealth that Wales and its people generated for others.”
Mr Batcup, a former Plaid Parliamentary candidate, said Wales’ water had been exploited by others.
He cited the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in 1965 to provide water for Liverpool against the will of local people and Welsh MPs, adding: “We now face a further assault on our natural resources. The potential to produce electricity from renewable resources in our offshore waters is huge, and comes from two sources.
“The first is the exploitation of the wind through offshore wind-farms and the other is the exploitation of maritime energy through tidal and sea current and wave generated power.”
Recently the UK Government announced a huge new offshore wind farm off the coast of North Wales called Gwynt y Mor. It has a planned capacity of 576 megawatts – equivalent to about 60% of Wylfa nuclear power station’s capacity and sufficient to supply 400,000 households. This represents about 8% of Wales’ total current electricity production. An even bigger wind-farm, part of which is in Welsh waters, is planned further out into the Irish Sea. It will be up to eight times Gwynt y Mor’s size and capable of providing electricity for three million households – far more than the entire population of Wales.
In addition another large wind-farm is planned for the Bristol Channel.
On top of this the UK Government has been consulting on the generation of electricity through tidal power in the Severn Estuary, and is now reviewing a shortlist of proposals. The amount of electricity that could be generated in the Welsh waters of the Severn Estuary alone could be enough to supply another three million households or more. Yet Wales was not mentioned once in the economic consultation paper.
Mr Batcup said: “Does Wales need such an enormous increase in its capacity to generate electricity? Even now it exports about 20% of the electricity it generates to England, and a new gas-fired power station has recently been opened in Pembrokeshire.
“Our hillsides are increasingly being covered in wind turbines and there are proposals to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa. These huge new energy facilities are being built to feed England’s need for additional electricity, not our own.
“Who benefits? The new Gwynt y Mor wind farm is owned by three German companies: Siemens, who will be building the turbines in Europe, RWE the German power company and the municipal utility company of Munich, a publicly owned body that believes in renewable energy.
“Who is the owner and who decides? The Crown Estate owns the seabed around the UK out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit, and 65% of the Welsh foreshore. It also owns the mineral rights on or under the seabed from the coastline out to the edge of the UK continental shelf, not including oil and gas.
“It is the Crown Estate that not only owns our seabed but also decides on the licences for who can exploit them. The Welsh Government has no planning powers for power stations above a paltry 50MW. Electricity generation, transmission and supply of electricity are specifically excluded from powers that would be transferred under the referendum.”
The Crown Estate is a quango created in 1961. Its excess profits go to the Treasury. Together with other departments in Whitehall, the Crown Estate decides how the natural resources should be parcelled out, how they should be exploited and who should get the benefit.
Mr Batcup said energy sales from these power stations would be worth many hundreds of millions of pounds a year once their development costs had been paid off.
“Ownership and control of these assets would transform the finances of the Welsh Government and provide a springboard for the development of new renewable energy job opportunities in Wales,” he said.
“Our own resources are being stolen under our noses in the name of the environmental good of the UK. The jobs will go elsewhere and the profits will go elsewhere. The power installations in the Severn Estuary are designed to last for 120 years.
“Once they have been sold off by the British state, the ability of Wales to benefit from its own natural wealth will have been removed for many generations to come.”
“If we do not fight now to claim these resources for Wales, not only will we suffer, but so will our children and their children. Make no mistake: the Crown Estate and the Department of Energy and Climate Change are even now selling the future of Wales for England’s current needs.”
Mr Batcup said ownership of its maritime renewable power resources was the single most important issue facing Wales today. “The value of these resources is capable of transforming our economy. It is a vital key to unlocking our economic freedom. But if these resources are sold out to private companies, they will be unavailable to us for generations to come.”
Mr Batcup said that under the 1961 Act of Parliament that set up the Crown Estate, it would be easy to transfer ownership of Wales’ offshore energy resources to the Assembly Government for no cost.
Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones said in her speech: “Wales is not a nation if we do not have charge of our seas, our land and our water. No Ryder Cup or rugby success can gloss over our deficiencies as a nation when we don’t control our own natural assets. Governments and large businesses all over the world are buying up land in foreign countries in order to secure a water supply and a food supply for their people. In Wales we do not even control our own water supply.”
Conference delegates passed a motion committing Plaid to press for the transfer of the Crown Estate’s maritime interests in Wales to the Assembly Government.
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