Yes it's bright, but don't be dazzled

Quite a lot was made in the news yesterday of what was reported to be the first solar farm to be built without requiring any public subsidy.

Obviously the companies concerned reveled in all the publicity they could get. And the UK Government were there too. Fairly obviously, the subliminal message they wanted to get across was that if this solar farm didn't need any subsidy, neither would any other.

But if that were true, we would expect hundreds, if not thousands, of new applications for subsidy-free solar farms to be in the pipeline.


I had to read through quite a number of reports before I found what made this solar farm special. This is from the Financial Times:

The Clayhill farm has been built near the town of Flitwick next to an existing solar project which did, however, benefit from a subsidy under the renewables obligation mechanism. Analysts said basing new projects next to existing schemes was crucial to drive down costs.

“That makes a big difference because obviously a lot of the common infrastructure you need is already in place,” said Peter Atherton, a consultant for Cornwall Energy, a consultancy, said.

Financial Times - 26 September 2017

What this means is that subsidies are still needed for solar PV farms, but that the costs are coming down, at least to the extent that subsidy for the original solar farm can now be stretched to cover both it and this second adjacent development.

We should also remember that all new power generation requires subsidy in some form, including gas. But what's happening with renewables is that the cost of solar PV is coming down in a similar way to the way that the cost of wind power is coming down, see here.

The future of our generating needs is clearly in renewables. We just need the UK government not to cut off the subsidies that renewables still need in order to be constructed ... and certainly not while they are still saying they want to pour far larger subsidies into non-renewables like nuclear power.

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A Catalogue of Repression in Catalunya

For any who are interested, this article by Dick Nichols provides a fairly comprehensive report of what the Spanish government is trying to do to prevent the independence referendum in Catalunya on 1 October, now less than a week away.

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What action and by whom?

I was disappointed by Leanne Wood's reaction to today's announcement that the Welsh Government is setting up a commission under John Thomas, the retiring Lord Chief Justice, to look at justice in Wales, and in particular the need for Wales to be a separate or distinct legal jurisdiction. She said the Welsh Government was

"... in danger of talking Wales to sleep with endless commissions".

"Plaid Cymru has argued for many years that Wales should be granted control over its own legal system. The case in favour of devolving policing, probation and justice is already overwhelming. The support of the legal profession for these changes is also growing and their expertise should be heeded. We need action, not another talking shop."

BBC - 18 September 2017

That's all very well, but who does she expect to take what action?

I'm sure she intends to imply that Welsh Labour don't have a policy position on this, but they do. In March 2016, when the Tories were busy pushing through the Wales Bill, Labour published an alternative version which included the commitment to a distinct Welsh legal jurisdiction to be brought in by 2026.

So, if it were up to the National Assembly, Plaid and Labour could have voted this through last year. But of course it's not up to our Assembly, it's up to the UK Parliament in Westminster.

Carwyn Jones then managed to win a considerable internal victory by getting the UK Labour party to include this commitment in their manifesto for the general election in June this year, as I noted here. But, unfortunately, Labour didn't win that election.

So what action does Leanne expect? Clearly, the only ones at the moment who can give Wales what Plaid Cymru and Labour both want are the Tories, so all we can do prior to another Westminster election is put pressure on the Tories to change their mind.

The simple political reality is that the Tories in Westminster won't listen to either Labour or Plaid Cymru. So I find it hard to think of a better way of applying pressure than to get an undoubted legal heavyweight like John Thomas to chair a commission. It's a smart move. And for him personally, it will neatly fill in the gap between his retirement as Lord Chief Justice and becoming Chancellor of Aberystwyth University next year.

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Wylfa is completely dead

I have a big smile on my face today. I knew the auction figures for the next round of offshore wind farms would be low, but I didn't expect them to be as low as £57.50/MWh.


A lot of the reports today compare this with strike price of £92.50/MWh agreed for nuclear energy from Hinkley Point C ... apparently forgetting that this price was agreed some time time ago, and increases with inflation, so that the nuclear subsidy is, even now, closer to £100/MWh.

In short, anybody who still thinks nuclear is a good option needs their head examined. But I have no doubt that there'll still be some that do, especially those who have previously set out their stalls in favour of it. Of course those who work in the nuclear industry will claim that nuclear is still necessary. I agree with them completely when they say that we need to generate electricity from a range of sources because of the intermittency of wind, but why that range needs to include nuclear when there are so many better alternatives to include in any mix is beyond me.

The other group that will find it hard to change their minds are politicians. For those in Wales who wanted or expected Wylfa B to go ahead, my advice would be to let those expectations quietly fade. Politicians are stubborn creatures, and I think that it might be possible that Hinkley C progresses, simply to save face because contracts have been signed. However I think it will be subject to inevitable delays and increased costs, so I have doubts about whether it would ever be completed.

After that, we need to remind ourselves that the finance agreement with the Chinese put Sizewell and Bradwell next in the queue. So, at best, Wylfa B was only ever in fourth place, as I noted in this post a year ago. It would only ever have been built if the others had gone smoothly and, if our previous experience of nuclear projects has taught us anything, we know they won't.

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Five Things to Remember

I've been following the independence movement in Catalunya since 2009. My first post is here, and somehow I've managed to write another 60 posts on the subject since then.

Of course I'd be very flattered if anyone were to read them all, but there's a much more succinct way of understanding the situation. I've taken the liberty of reproducing this post by Vicent Partal, editor of VilaWeb, in full, because I think it gives a very good overview of the situation from the perspective of someone who supports independence for Catalunya.

Five Things to Remember


Given the transcendent nature of this moment, we thought it would be a good time to summarize how we arrived at this point and to explain the special nature of the decision that Catalan Parliament took yesterday.

1. Spain broke its own rules when the Constitutional Court nullified the 2006 statute of Autonomy

The origins of all that that we have experienced over the last several years can be found in the Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision to strike down key elements of the 2006 Catalan statute of autonomy. Today it is widely recognized that this amounted to a de facto coup against the constitution that broke the judicial balance established at the end of the Francoist era. The relation of power between Spanish centralism and the Catalan Autnomist Government was based on the so-called “two keys”. Should a Catalan desire to alter its regime of autonomy arise, Madrid held the “first key” of being able to demand that the new law pass through Madrid’s legal filters where it would be subject to alteration. Catalonia’s “second key” was the right, should changes be made in Madrid, to reject the altered statute through a referendum. The process was clear, transparent and balanced. One key furnished guarantees to Spain, the other to Catalonia. Each side had a voice in the process. However, the forced entry into the process of a “third key” that had never existed and that was invented by the Popular Party destroyed this constitutional balance and broke the existing conditions of coexistence. The responsibility for bringing us to where we are today lies squarely with the Spanish state which, through its unilateral actions, abolished the pact forged in the transition to democracy.

2. Spain has refused to engage in dialogue with Catalonia about independence or, for that matter, anything else

Catalonia does not have the right to impose secession upon Spain. Nor does Spain have the right to impose unity upon Catalonia. Should a conflict such as the one that is now being played out in the Principality of Catalonia arise, the only solution is negotiation, as the Supreme Court of Canada made clear in its opinion on the now widely celebrated referendum on the question of independence for Quebec.

Such a negotiation could have taken many forms and could have centered on many different aspects of the impasse. After the first September 11th (Catalan National Day) protests in 2012, the Catalan government proposed that the two sides engage in a renewed dialogue about fiscal matters and cultural rights. This proposal was not only rejected, but treated with open disdain. Catalan political forces have appealed on nearly twenty occasions for a negotiated solution to the celebration a referendum designed to clarify the true political will of the Catalan people. As is the case today, the party that has always refused to negotiate in the recent past has been Madrid. The Spanish state has consistently disdained the core democratic principle that disagreements should be resolved through good faith negotiations that respect the democratic expression of all political projects. This consistent pattern of disdain delegitimates the arguments of the Spanish government.

3. The people of Catalonia gave the Parliament of Catalonia a clear democratic mandate for a Proclamation of Independence

In elections held on the 27th of September 2015, the citizens of Catalonia awarded the proponents of a program to pursue a proclamation of independence an absolute majority of the seats in the Catalan Parliament. The fact that this result fell just short of 50% of the popular vote has led the members of the winning coalition to the conclusion that they should seek validate their program through that most democratic of methods: a referendum. It has always been hoped that this referendum would be sanctioned through negotiations with the Spanish state. However, this has been impossible to do. It is precisely this refusal on the part of the Spanish Government to negotiate anything that justifies, and imbues with legal force, the unilateral vote that the Catalan Parliament will hold tomorrow. There is currently no other way that the representatives in Parliament can give voice to the political desires the people of Catalonia.

4. International law provides a legal basis for both self-determination and unilateral secession

The right to self-determination of all peoples is an essential element of international legal doctrine. It is an absolute right that trumps national legislation, as is spelled out in the two 1966 UN conventions on human rights which the Spanish constitution recognizes as the supreme law of the land. The Parliament of Catalonia is thus able to legitimately invoke this general principle as the basis for the referendum. In addition, there is the decision of the International Court of Justice regarding Kosovo that definitively resolved two important matters. The first is that there is no provision in international law that invalidates the unilateral proclamation of independence of a territory. The second is that the principle of the inviolability of borders only applies to conflicts between states and thus cannot in any way be used to impede the secession of a part of a state.

5. Recent international practice has given explicit support to processes of national self-determination thus creating a norm characterized by the acceptance of new states within the international community

A few figures are worth bearing in mind. Since 1991, 53 sub-state entities, like Catalonia, have held referendums on self-determination. Of this total, 27 referendums were carried out in agreement with the states of which the entity seeking self-determination was then part. The other 26 were convened unilaterally. The Spanish state has recognized 26 of the 27 new states constituted in the world since 1991, the majority of which were proclaimed unilaterally. In fact, 7 states that today are part of the European Union were, in 1991, parts of other states and thus in situations quite similar to that of Catalonia today. These 7 European Union member states that were not independent in 1991 (Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic) were all created through unilateral mobilizations, and in 5 of those cases, through the specific modality of a unilateral referendum. All of them are recognized by Spain and are part of the European Union.

While the European Union has no provision spelling out what is to be done in the case of the secession of a part of a member state, there is a consistent practice when it comes to recognizing the results of referendums on self-determination. For example the EU took important decisions in response to the referendums of the Saar (1955), Greenland (1982) and Brexit (2016), and did not block the referendum in Scotland (2014). All of these referendums were held within the territory of the Union. And as we have seen, it accepted as member 7 states born of unilateral processes while also giving support to the practice of self-determination in cases such as that of Kosovo. This, in clear contradiction to Spain’s current posture in regard to Catalonia.

Summing up

If we have come to this point it is basically because of the legitimacy that the Catalan people bestowed on the Parliament of Catalonia in the September 27th, 2015 elections, and also, the legitimacy that the international community has bestowed upon the right of self-determination. But we have also arrived at this point as the result of the persistent delegitmation of the Spanish position, which flies in the face of international rules and practices as well as the provisions of its own constitution.

Now is the moment to take the next step, conscious both of the civic strength built up over the last decade, and the fact that the international community will react as it always has: by resolving a political problem that cannot be wished away through the deployment of legalistic maneuvering.

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Unstoppable Democracy

Here are two pictures from the Catalan Parliament yesterday. The first shows one side of the chamber rising to its feet to applaud the vote to hold a binding referendum on independence on 1 October.


From a different angle, the second shows what three of the opposition parties thought about it. They left just before the vote took place.


Walk outs aren't uncommon in politics. And even if the PP, PSC and Cs had all stayed and voted against, it wouldn't have made the slightest difference to the outcome of the vote.


This is the ballot paper, which asks "Do you want Catalunya to be an independent state in the form of a republic?"


So what happens next? The ball is in the Spanish Government's court. Of course they will denounce the vote, call it illegal, and get the Constitutional Court in Madrid to confirm their opinion. That's what they do every time ... and, just as every time before, the Catalan Government will take no notice and go ahead anyway. They have their own mandate from the 2015 election.

The real question is what the Spanish Government will do after that. If they try and arrest any politicians or public officials, they risk inflaming public opinion, resulting in more people being more determined to vote in the referendum. So I doubt that they'll do any more than issue warrants. They dare not attempt to enforce them.

Catalunya's National Day is on 11 September, only a few days away, so we can expect a couple of million people on the streets of Barcelona, most of whom will be carrying flags and banners supporting independence – just as has happened every year for the past five years or more. The only thing that might spoil the party is the very real threat of another terrorist attack.

So my guess is that the Spanish Government will leave it until the day of the vote. A lot will depend on the anticipated turnout. If it looks like being low, they will probably decide it is best to do nothing, and claim that the result is invalid because most people in Catalunya didn't vote. But if it is clear that a majority will vote, they will then either try and stop people voting, or try and seize the ballot boxes after people have voted. A few isolated incidents of disruption are almost certain to happen somewhere, though probably not by people in uniform.

If the disruption is organized and systematic, implemented either by the military or by the Spanish Guardia Civil (the police force in Catalonia, the Mossos d'Esquadra, is answerable to the Catalan authorities) then the Catalan government will declare independence anyway on the basis of their majority in Parliament. I think the Spanish authorities would be well advised not to try this. They are currently telling the media that this referendum is undemocratic, so they will look pretty stupid on the international stage if they are seen to either prevent people from voting or prevent their votes from being counted. Their best bet is to ignore the vote, and hope that the rest of the world ignores it too.


From the perspective of the Catalan Government, therefore, the only thing that will prevent them making a unilateral declaration of independence is if the result of the referendum is No. I don't think there is any political commentator who believes the vote will be anything other than a Yes. There's room for disagreement over the margin of victory and the turnout, but—provided the vote is not systematically disrupted by Spain—the result will be a Yes.

We must therefore prepare ourselves for an inevitable declaration of independence in the first week of October. The EU and the rest of the world will not be able to sit on the fence any longer.

But it really won't matter too much what the rest of the world thinks. The only question is whether Catalunya can operate as an independent state. The most critical institution for Catalunya to function as a independent state is now in place. After a few years of preparation, the new Catalan Tax Agency was set up only last week, so they are now able to collect taxes for themselves. Madrid will not be able to fiscally strangle an independent Catalunya by depriving it of the funds necessary for it to pay its police, teachers and the whole host of other public sector employees necessary for a state to operate.

Spain might try and close its border with Catalunya, but Catalunya will still have a land border with France, and it has its ports and airports. I have no doubt that things will be tough for a while ... but I doubt that it will be any tougher than life will be for people in the UK if and when it leaves the EU.

So what's left for Spain to do? Use their army to invade with troops and tanks? Use their navy to blockade the ports? Use their air force to bomb the airport runways? I'm sure Franco wouldn't have hesitated for a moment, but that was forty years ago, and western Europe is a completely different place today.

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