Wales’s energy future

25 November 2016

Article by Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

The developed world is moving away from ‘dirty’ energy sources towards a more diverse energy mix. With new legislative powers and international agreements on climate change setting the scene, how will Wales respond to the challenge?

Limiting future climate change by radically reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere is one of the greatest global challenges.

The energy supply sector is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in Wales. If we are to meet international and domestic obligations on reducing emissions (see article on climate change), one way to move in the right direction is to relook at how energy is generated, supplied and transmitted. This is a key part of addressing the energy ‘trilemma’ of affordability, security and decarbonisation.

The Welsh context

The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 commits Wales to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The latest greenhouse gas inventory for Wales showed that energy supply constituted 42% of total 2013 greenhouse gas emissions. The main sources of emissions were power stations (76%) and oil refineries (16%).

If Wales is to transition to a cleaner, greener, sustainable energy future, there is consensus that renewable energy must play a greater part in the energy mix. The forthcoming Wales Bill is likely to give the Welsh Government further consenting powers over energy projects. At a time when there are many large energy projects on the horizon, some of which are the subject of much debate, the Fifth Assembly could mark a turning point in the approach to energy developments in Wales.

A question of balance

The current energy model in Wales comprises renewable and non-renewable sources. Reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable in the long term, and developing renewables for energy generation is necessary to meet EU and UK Government targets on greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure fuel security.

Wales is rich in natural resources, with geography and topography that lends itself to a wide range of renewable energy technologies. There are however differing views about the extent to which larger inward investment energy projects will be needed in future, or if diffused local projects, together with energy efficiency measures, will enable Wales to meet most of its energy needs.

The new Welsh Government will need to clarify how it will balance support for large-scale projects such as new nuclear developments, tidal lagoons, wind farms, grid enhancements and interconnectors, against more funding and support for local and community-led schemes such as micro hydro, biomass, solar and wind projects.

The legislative framework

Achieving the right future energy mix in Wales will be key to meeting the climate change commitments set out in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and to fulfilling the sustainable development ambitions of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 makes an important change by introducing a new category of planning permission for Developments of National Significance (DNS). The Welsh Government will in future directly decide on DNS applications for energy generation projects of between 10MW and 50MW. For onshore wind farms there is no upper MW limit due to recent legislative changes made in England.

The forthcoming Wales Bill is expected to give the Welsh Government powers to make decisions on all other large onshore and offshore energy projects up to 350MW, currently decided by the UK Government.

Previous Welsh Government action

The last Welsh Government set out its vision for energy in Energy Wales: A low carbon transition in 2012. In 2015 it issued Green Growth Wales: Local Energy outlining its approach to local energy. More recently, Carl Sargeant, the then Minister for Natural Resources, launched the Local energy service. The service aims to provide SMEs and social enterprises with technical and financial support to develop renewable energy projects.

Delivering energy transformation

The Fourth Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee conducted two large-scale inquiries into energy. The first, Energy Policy and Planning in Wales, considered how devolution arrangements for energy policy and planning affect the Welsh Government’s desired future ‘energy mix’. The Committee concluded that the energy sector is vitally important to Wales, and there is huge potential for developing renewables here.

The second, A Smarter Energy Future for Wales? built on this work. Its recommendations for the new Welsh Government included that:

  • the Welsh Government must demonstrate leadership, and policy should direct Wales towards meeting its domestic energy needs from renewable sources;
  • conserving energy, reducing demand and building regulations should be fundamental to change;
  • Wales should exploit opportunities to design innovative smarter places that integrate transport, energy and communications infrastructure, improve well-being and reduce carbon emissions;
  • retrofitting energy efficiency measures into existing housing stock has a crucial part to play, and Welsh Government schemes such as Nest and Arbed will be key to improvements;
  • a not-for-profit Energy Supply Company (ESCO) for Wales should be established; and
  • planning policy and decision-making should be aligned with any vision for future energy policy. National and local planning policy need to encourage reductions in carbon emissions.

The Committee’s view was that everyone in Wales shares responsibility for the transition to a smarter energy future. It highlighted that the legislative framework to make progress on reducing carbon emissions, encouraging local energy supply and increasing renewables supply is already in place. The Committee argued that within this conducive policy and legislative framework, and with impetus at all levels of government and across all sectors, Wales must ‘seize opportunities to transform its approach to energy now’.

Key sources

The future of passenger rail

16 June 2016

Article by Joseph.Champion, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

The new Welsh Government will take over as the franchising authority in time to appoint the next Wales and Borders rail operator in 2018. What are the main issues that need to be addressed?

Powers to award the next Wales and Borders rail franchise are due to be devolved to Wales from 2017. This means that the new Welsh Government will be able to procure the next operator for the largest rail franchise in Wales.

Randrew-Blog

Image Source: Welsh Government.

The Wales and Border franchise

The current Wales and Borders franchise will be operated by Arriva Trains Wales until 2018 (with an option to extend the current franchise for a short time if needed).

The previous Welsh Government ran a consultation in early 2016, Setting the Direction for Wales and Borders Rail. This called for views on the expectations for the service, and the specifications the future Wales and Border operator should meet. The document said that more detailed proposals would be developed based on the consultation’s outcome and wider engagement with the railway industry and the public.

The length of the next franchise is not yet clear, and there are mixed views on the right duration. A UK Government review has questioned the benefit of long franchises in incentivising investment and reducing risk, and cautioned against franchises of more than 15 years without break clauses. In contrast, the majority of respondents to the Fourth Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee’s inquiry into the Future of the Wales and Borders Rail Franchise thought that longer franchises would encourage greater investment.

There is also uncertainty about the future shape of the Wales and Border franchise. The UK Government has said that it will review cross-border services and that those primarily serving English markets are likely to be transferred to English franchises. This has caused concern because of the potential impact on passengers, who may have to change trains at the border. There are also concerns about the franchise’s affordability if the financially viable cross-border services are removed.

The UK Government’s Department for Transport told the Enterprise and Business Committee in September 2015 that the Welsh Government would not suffer financially as a result of any franchise remapping. How English services are defined is also unclear, as is the mechanism for compensating the Welsh Government for any losses arising from removing services from the franchise.

These uncertainties will need to be clarified quickly to address public concerns and to enable the new Welsh Government to move forward in procuring the new franchise.

Rail franchises with Welsh services

Aside from the Wales and Border franchise, three other franchises have services in Wales:

– South Wales to London and the south coast of England, operated by Great Western Railway;

– Holyhead to Birmingham or London, operated by Virgin Trains; and

– Cardiff to the English Midlands, operated by CrossCountry Trains.

Rail passenger traffic in Wales

In 2014-15, there were 29.3 million passenger journeys across all four rail franchises in Wales – 9.4 million more than in 2004-5. This growth is expected to continue, with Network Rail forecasting that commuter traffic into the Cardiff City Region will increase by 68% by 2023. The new Welsh Government will have to ensure that the next operator is able to deal with this increase in demand.

The Metro

The shape of the Welsh franchise will be influenced by the South Wales Metro project. The Metro is the previous Welsh Government’s project to ‘provide faster, more frequent and joined-up services using trains, buses and light rail.’ There is hope that by 2030 the Metro will support 7,000 jobs and contribute an additional £4bn to the economy.

Phase 1 of the Metro project included a range of road and rail improvements, including: extending the rail line to Ebbw Vale town centre and building a new station; enhancing capacity on the Maesteg rail line; and a new rail station at Pye Corner, Newport.

Phase 1 cost approximately £75 million and, as of 2016, its constituent projects are already complete or in progress. Phase 2 is scheduled for completion by 2023 and is estimated to cost about £500-600 million. It will focus on ‘modernising the core Valley Lines and the wider South Wales rail network’, particularly through electrification. It is still unclear whether heavy or light rail will be used on the Valley Lines. This decision will have an effect on the scale and scope of Phase 3, which will go beyond 2023.

The previous Welsh Government considered whether, as part of the Metro, the Valley Lines could be managed as a concession by a private company as part of the Wales and Borders franchise. It also discussed an innovative approach, whereby the Valleys Lines infrastructure could also be specified and operated by a concessionaire.

Rolling stock

The rolling stock used in the current Wales and Border franchise is widely considered to be poor and will require significant investment. By January 2020, rolling stock will also need to comply with new rules on disability access. In 2013, 73% of Wales and Border rolling stock would not have complied.

There are several options to secure better rolling stock, including purchasing new or refurbished stock, upgrading current stock, or leasing stock from private companies. The previous Welsh Government said that it wanted the bidding process for the next franchise to set out a rolling stock strategy.

It can take considerable time to secure rolling stock, with some indicating that the process should start four years before the stock is needed. Quick decisions will therefore be necessary.

Transport for Wales

In 2014, the previous Welsh Government created a not-for-dividend company called Transport for Wales. In February 2016, Edwina Hart, the then Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, said that she expected the company to ‘act like Transport for London’.

Transport for Wales will be the over-arching strategic body for transport, offering concessions to companies wishing to deliver transport services, including rail, and leading on franchise procurement. It is expected to lead on the procurement of the next Welsh rail franchise and for the Valley Line concession.

Key Sources:

 

Tackling the obesity epidemic

15 June 2016

Article by Rebekah James, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

A person’s feet standing on a weighing scale

Image from Pixabay, licensed under the Creative Commons

In the face of an obesity epidemic in Wales, will the new Welsh Government be equipped to tackle one of the major public health challenges of our time, or will it prove too complex?

Obesity is a leading cause of preventable death in Wales, and along with its associated health conditions, puts significant pressure on health services. It costs NHS Wales £73 million per year, rising to nearly £86 million if overweight people are also included.

Obesity increases the risk of developing heart disease and can contribute to chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers, high blood pressure, muscular-skeletal conditions and depression. Obesity can affect a person’s well-being, quality of life and ability to earn. Obese children can experience health problems and are also more likely to be obese in adulthood.

Although the previous Welsh Government put initiatives in place to tackle the condition, obesity levels are currently not noticeably reducing. Poor diet and sedentary lifestyles are major factors, but there is also a link between obesity and deprivation: obesity levels are higher in deprived areas including Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Neath Port Talbot.

Obesity1

Prevalence of obesity

The Welsh Health Survey 2014 reported that 22% of adults in Wales are classified as obese and 58% of adults are classified as being overweight or obese. This is an increase from the figure of 54% when the survey was first published in 2003/04.

The prevalence of overweight and obese adults rises with increasing deprivation, from 53% in the least deprived areas to 61% in the most deprived areas.

The picture amongst Welsh children remains challenging. Public Health Wales’s Child Measurement Programme for Wales 2013/2014 shows that 27.3% of children were overweight or obese.

This prevalence also rises with increasing deprivation, from 22.2% in the least deprived areas to 28.5% in the most deprived areas. The figure for children in reception year (4-5 year olds) in Wales was 26.5% – higher than any English region where the highest prevalence was 24%.

Obesity2

Addressing the problem

In 2010 the Welsh Government launched the All Wales Obesity Pathway, setting out the approach to preventing and treating obesity in children and adults. The Pathway sets out a four-tier obesity services framework:

Obesity3

The causes of obesity are complex, and can include medical, societal and economic factors. The previous Welsh Government attempted to address the different factors with a variety of policy and legislative levers focussing on good nutrition and physical activity, including: Our Healthy Future; Change4Life; MEND; the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013; Creating an Active Wales; Appetite for Life and Climbing Higher.

Recent initiatives proposed by politicians and health professionals in Wales to reduce obesity include a tax on sugary drinks and banning advertisements that market food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar. In 2016 Public Health Wales launched a 10-step checklist to tackle childhood obesity.

Concerns over progress

There have been criticisms that the Obesity Pathway has not been fully implemented and there is a lack of Level 3 services, as well as calls for a clearer national direction on tackling obesity.

Fourth Assembly committees undertook inquiries on the availability of bariatric services and childhood obesity. Both inquiries raised concerns about how successfully and consistently the Obesity Pathway is being delivered. A review of progress against the Pathway in 2014 found that all Welsh health boards were providing level 1 and 2 services, but level 3 provision was inconsistent. The Welsh Government acknowledged that more needed to be done and the Fifth Assembly would need to ensure these concerns are addressed.

Some potential areas for action are not fully devolved. For example, Wales’s ability to influence the food and drinks industry is restricted and a co-ordinated approach at UK and EU level may be needed to maximise opportunities in tackling obesity.

Considerations for the Fifth Assembly

Obesity is influenced by a number of factors, including socio-economic deprivation. There are also concerns about the potential cultural ‘normalisation’ of obesity. Suggestions have been made that efforts to tackle the problem need sufficient national leadership and a co-ordinated approach across Welsh Government departments, particularly in promoting healthy eating and exercise.

Some long-standing initiatives aiming to reduce obesity in Wales are still lacking in impact and failing to realise their potential. Members of the Fifth Assembly and the Welsh Government will need to determine why some current initiatives are failing to make sufficient progress, and may need to consider new approaches to create a greater impact on the obesity problem.

Since the above article was released in the ‘Key Issues for the Fifth Assembly’ publication, initial headline results for the Welsh Health Survey 2015 have been published. The 2015 results show that obesity levels in Wales have increased: 24% of adults are classified as obese and 59% of adults are classified as overweight or obese. There has also been an increase in the prevalence of overweight and obese adults in relation to deprivation in Wales, with 54% in the least deprived areas and 63% in the most deprived areas.

Key sources

Wales’s energy future

14 June 2016

Article by Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

The developed world is moving away from ‘dirty’ energy sources towards a more diverse energy mix. With new legislative powers and international agreements on climate change setting the scene, how will Wales respond to the challenge?

Limiting future climate change by radically reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere is one of the greatest global challenges.

The energy supply sector is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in Wales. If we are to meet international and domestic obligations on reducing emissions (see article on climate change), one way to move in the right direction is to relook at how energy is generated, supplied and transmitted. This is a key part of addressing the energy ‘trilemma’ of affordability, security and decarbonisation.

The Welsh context

The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 commits Wales to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The latest greenhouse gas inventory for Wales showed that energy supply constituted 42% of total 2013 greenhouse gas emissions. The main sources of emissions were power stations (76%) and oil refineries (16%).

If Wales is to transition to a cleaner, greener, sustainable energy future, there is consensus that renewable energy must play a greater part in the energy mix. The forthcoming Wales Bill is likely to give the Welsh Government further consenting powers over energy projects. At a time when there are many large energy projects on the horizon, some of which are the subject of much debate, the Fifth Assembly could mark a turning point in the approach to energy developments in Wales.

A question of balance

The current energy model in Wales comprises renewable and non-renewable sources. Reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable in the long term, and developing renewables for energy generation is necessary to meet EU and UK Government targets on greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure fuel security.

Wales is rich in natural resources, with geography and topography that lends itself to a wide range of renewable energy technologies. There are however differing views about the extent to which larger inward investment energy projects will be needed in future, or if diffused local projects, together with energy efficiency measures, will enable Wales to meet most of its energy needs.

The new Welsh Government will need to clarify how it will balance support for large-scale projects such as new nuclear developments, tidal lagoons, wind farms, grid enhancements and interconnectors, against more funding and support for local and community-led schemes such as micro hydro, biomass, solar and wind projects.

The legislative framework

Achieving the right future energy mix in Wales will be key to meeting the climate change commitments set out in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and to fulfilling the sustainable development ambitions of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 makes an important change by introducing a new category of planning permission for Developments of National Significance (DNS). The Welsh Government will in future directly decide on DNS applications for energy generation projects of between 10MW and 50MW. For onshore wind farms there is no upper MW limit due to recent legislative changes made in England.

The forthcoming Wales Bill is expected to give the Welsh Government powers to make decisions on all other large onshore and offshore energy projects up to 350MW, currently decided by the UK Government.

Previous Welsh Government action

The last Welsh Government set out its vision for energy in Energy Wales: A low carbon transition in 2012. In 2015 it issued Green Growth Wales: Local Energy outlining its approach to local energy. More recently, Carl Sargeant, the then Minister for Natural Resources, launched the Local energy service. The service aims to provide SMEs and social enterprises with technical and financial support to develop renewable energy projects.

Delivering energy transformation

The Fourth Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee conducted two large-scale inquiries into energy. The first, Energy Policy and Planning in Wales, considered how devolution arrangements for energy policy and planning affect the Welsh Government’s desired future ‘energy mix’. The Committee concluded that the energy sector is vitally important to Wales, and there is huge potential for developing renewables here.

The second, A Smarter Energy Future for Wales? built on this work. Its recommendations for the new Welsh Government included that:

  • the Welsh Government must demonstrate leadership, and policy should direct Wales towards meeting its domestic energy needs from renewable sources;
  • conserving energy, reducing demand and building regulations should be fundamental to change;
  • Wales should exploit opportunities to design innovative smarter places that integrate transport, energy and communications infrastructure, improve well-being and reduce carbon emissions;
  • retrofitting energy efficiency measures into existing housing stock has a crucial part to play, and Welsh Government schemes such as Nest and Arbed will be key to improvements;
  • a not-for-profit Energy Supply Company (ESCO) for Wales should be established; and
  • planning policy and decision-making should be aligned with any vision for future energy policy. National and local planning policy need to encourage reductions in carbon emissions.

The Committee’s view was that everyone in Wales shares responsibility for the transition to a smarter energy future. It highlighted that the legislative framework to make progress on reducing carbon emissions, encouraging local energy supply and increasing renewables supply is already in place. The Committee argued that within this conducive policy and legislative framework, and with impetus at all levels of government and across all sectors, Wales must ‘seize opportunities to transform its approach to energy now’.

Key sources

A marine plan for Wales

14 June 2016

Article by Nia Seaton, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

The Welsh Government has had powers to develop a marine plan since 2009, but a plan has yet to be finalised. Seven years on, will a marine plan be adopted in the Fifth Assembly?

Welsh territorial seas cover some 32,000 square km making Wales’s marine area much bigger than its territorial landmass. Welsh seas are important both for their environmental and economic benefits. They contain 129 marine nature conservation sites designated for their national and international importance, and host a range of economically important activities such as fishing, shipping, tourism and renewable energy.

For a number of years, stakeholders have been calling on successive Welsh Governments to develop a more strategic approach to the marine environment, to manage the competing demands and pressures placed on it. The Welsh Government was given powers to develop a marine plan for Wales under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, however a plan has not yet been adopted.

marineplan

What is marine planning and why does it matter?

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 is a landmark Act that gives administrations across the UK the legal tools necessary to adopt marine spatial plans for their territorial seas. The Act aims to encourage a more strategic approach to protecting and developing the marine environment. This could protect the UK’s important marine conservation areas while also harnessing the economic potential sustainably.

The purpose of a marine plan is to set out on a spatial basis the strategic objectives a government has for its seas and where and how it will manage competing demands for marine resources. For example, a plan can set out which areas of the sea will be protected for nature conservation, which areas will be protected for the fishing sector and which areas will be used for marine renewable energy. Stakeholders from all sectors argue that such plans provide greater certainty and enable them to collaborate more effectively.

What is the situation in Wales?

Under the 2009 Act the Welsh Government has responsibility for developing plans for both the Welsh inshore (0-12 nautical miles) and offshore (12 nautical miles to the boundary with Ireland) areas.

Work to develop a marine plan for Wales began in 2011 when the then Welsh Government consulted on its proposed approach to marine planning. The initial aim was to have a first iteration of the plan in place by the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013.

The previous Welsh Government published an initial draft of a plan in November 2015.This was open for informal consultation and comments until the end of January 2016. The Welsh Government outlined its intention to formally consult on a draft plan later this year with the aim of having a final plan in place by the end of 2016 or beginning of 2017.

Two separate Fourth Assembly Committees, the Environment and Sustainability Committee and the Enterprise and Business Committee called on the Welsh Government to afford greater priority to developing a marine plan. Both saw such a plan as the best way of ensuring that Wales protects its natural environment but also makes the most of the potential of its maritime economy.

The Environment and Sustainability Committee’s initial report on the issue in 2013 noted that marine stakeholders felt that the previous Welsh Government often had an ‘and marine’ mentality with the marine environment and economy treated as an afterthought. The Committee’s legacy report in 2016 noted stakeholders’ concerns that four years on this mentality still persists.

Given the importance of the plan’s contents, the Environment and Sustainability Committee’s legacy report suggested that Members of the Fifth Assembly may want to scrutinise both progress towards adopting a plan and how the plan is then implemented.

Key sources