Watch here as I discuss with the First Minister the potential of the Celtic Sea off-shore wind proposals for helping us achieve energy security and a zero-carbon future.
But we need to learn lessons from the past, including the need to have greater investment in our electricity grid across Wales.
Wales deserves it’s fair share of grid investment so that we can bring this energy onshore here.
Huw Irranca-Davies MS
I thank Sam for bringing this question forward, because the potential here in the Celtic sea is, of course, for west Wales, and for the whole of the south Wales seaboard as well, in terms of manufacturing, supply chain, and so on. And we have to have that rigorous consenting regime as well, to make sure this works. But, can I ask you, First Minister—? Learning from the past is important within this. We need the right port infrastructure, and, indeed, it would be great to see two bids going through from Wales as well. We need those local grid connections to actually bring this onshore, but what we’ve learned from previous iterations is that we need the National Grid to be strengthened as well. So, could I ask you what discussions you’re going to have with the UK Government and the regulator about strengthening the market signals that say we must have this investment—Wales deserves its fair share of investment in the grid as well. We can do so much on our own, but we need the UK to step up as well.
Well, Llywydd, I think they’re two very important points made there by Huw Irranca-Davies. We do need to learn the lessons of previous renewables. There is still no offshore wind industrial strategy out of the UK Government, despite the fact that we have been calling for one, and others in the industry have been calling for one. We do have concerns that, in the reliance on competitive processes to drive down the cost of projects, that will result in the cheapest supply chain solutions, rather than investing in the long-term value, which is to be had there for Wales by making sure not only that energy is produced in the Celtic sea, but that everything that goes into that has a local supply chain, creating jobs in the process.
As to the grid, I sometimes think, Llywydd, because it is called the National Grid, that people don’t realise that this is a private company, listed on the stock market, distributing £1 billion every year in dividends to shareholders. Indeed, it distributed £4.5 billion in 2017 alone, directly into the hands of shareholders, when we know that there is not enough investment going into the vital connections that the grid provides. When I was in Ireland in the autumn, Llywydd, I took part in a round-table discussion with the foreign Minister of the Irish Government and developers interested in the Celtic sea from the Irish perspective as well. I was struck by what a major developer said there—that their greatest fear was that they would bring the energy all the way to the beach and then there would be nothing that you could do with it, because there would be no connection into the grid.
I saw an article just this week by Molly Scott Cato, the Green economist, saying that there are almost 700 renewable energy projects on hold across the United Kingdom, waiting for the National Grid to find them capacity. Well, my own preference would be to bring the National Grid under public control so that it was run in the public interest and where there was no leakage into private profit of the resources of that company. In the meantime, we work with the company and with others here in Wales. We were glad to see, last year, a move towards anticipatory demand in the grid system, glad to see that the latest energy Minister at the UK Government says that improving the grid is his top priority, in all his responsibilities. There is undoubtedly a need for a step change in making sure that the grid is fit not just for today, but for the future, so that when we put the Celtic sea to work, in the way that Sam Kurtz said in his original question, there will be the infrastructure there to take up the energy that will be produced.