energy politics

Welsh wind power for Wales

The largest wind farm in Wales has 76 turbines and provides enough energy for a sixth of all Welsh households. It’s run by the company Vattenfall, and that’s an interesting firm. The name is the Swedish word for waterfall, as the roots of the company lie in the Royal Waterfalls Board, a state-owned agency that built hydroelectric power. The company was expanded in the 1970s to build nuclear power in Sweden, and it has since moved into renewable energy across Europe.

Vattenfall has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in Wales, but the profits from selling Welsh wind power leave the country. They go into the coffers of the Swedish state, which still owns Vattenfall. The biggest wind farm in Wales helps to pay for government services in Sweden.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does beg the question: if Sweden can benefit from the wind on Welsh hillsides, why can’t Wales?

That’s the observation the Welsh Climate Change Minister, Julie James, has made. In October she announced that Wales would set up a publicly owned renewable energy company as “a long-term sustainable investment that puts net zero and the communities of Wales at the heart of the transition we need.” This week there’s been a bit more detail about the public-private partnerships they envisage, and how it will support community wind power.

The company doesn’t exist yet, but it’s a good idea. And it’s in stark contrast to the Westminster government, which has been all over the place on wind and solar power, despises community energy, and can’t face up to its addiction to fossil fuels.

The approach that Wales is planning is one that others can use too. The beauty of renewable energy is the way that it democratised energy production. Regions and towns can take responsibility for their own energy. Local energy keeps money circulating in the economy, supporting local services and businesses. There’s nothing insular or protectionist about this – the sun shines on everyone. The wind blows. Why be dependent on someone else to provide something we could profit from ourselves?

We can’t necessarily see it yet, in a world still drawn to big infrastructure and expensive megaprojects, but the future lies in community energy and energy democracy. Places like Wales are going to get there first.

  • While we’re on the subject of energy in Wales, a shout-out to Morriston Hospital, the first in the UK to run on its own solar farm, and which has saved a million pounds in its first year.

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