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UK Government insists Wales will receive no further powers over energy policy

Further energy policy will not be devolved to Wales, the UK Government has insisted after Carwyn Jones again called for more powers to be handed down.

The First Minister said there was “no sense” in the fact that Westminster still holds control of energy projects above 50 megawatts (MW).

He told a committee of AMs the UK Government was reluctant to devolve more energy policy to Wales because it wanted to build more windfarms than the Welsh Government was prepared to.

But the Department of Energy and Climate Change responded by saying there were “no proposals” to devolve further energy responsibilities to Wales and that UK ministers would continue to be responsible for major energy infrastructure decisions.

The Welsh Government has come under attack from residents, particularly in Mid Wales, over the number of windfarm developments already being built under its controversial TAN 8 policy.

Mr Jones told the Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee: “I admit that this is a discussion that we’ve been having for years, it’s not something recent.

“There is no sense in my opinion why Scotland and Northern Ireland have the powers that we don’t have in Wales.

“From the discussion that we’ve had recently the only answer that I can give is that the feeling is held by the UK Government that the Welsh Government is too narrow, that TAN 8 is too narrow in its scope and so they want to create additional energy developments and wind developments than we would have allowed under TAN 8.

“What conclusions you can draw from that I don’t know but that’s it.”

But a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change reacted by saying it recently had “a productive discussion” with the Welsh Government on the subject, and that it did not think that the request for further powers so soon after the March referendum was “the right approach”.

The spokesman said: “There are no proposals to make further changes to the Welsh devolution settlement.

“The policy on devolving energy powers to the Assembly remains the same as it did under the previous Westminster Government.

“After careful consideration UK ministers decided that they should continue to be responsible for major energy infrastructure decisions in England and Wales.

“We believe that a streamlined planning system that minimises delays and ensures investor confidence is best delivered through a unified planning system for major infrastructure for England and Wales together.”

Specifically on the issue of windfarms, he said: “The Government does not set targets on where windfarms will or should be.

“All applications for wind farm developments and electricity network infrastructure are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the views of local people and other planning issues.”

The Technical Advice Note (TAN) 8 policy was introduced in 2005 as guidance on windfarms. It allows councils to decide on windfarms up to 50 megawatts in size.

The policy saw the Welsh Government establish seven Strategic Search Areas (SSAs). The SSAs were devised to ensure all wind farm development were in specific areas, rather than allow turbines to be put up across Wales.

Thousands of Powys residents blamed this policy for the large amount of windfarm applications in the county, which led to a demonstration outside the Senedd in May. Following that, Mr Jones announced an “upper limit” of turbines to be allowed in Tan 8 areas and said it was “wholly inappropriate” and “incomprehensible” that the Government in Cardiff was not responsible for energy schemes of more than 50MW.

But a UK Government source said then that Mr Jones, Environment Minister from 2003 to 2007, had failed to request new powers when Labour were in government in Westminster and argued recent controversies could be traced back to his decisions.

Mr Jones’ calls were echoed by current Environment Minister John Griffiths, who told in committee: “We very much factor in social, economic and environmental factors when working up all our policies around energy, and that’s the case with all our strategies and TAN 8 itself, so all of these factors can be considered and will be considered.

“Of course, the major issue for us is not having the power that we need in Wales in terms of responsibility above 50 MW for consents and for projects, because without that ability, without further devolution on that, we will not be able to address those factors, be they environmental, economic or social in the integrated way that we would like.

“And I think that’s an issue we’ll have to return to until it’s resolved.”

He said energy companies had told him they would like “an integrated, streamlined system for energy consents in Wales” and to achieve that would need further devolution to give the Welsh Government powers about 50MW applications.