TAN 8 and devolving energy to Wales

After I wrote my previous post regarding the extent of onshore wind developments in Wales, Carwyn Jones made a written statement on the subject. As always, it's best to read the statement itself rather than the way it was reported:

     Written Statement - Planning for Renewable Energy in Wales

The reaction to this statement from some quarters took me a little by surprise. For example Glyn Davies, one of the most prominent voices against wind power, was reported as saying it was "hugely welcome news - it's all I could have hoped for." One thing I have learned, for example in this post and the subsequent comments, is that Glyn doesn't really have much idea of what he's talking about when it comes to wind energy. It appears to me that he has jumped on a bandwagon, and having found himself to be unable to handle the ride, wants to get off quickly by claiming some sort of victory without actually getting what he'd wanted.

In the most basic terms, what Carwyn has done is state that the indicative capacity figures contained in TAN 8 should be considered as maximums. This is the relevant table:

Indicative Capacity targets for Strategic Search Areas

A  Clocaenog Forest ... 140 MW
B  Carno North ... 290 MW
C  Newtown South ... 70 MW
D  Nant-y-Moch ... 140 MW
E  Pontardawe ... 100 MW
F  Coed Morgannwg ... 290 MW
G  Brechfa Forest ... 90 MW

Total ... 1,120 MW

TAN 8, Table 1

To put things into perspective, the total onshore wind capacity in Wales is currently 376 MW. So TAN 8 still envisages us tripling the amount of onshore wind farm capacity in Wales from its present level.

Now I trust it is obvious from what I've written on the subject that I am in favour of wind power. I believe we should aim to produce the energy we need in Wales from renewable sources, and wind can and should play a major part in meeting this need. For me, the biggest problem with TAN 8 is that it got the balance between onshore and offshore wind wrong. The target it set was that there should be 1000 MW of additional wind generating capacity in Wales by 2010: 800 MW additional onshore and 200 MW additional offshore.

I don't want to be too critical of the decision, for it was based on decent research and evaluation that reflected the best understanding at the time. If anyone wants to read it all, it's here:

     Facilitating Planning for Renewable Energy in Wales: Meeting the Target
     ARUP Final Report of August 2004

However it has since become obvious that the economics of offshore wind power (not least through increasing the ROC tariff to 2 per MWh) mean that offshore wind is going to expand much more quickly than was anticipated only six or seven years ago. As the total amount wind energy we can put into the grid system while at the same time keeping it stable (given the way we currently operate it, and without developing more storage in the form of pumped hydro or hydrogen) is somewhere in the region of 30%, it does not make sense to put too much of this on land if there are already plans to build windfarms out at sea.

For Wales, these plans are well advanced. We have two operating offshore windfarms at North Hoyle (60 MW) and Rhyl Flats (90 MW) and the much larger windfarm at Gwynt y Môr (576 MW) is due for completion in 2014. These are shown on the map below:


Together these have a capacity of 726 MW and should produce 2.4 TWh of electricity a year, assuming a 35% capacity factor for the smaller two and 38% for Gwynt y Môr which is further out to sea and will use bigger, more efficient turbines. But Round 3 of offshore wind development includes the Irish Sea Zone which will bring about 3,715 MW ashore to Wales, roughly the proportion of the zone which is in Welsh waters.


At the same 38% capacity factor (although I suspect it will be more like 40% in practice) the windfarms in this zone will produce 12.4 TWh of electricity a year. This will mean that north Wales will be producing 14.8 TWh of electricity a year from offshore wind. [Note: Click to display, click again to hide]

We can also add the electricity that will be produced from the Bristol Channel Zone:


The plans for this Zone are more advanced, and we can read about what RWE are calling the Atlantic Array here. It will have a capacity of 1,500 MW and about a third of the area they are planning to develop will be in Welsh waters. This 500 MW will produce about 1.7 TWh of electricity a year at 38%.


Now let's add up the figures. Wales will, by about 2020, be producing something like 16.7 TWh of electricity a year from offshore wind. But the total consumption of electricity in Wales is currently only about 20 TWh. So the share from wind will equate to roughly 80% of all the electricity we use; domestic, industrial and commercial.

With figures of this magnitude, the amount of electricity we produce from onshore wind pales by comparison. Let's say we did go ahead and build onshore windfarms up to the installed capacity figures in TAN 8. That 1,120 MW would, at a capacity factor of 26%, produce 2.6 TWh of electricity a year. 2.6 TWh a year is by no means insignificant, and would be an acceptable way of producing renewable electricity if we had no other options. But we do have other options.

Adding offshore and onshore wind energy together, we will be producing some 18.3 TWh of electricity a year from wind, which equates to over 90% of our current needs. This is terribly unbalanced, and can only be sustainable in the current generating environment by having a large neighbour that generates much less electricity from wind than we do. To put this in perspective, this report shows that Denmark only generates 24% of its electricity from wind, Portugal and Spain 14%, Ireland, 10.1% and Germany 9.4%.


For this reason, I think that the target for onshore wind in Wales as set out in TAN 8 needs to be revised. Even though I think the arguments used against wind power are often overstated, and even though I don't object to any of the windfarms built so far in Wales, it is obviously better for us to switch the emphasis to offshore generation.

Obviously any figure I pick will be arbitrary, but it seems to me that it would be better to double the amount of onshore capacity in Wales than to triple it. That will leave opportunity for appropriately sized and sited windfarms and, as I suggested in my previous post, such smaller scale windfarms would be perfectly suited to be at least partly (if not fully) owned by the communities close to where they are located.


I now want to move on to the second aspect of Carwyn Jones' statement. It said:

In our view the TAN 8 capacities should be regarded as upper limits and we call upon UK Government to respect this position when they finalise the Renewable Energy National Policy Statement and to not allow proliferation when they take decisions on individual projects in Wales.

It is this overcapacity which has led to proposals for major new overhead grid infrastructure. We contend that the level of capacity within the Strategic Search Areas which we set in 2005 would negate the need for the large obtrusive pylons which are causing such concern. My Government would not support the construction of large pylons in Mid Wales and my Ministers are pressing this case with National Grid Transmission and with Ofgem.

It has always been our position, as set out in our Energy Policy Statement that such connections should be delivered by less intrusive techniques, and as sensitively as possible, including the use of undergrounding. In cases where communities get the disbenefits of major infrastructure without the economic advantages high voltage power brings to city areas, we believe a new approach must be taken to the undergrounding of high voltage power lines.

I think there is quite an element of doublespeak in the sentence I highlighted. If he is saying that the TAN 8 figures were chosen to keep them below the level that would require substantial improvements to the distribution infrastructure, I would find that hard to justify from the information in the Arup reports (Appendix C in particular). It appears to me to be a retrospective justification which was not part of his thinking (for Carwyn Jones was the minister responsible for TAN 8) at the time. If however he is simply talking about whether any improvements are by means of "large obtrusive pylons" or by less intrusive means such as undergrounding, then he is not actually saying anything at all. Any amount of capacity could be linked to the existing distribution infrastructure by underground cable ... it would just be a bigger cable.

So it again surprises me that Glyn Davies now suggests he would be satisfied (though surprised) if a windfarm could be connected by means of 132kV cable rather than 400kV cable. Here is an example of two 132kV cable routes side by side, and I don't think many people would be able to tell the difference between one of these and a route carrying 400kV cables.


The point that matters more is the distinction between the National Grid and the power distribution companies. Generally speaking National Grid operates a network at 400kV and 275kV. 132kV is the next voltage step down, but is usually operated and maintained by the power distribution companies rather than National Grid. Generally speaking, it is easier and cheaper for a windfarm operator to connect to the distribution network rather than to the National Grid. According to Appendix C in the Arup report, a windfarm with an installed capacity of 100 MW can be connected to the distribution network at 132kV, and smaller ones of 20-25 MW at 33 or 66kV.


As can be seen on the map above (taken from this post) the National Grid in Wales has two main spurs, one in north and one in south Wales, but with no interconnexion between them. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that each is in a separate power distribution company area, giving no real incentive for any north-south interconnexion. It isn't too much of an exaggeration to say that both Scottish Power in the north and Western Power Distribution in the south both stretch themselves to get robust supplies into mid Wales from either direction.

It is impossible to devise an integrated energy strategy for Wales without addressing this, and this is in part why energy is not devolved to Wales as it is to Scotland. But we can solve both the physical and the political problem with better north-south interconnexions. This would allow electricity generated in mid Wales to feed into the distribution network both northwards and southwards, and therefore avoid the necessity to extend the National Grid into mid Wales at 400kV.


This means that fighting for energy to be devolved to Wales will reduce the necessity for 400kV cables between mid Wales and England. Surely that's a win-win situation for everybody in Wales. Of course if the Labour party had shown even the slightest degree of foresight, they would have devolved energy to Wales when they were in power at Westminster. But Carwyn Jones' late conversion to devolving this responsibility to Wales is surely better than him or his party not having been converted at all.

From this report yesterday, it looks like it won't be easy to win this responsibility in the face of an intransigent Westminster government that is much more concerned about Wales supplying electricity to England than Wales' own energy needs. But if Carwyn really is serious (and I do wonder whether he is just posturing, claiming to want something he suspects will be refused simply in order to be able to point the finger of blame at the Tories for refusing it) he will have wide support from across the political spectrum in Wales.

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Anonymous said...

I was travelling past Llandudno last week on a fairly windy day- to my surprise the offshore wind turbines were totally still. Can you tell me why? I've heard reports that companies are paying people to stop the turbines from moving; as it costs them so much money to pay for green energy (I think if there is green electric around, they must take that first and must pay x3 more for it than via dirty ones).

So is is just me, or does the wind thing all seem like a con?

Anonymous said...

So, another U-Turn by Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour.

Carwyn once again saying his manifesto wasn't worth the paper it was written on, that Labour have been wrong in the Govt of Wales Act 2006 and that PLAID CYMRU WERE RIGHT.

Labour - U Turn
Labour were wrong, Plaid were right.

Anonymous said...

Not surprised to see BBC Wales have swallowed the Labour party spin again.

Labour go against their own Govt of Wales Act, go against own manifesto of less than two months ago, so why isn't that called a U-Turn when any change the ConDem make in London is.

The story is Labour were sleeping for 13 years. The messed up the UK economy and in Wales didn't make the Assembly powerful enough. They're now running a series of U-Turns, basically admitting that Plaid were right on Energy, Crown Estate and Borrowing ... BBC Wales - Welsh Labour don't run the story.

Another Labour U-Turn.

Plaid Whitegate said...

Great post Syniadau - control of water and energy supply is vital for Wales and the colonial nature of the energy connection highlights why we need to sort this out sooner rather than later.
The great unmentioned is the need for local grids and small-scale power stations to maximise energy efficiency rather than losing half the supply en route to England.

Lyndon said...

At least a few words addressing the economics of this would be nice. How much will this electricity cost per kwh? It hardly benefits us to be producing the most expensive electricity in the world.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't an independent Welsh government have to subsidise electricity generated from wind before we could sell it to England at market rates?

Anonymous said...

Superb post! At last some enlightenment for those of us who don't follow these things closely but need to be able to follow the debates. Diolch!

Anonymous said...

"Wouldn't an independent Welsh government have to subsidise electricity generated from wind before we could sell it to England at market rates?"

This is true. An independent Welsh Government would also be able to raise and borrow money to fund that subsidy, hopefully not to the same extent as the independent British Government (which is "too poor to be independent") current has to borrow astronomically vast sums to meet its spending commitments.

The elephant in the room when discussing the viability of a Welsh state is that the British state we are in now is not viable.

MH said...

Thanks for the comments, and sorry for taking a while to address them.

So far as Carwyn is concerned. Yes. it's obviously a U-turn and we should of course remind people about that, just as we should with the other things that Labour have U-turned on. But we have to be careful to distinguish between criticizing politicians for any U-turn that they make (which all parties are much too prone to do) and praising them for making the right U-turn. As someone once said, there's more joy over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine than don't need to. Praising Labour for finally coming round might encourage them to come round on some of the other things they've got wrong.

Is it a posture? Well of course it is; he is primarily playing party politics, and the only way Labour know how to do politics is to blame the Tories.

But the more important question is whether energy will be devolved. I think it largely depends on how loudly we shout for it, and that all parties in Wales do it together. The ConDem coalition in Westminster won't listen to Carwyn on his own, but it's worth remembering that the Tories and LibDems in Wales want to see energy devolved to Wales, either in full or with a higher limit, as I noted in this post. See what Angela Burns had to say in the first video.

But even if the current Westminster government remains intransigent, Labour will now find it impossible to go back on this commitment, meaning that they will be obliged to deliver it when they get back into power at Westminster. The only problem is that it might take a lot longer than they expect.

MH said...

Turning now to financial matters, it is wrong to suggest that we would be producing the most expensive electricity in the world or that an independent Wales would have difficulty exporting electricity to other countries, particularly England.

We operate in a European context, in which we and all our neighbours are in the EU. All members of the EU have committed themselves to greater production through renewables, even though each country operates its own particular way of subsidizing different renewable energy technologies.

The UK has chosen to do it by means of Renewables Obligation Certificates. But these work in a way that passes the cost to the consumer, therefore exporting renewable energy to England means that consumers in England will pay the subsidy for that exported electricity through their supplier.

It is particularly worth noting that this system operates differently in Scotland and NI from the way it does in "England&Wales". For example, under the Scottish ROC scheme they have used their powers to increase the ROC tariff for tidal energy to 3 ROCs per MWh and 5 ROCs per MWh for wave energy. This obviously provides a greater incentive for these technologies to be developed in Scotland.

One of the big criticisms of Westminster's energy policy (and indeed Wales' energy policy) is that it puts too much emphasis on wind and not enough emphasis on tide and wave energy. If energy was devolved to Wales, we would be able to do the same as Scotland, or more, and this might be the key to actually getting tidal lagoons up and running rather than just talking about it endlessly.

In perspective, we need to bear in mind that the subsidies that we provide for renewables serve two purposes. First to enable new technologies to be developed; and second to take account of the fact that although fossil fuel power plants are cheap to operate in simple financial terms, they become much more expensive to run when the cost of the pollution and CO2 they produce is taken into account. As yet (though we're working on it) we are not charging power generators for their emissions, so subsidizing renewables is a way of achieving the same goal, but the other way round.

In the long term, fossil fuel prices are going to keep rising. By moving to a position were we get all our energy from renewables we give ourselves ourselves a huge advantage. More of an advantage than the UK got from North Sea oil and gas, because it will be on a permanent basis.

Our renewable energy resources are one of the keys to independence. One of the reasons for all the facts and figures in this post was to show just how large just one part of those renewable resources is.

John Dixon said...

One small point strikes me. As I understand it, what Carwyn Jones (and indeed the other parties, by and large) are actually asking for is the devolution of powers over planning consent in relation to energy projects. That's not the same thing as energy policy, is it? It seems to be asking for the power to reject unpopular proposals without the responsibility for securing energy supplies.

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