The unambitious plans of Simon Thomas

I was catching up with a bit of news today and noticed that Simon Thomas had made a speech about renewable energy at the National Eisteddfod last week. The details are here:


     Galw am Gymru 'hunangynhaliol' erbyn 2030

Put it through Google translate if you need to, but in essence he was calling for Wales to be self-sufficient in electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

As I explained in this post last month, Wales is already on course to produce more than all the electricity we need from renewable sources long before 2030. We will reach that milestone when the Round 3 windfarms off the coast of Wales in the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea are operational. The Atlantic Array in the Bristol Channel is set for completion in 2016; the windfarms in the Irish Sea zone are a little further behind, but I would guess they'll be producing electricity by 2020.

The energy plans of the previous Welsh Government, outlined in March 2010, were:

Based on Wales’ natural advantages in areas such as wind and marine renewable resources, our aim will be to renewably generate up to twice as much electricity annually by 2025 as we use today.

A Low Carbon Revolution, March 2010

OK, maybe "up to" twice is a little vaguer than I'd like, but the target is still a lot more ambitious than what Simon is calling for. Is he even aware that this target exists, and that it was Plaid Cymru and Labour together that set it?

And to cap it all, even the Tories have more ambitious plans for renewable energy production in Wales than Simon does. Their manifesto for the Assembly elections in May said they:

... aim to produce 100% of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. We will aim to achieve 70% delivery by 2020.

Welsh Conservative Manifesto, 2011

But to be honest, I really don't think the Tories understood what they were promising. In rough terms electricity accounts for about a third of the total energy we consume. They probably meant 100% of our electricity needs by 2025, rather than our total energy needs. But even so, this is still more than Simon is calling for.

Bless you, Simon, but you need to be much more on the ball than this. Wales has huge renewable energy resources, and exporting the electricity we don't need will earn us huge revenues if we have control over them. You're right about that, but these resources are being developed much more quickly than you think.

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Anonymous said...

Good post. It is how we set about monetizing those electricity exports for the benefit of our people that needs to be brought to the forefront of political debate in Wales.Good post. It is how we set about monetizing those electricity exports for the benefit of our people that needs to be brought to the forefront of political debate in Wales.

Anonymous said...

Another reason why Simon Thomas cannot be the next leader of Plaid. No vision, no ambition.

Anonymous said...

Is Wales currently producing electricity from non-renewable resources? If so, how and where? And will these be brought to an end once we reach the 100% renewable target? After all, creating more and more renewable energy isn't going to make any difference to the planet - only reduding energy created from non-renewable sources will do that.

Iwan Rhys

Anonymous said...

I thought that Simon would be our best hope out of the Assembly crew?

WHEN wales becomes wholly renewable; what will happen to electricity prices? will they go dramatically down to cover the cost of just servicing and maintaining the network?

MH said...

No politician can be expected to know everything about every subject, so it's unfair to say that not knowing this somehow disqualifies him, Anon. Knowing where to find the answer is as good as having the answer at your fingertips. He should have checked before saying it, or got a researcher to do it.


The majority of Wales electricity comes from non-renewables, Iwan. Big sources are nuclear at Wylfa; coal at Aberthaw and Uskmouth; and about half a dozen gas fired power stations, including one just completed at Uskmouth and one under construction at Pembroke.

Wylfa is already operating past its closure date. The coal fired plants need to be put out of their misery, but the situation is complicated by some of the coal being mined in Wales, so I can imagine them dragging on and on. Gas at least is slightly cleaner than coal. I think we should shut down nuclear and coal as soon as possible. As the share generated by renewables increases, the gas fired capacity we have should be used less, switching from operating it as baseload to operating it in load-following and back-up mode. We in Wales have no need for nuclear, nor does Scotland. England doesn't have the same level of renewable resources relative to the size of its population, so the new nuclear power stations the UK government wants will service England's needs only, and should therefore be in England.

We will get to generating more than all the electricity we need from renewables from projects already planned, mostly wind. To reach the target of producing twice as much, we need to invest in tidal energy. Bear in mind that we be shifting from other energy sources to electricity with the electrification of railways, trams, increased use of electric cars, etc. So even if we waste less electricity (which of course we should) our overall need for it isn't going to go down by much.


As for price, prices are not likely to come down any time soon, especially because we operate in market shared with England and increasingly with other countries. The real question is who makes the profits ... and how they are taxed, for in this way Wales would get a revenue in the same way as the UK government does from private companies extracting oil and gas from the North Sea.

But in the long term, the cost of producing electricity will go down if we choose the right way to generate it. In particular, tidal range projects will initially cost a lot to build, but will generate very cheap electricity for at least a hundred years afterwards. Other renewables, like wind, have a higher maintenance cost relative to output; but will become relatively cheaper as the cost of fuel keeps rising.

Anonymous said...

Renewable can never provide 100% of electricity requirements. Why? The wind doesn't always blow when you need it to, and solar produces next to nothing in the winter evenings when demand is highest. Tidal is better, but even in Wales it is finite in its potential.

Nuclear has to play a part in any rational plan for keeping the lights on. The panic following fukushima has been driven by uninformed mass hysteria. Even counting 3 mile island and Chernobyl, nuclear is still 4,000 times safer than coal per unit of energy.

Fukushima was a first generation installation that was being used long beyond its design life. The other reactors in Japan, hit by the same earthquake and tsunami (one of them right next door to the dangerous one), closed themselves down (passively - no human intervention or external power required) and are now operating again. They are more modern devices.

The prospect of using Thorium as a fuel in liquid salt reactors, for the next generation, promises free(ish) electricity for thousands of years, safely and at low capital costs. That is the way we should be looking, not more wind-mills. And they burn and render safe the currently problematic stockpile of nuclear waste. No downsides except for political will and requisite development money.

Anonymous said...

I think Syniadau you should check the Plaid Cymru manifesto 2011 p.49 - the manifesto all the Assembly group were elected on:
"In the next Government, Plaid will aim to make Wales self-sufficient in renewable electricity by 2030. This will be a major boost to the Welsh economy and will bring clear benefits to local communities."
I think your problem is with the party not being as ambitious not individual Assembly Members.

Anonymous said...

- that's 400,000% safer! And that's before the effects of global warming is taken into account.

It's safer even than Wind, Solar, even Hydro. Surely a no-brainer?

MH said...

So what about hydro, pumped hydro, biomass, methane from anerobic digestion, and hydrogen from plasma gassification and electrolysis?

We don't need nuclear for any reason, Siônnyn. Other countries might, and that's fine by me so long as Wales doesn't have the problem and cost of building them, operating them or dealing with their waste for hundreds if not thousands of years to come. It's not really about safety, it's about how much that safety costs.

MH said...

Yes, 16:20, I know. The Plaid manifesto was particularly poor on energy. What on earth is the point of promising something less than is going to be achieved anyway?

But I think you haven't properly identified the problem. The problem isn't the party, it's that certain sections within the party leadership are taking it upon themselves to try and water down or reverse what the party stands for. Not just with statements like the one you've quoted, or with its failure to even mention Plaid's policy on nuclear as I noted here, but to even go so far as to state that the party's policy is exactly opposite to what conference decided, as Elfyn Llwyd did here.

Now I must admit that I had put what Simon said in his speech down to simple ignorance of the subject, and I would still like to give him the benefit of any doubt. Yet he was at one time given the main responsibility for putting that manifesto together, and therefore might actually be responsible for what it did and didn't say on energy. If so, that is a much more serious failing, and one which would in my opinion disqualify him from being an acceptable leader of the party. The last thing we need is a leader who ignores the party because he thinks he knows better.

Glyndo said...

"The last thing we need is a leader who ignores the party because he thinks he knows better."

That would disqualify more that just Simon.

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