Renewable energy experts have welcomed the latest attempt by the Welsh Government to reassure the industry of its commitment to further wind farm development, but said it still leaves questions about the network upgrade unanswered.
On Thursday Environment Minister John Griffiths wrote to energy companies and planning authorities in a bid to clear up the confusion caused by Carwyn Jones’ statement on wind farm development last month.
Mr Griffiths wrote that the Welsh Government was committed to a target of 2 gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind capacity, with 1.7GW coming from the seven Strategic Search Areas identified in Tan8 in 2005.
In his statement two weeks ago, the First Minister had appeared to suggest that the lower Tan8 figure of 1.1GW was the maximum acceptable limit.
Mr Griffiths’ letter also said the Welsh Government believed connections from new turbines in the SSAs to the grid should be by underground cables or wooden poles rather than large pylons, although industry insiders question the practicality of this.
Michelle Thomas, head of the Clean Energy and Sustainability Group at Eversheds, said: “It is helpful for the Welsh Government to attempt to clarify the situation. However the message is still restrictive in terms of on-shore wind development.”
Ms Thomas said that if Wales wants to attract the significant investment which could be forthcoming, it needs to be seen as a supporter of renewable energy across the board.
“My sense is that in the past we have cherry picked which technologies we wish to see prosper. I am struggling to see any change. The Welsh Government needs to establish clear and effective frameworks which support all technologies and which allow the market to determine which ones get developed.
“The more help the Welsh Government can give, the more the market will gravitate towards Wales, and by help I do not mean financial but policies which are clear, helpful and which create a framework and mindset which allows projects to get consented and built.”
Llywelyn Rhys, head of industry body RenewableUK Cymru, said the new statement from Mr Griffiths “sheds some light on the previous statement made by the First Minister a fortnight ago, which shook industry confidence.”
Mr Rhys said: “We welcome the confirmation that there is a capacity of up to 1,700MW for development in the identified Strategic Search Areas. However, the Welsh Government’s position regarding upgrading the grid network remains unclear.
“The industry is open to considering the options available. However if renewable energy targets are to be met, the reality is that some sort of upgrade is necessary.”
Eryl Vaughan, managing director of Conwy-based Windpower Wales, welcomed the letter as clearing up the uncertainty about the Welsh Government’s stance.
He said: “What Carwyn Jones stated a few weeks ago has created confusion and uncertainty. This letter is very welcome. It’s crystal clear now what Welsh Government policy is and developers will be able to work around that.
“The 2GW target by 2017 has been there in Welsh Government policy in several documents in recent years. The Welsh Government has confirmed they are sticking to that target. This is very welcome.
“There’s nothing worse for investment than uncertainty. We all now know where we stand.”
He added that local authorities were more aware of their obligations under the wider picture but they need guidance
“This does give a clear picture of what the Welsh Government wants to see happening,” he said.
Ms Thomas added that there was a “fantastic opportunity” for Wales to secure its share of the capital which is available to be invested in the renewable industry, but the Welsh Government “cannot dilly-dally around”.
“There are significant infrastructure and private equity funds, utilities and banks all willing to invest in the Welsh renewable energy industry.
“But capital moves where there is the least risk and highest reward. Wales to date has not created an environment which helps achieve this.”
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