It is hard to argue with the sentiment behind the Welsh Government energy policy set out in A Smarter Energy Future for Wales. But in practice it has all the urgency of an elderly couple out for a Sunday afternoon stroll.
Launching the policy, Alun Ffred Jones AM, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee said:
“Limiting future climate change by radically reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere is one of the greatest challenges faced globally, and yet addressing this challenge also presents opportunities to significantly enhance the well-being of current and future generations.”
Unfortunately, by setting a date of 2050 to implement the policy, Wales will be about 30 years too late; with the internationally agreed limit of 1.5 degrees of warming likely to be passed in just four years’ time, Wales needs to act yesterday.
In truth, climate change is the lesser of the two threats facing Wales. This is because the most likely – unforeseen – consequence of UK government energy “policy” is that Britain will be the first zero-carbon country in Europe… and not in a good way! The closure of the remaining coal fired power stations is gathering pace; not least because energy companies have little incentive to continue maintaining them, knowing that they will soon close anyway. Osborne’s version of the Taj Mahal in North Somerset looks unlikely to ever secure sufficient capital investment to make it work. Engineers point out that Britain lacks the skills and resources to build anywhere near the number of gas fired power stations required. Even if some new gas power stations are built, the experience of hydraulic fracturing elsewhere in Europe suggests that the UK will be hard pressed to deliver any economically viable shale gas to run them. So by 2025, there is every chance that Britain will be left with a handful of aging – and presumably increasingly risky – nukes, the current fleet of gas power stations, and the inadequate handful of wind and solar farms that the Nimbys were unable to stop.
The real crisis facing Wales – the one so dramatically exposed with the loss of 750 jobs at Tata Steel – is the coming energy crunch. The solution to it is, in fact, the same one set out in A Smarter Energy Future for Wales. The only difference is that we need urgent action; taking advantage of today’s historically low interest rates and the current oversupply of oil to deploy a new renewable energy and energy storage infrastructure, together with an energy-efficient economy by 2025.
With energy security barely getting a mention, while health and education are shaping up to be the big issues in the Welsh Election in May, we might perhaps want to ask candidates whether they think it is going to be possible to run our schools and hospitals without electricity.