Tuesday 21 June 2011

Need for long term view

I'm sure that I’m far from being the only one who wonders how sincere Carwyn Jones really was in his call for the devolution of power over large energy projects.  And his party isn’t the only one which might be more than a little wrong-footed if power actually did get passed to Cardiff.  (Wylfa B, anyone?)
Trying to make sure that people blame someone else for unpopular decisions is all good fun, and the growth of opposition to the implications of a renewables-based solution is a fact of life to which politicians will naturally respond.  Trying to be seen to support those opponents may be an obvious response from those seeking their votes, but it isn’t the right way to make energy policy.
And there’s a more general point there, which I’ve touched on before.  If it is clear that we need to build renewable generating capacity, then that capacity has to go somewhere; and there will probably be objectors to any and every site suggested.  So how do we decide where to put it?
Opponents of on-shore wind (who generally, though far from exclusively, live a longish way from the coast) often suggest putting it off-shore.  There are certainly some advantages to off-shore installations – and there are disadvantages as well.  But they’re every bit as likely to generate opposition, even if it’s from a different group of opponents.
There is simply no such thing as generating capacity which has zero environmental impact.  And sub-stations will be needed in support of any new capacity, as will pylons to connect it to the grid; both of those apply whether we are talking about wind, hydro-electric, tidal power, or even large arrays of solar collectors.  (Some connections might be shorter than others, based on the location of the capacity, of course – but connections there will be.)
The real underlying problem is that, whilst people say at one level that they want to be ‘greener’, government and politicians have not really convinced enough of the populace of the need to move to a renewables-based energy economy.  Without doing that convincing, individual proposals are not put into a proper context. 
Actually, it’s worse than that.  Many of the politicians know perfectly well what needs to be done, and they know that many of the arguments against harnessing the wind are untrue, but they are afraid to be robust in putting the counter arguments for fear of losing votes.
During one hustings meeting last year, I was asked whether I was, on the whole, optimistic or pessimistic about mankind’s reaction to man-made climate change.  My response was that I was pessimistic – not because I thought that we couldn’t deal with the issue, but because I thought that we wouldn’t.  One of the reasons for that is that politicians taking a long-term view are always likely to be trumped by those prepared to take the opposite view for short-term electoral reasons.


Boncath said...

Excellent blog
Wales needs the long term view
for its own future
England is locked into a terminal decline and is dragging us down with it
We can and should operate as if we were independent
On the energy note -- A visitor has just pointed out that the LPG gas pipeline from Milford to
Gloucester was capacity designed to be a storage device more than a pipeline

I and many others want to invest in the future of Wales but we need the vehicles to be able to do it without everything being creamed off by Westminster, The Banks and outsiders

John Dixon said...

"the LPG gas pipeline from Milford to Gloucester was capacity designed to be a storage device"

LNG, I think. And I don't think it's liquid any longer in the pipeline. But the basic point is a good one.

In the days of town gas, they used to have gasholders in most towns which they filled when demand was low and emptied when demand was high. Natural Gas needs a similar storage capability.

Many years ago, a gas engineer told me that the original (and still extant) large pipeline across South Wales had been designed and built after planning permission was refused for large new tanks. The phrase he used was something along the lines of "they won't let us build a gas holder above ground, so we're building a long thin one underground". It's a very pragmatic response, and if we're going to continue using gas, it needs to be stored somewhere to smooth out peaks and troughs.

The question which you raise though applies here as it does to wind and tidal energy - how do we ensure that Wales benefits from schemes whose benefits extend well beyond our borders? (And it isn't an easy question to answer, because we also benefit from some schemes outwith our own borders, and it's the total picture which we need to consider.) But, it just so happens that energy, particularly renewable energy, is going to be one of the critical factors in the future, and Wales is well-blessed with resources in that field. I'm convinced that we have to exploit them - but we also need to ensure that we benefit from them.

maen_tramgwydd said...

One thing concerns me about Plaid's energy policy (on renewables). Wales doesn't control those resources and the income generated from them. Having a policy which centres on 'renewables' in those circumstances can lead not only to exploitation but almost an open invitation to exploitation, from which the people of Wales benefit little, if none at all.

It's a little bit like putting the cart before the horse.

The Scots have seen their oil exploited and 'wasted' by the UK over the last forty years. They are now waking up, rather late, to that fact.

Plaid hasn't exploited these energy (and water) resources sufficiently electorally in its drive for self-government.

John Dixon said...


I agree entirely that Wales not benefitting from the exploitation of our renewable resources is a serious issue. And I'd also agree that if we don't get control soon, it will be too late, and as with the resources of the past, the benefit will have flowed elsewhere.

There is a question, though, as to whether that's reason enough to oppose the exploitation of those resources in the meantime, and I don't think that question is quite so easy to answer. One of the reasons that we're not benefitting as much as we could and should be from employment in the manufacture of equipment is that Wales, and the UK, is seen as being at best lukewarm on the technologies. Those looking for a place to invest in manufacturing capacity are more likely to do so where they think that there might be a greater welcome. In that sense, there is a danger that the opposition actually makes the flow of benefit out of Wales even more likely.