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Future of renewable energy infrastructure debated at Senedd

James Evans, Senedd Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, was granted time for a short debate on Wednesday 17 April to raise awareness of the impact large-scale renewable energy infrastructure can have on rural communities.

James Evans robustly outlined his concerns about the proposals in his constituency and beyond for wind farms and the steel pylon infrastructure proposed to accompany them, paying particular attention to the rural economy underpinned by the tourism sector. He said:

“With one in seven jobs in Wales dependent on tourism, this sector is a major contributor to the rural economy. Tourism is key in many rural parts of Wales, providing much-needed jobs, supplementing farm incomes, and bringing money into communities that keep businesses viable. When the draw for tourists is the natural beauty and aesthetics and the tranquillity, it is clear that large-scale wind turbine developments and pylons will adversely affect and impact these areas. It will impact jobs and local businesses and all those industries associated in the rural economy.”

Short debates are typically only granted ten minutes of Senedd time with further time given to the Minister to respond and so, despite time being tight, James Evans MS gave time to several Senedd Members, namely Cefin Campbell SM, Russell George SM, Sam Kurtz SM, Janet Finch-Saunders SM and Rhun ap Iorwerth SM, who all supported the debate with their concerns and observations on the future of renewable energy in Wales.

In 2023 Bute Energy under their GreenGEN banner proposed a route of pylons from the Radnor Forest to Carmarthen prompting a campaign by the Countryside Alliance calling for the undergrounding of electricity cables to be the way forward in Wales, a position that was shared by Welsh Government and is indeed their default policy. The “GreenGEN Towy Usk” project is now out to its second consultation (which closes on the 8 May,) but disappointingly, they haven’t listened to the public and have only undergrounded a minute stretch of the line near the National Botanical Gardens of Wales. This does however demonstrate that undergrounding this 132kV cable is entirely possible.

The Countryside Alliance along with hundreds of other stakeholders, including energy providers, the Welsh Government and politicians attended a ploughing demonstration day in Carmarthenshire by Welsh firm ATP who demonstrated they could deliver on the undergrounding of electricity cables. The capability of the plough was demonstrated on land that had seen rain since July of 2023 and on one of the wettest days in April yet it left barely a mark on the land. Not only does this mean that the countryside would not be blighted by pylons but it will also be done a lot faster, meeting the Welsh Government’s own targets.

Cable plough_Rachel Evans_April 2024_FullSize_640x480px

Answering the debate Cabinet Secretary for Energy Jeremy Miles said:

“We all understand that we need to move to a low-carbon energy system if we are to achieve our net-zero targets. We've also been clear that we want to see the profits and benefits remaining in Wales in order to ensure that transition is fair and that it strengthens the economy, creates jobs, and supports social change in our communities.”

He went on to say:

“I recognise that renewable energy and connecting infrastructure proposals, and, in particular, as discussed today, the resulting landscape change, can, of course, be controversial and they require careful consideration. I want to assure you that the planning process for the determination of such projects is rigorous, robust, transparent, and, critically, affords opportunities for extensive examination of the issues raised by local communities. We understand and appreciate that communities near emerging development proposals, especially where proposals are for large-scale schemes such as windfarms and transmission infrastructure, can be seriously concerned by the scale and the nature of these schemes. Communities will be heard and decisions will be made balancing the climate emergency and the needs of communities for the long term, ensuring that projects for today are built for future generations as well.”

The Countryside Alliance has requested a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Miles to discuss the impact this proposal has on the Welsh countryside amongst other things.

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