Jane Davidson: Westminster is holding back Wales's renewable energy ambitions

| 7th February 2011
Jane Davidson

Jane Davidson, Welsh Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing

In an exclusive interview Welsh environment minister Jane Davidson tells Tom Levitt why she won't be opposing new nuclear power or selling off any forests... and why she wants to end Westminister's control over renewable energy

Tom Levitt: Wales has achieved fantastic rates of recycling but how can you make that step up from 45 per cent to a zero waste society?

Jane Davidson:
With statutory targets. We are the only place in the UK that has put them in - for 70 per cent recycling - in fact Friends of the Earth presented a petition to the Coalition government in Westminster to do exactly the same. We commissioned a study looking at different recycling collection methods because there is always that debate between kerbside and alternatives. It's absolutely critical we use this type of evidence to work with local authorities to help them adopt the most effective and cost-effective recycling methods and we are the only country where every local authority offers a separate food or food waste collection. We work on the basis that we don't have an ideological position whereby we are going to bring back black bags weekly because that is counter recycling. We have an evidence position that what you must collect weekly is food waste. So weekly collections of food waste and dry recycling and fortnightly collection of residual waste are the best methods of maximising recycling.

TL: How is Wales going to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 against a 1990 baseline? Significantly higher than the UK's target of 34 per cent.

JD: It is a major challenge. We made a political decision to go for 3 per cent year on year reductions and took that to the Tyndall Centre to make sure that our political commitment could be turned into a set of sector emission reduction targets. We now expect those sectors and the ministers who have signed up to those targets to work with their sectors to get those reductions.

The UN and others have estimated that 50-80 per cent of actions needed to tackle climate change will need to take place at the sub-national and regional level and we know that we have a major debt to pay from Wales because we were a high-carbon nation, disproportionately so in the context on the industrial revolution. Although our contribution is now proportionally low we feel we should be leading the way in showing other nations what can be done.

TL: Why are you continuing to support opencast coal mining in Wales?

I don't think it would be fair to say the government continues to support it. Anyone can make a planning application at any time and any application that is agreed by government at any time is according to the process and guidelines that operate at that time. I, in my time as minister, have never taken a planning decision in relation to opencast. One has not come in front of me. I've also amended our mineral planning guidance to make sure there is a greater weight attached to environmental considerations.

I think it is important to note that we are looking to dramatically change our energy system in terms of moving towards renewable energy and we know in Wales we have many opportunities as we are already an exporter in terms of energy and we plan to produce twice as much as we consume by 2025. But until then there will still be a need to use fossil fuels.

I want to move as quickly as possible to that scenario but we don't hold the powers on renewable energy, they're held in Westminster.

TL: So is Westminster holding back Wales's ambitions?

I tried wherever possible to lift barriers to renewable energy, recognising there has to be a proper balance between energy and the environment and neither the Ecologist or anyone else would want me to run roughshod over the environment. But we can only approve projects up to 50 megawatts. So we're in this ludicrous position where there is this fantastic renewable energy resource in Wales, wind and 1,200 km of coastline and marine energy and of course forest, which we're keeping in the public domain and not selling them off. We're also the second best place in the UK after the south-west for solar. So we have this amazing potential in terms of renewable energy but that portfolio is stymied by not having the energy powers which Westminster has refused to give us. We've got more in front of the planning commission than any other part of the UK. If we had those powers we could move much quicker.

TL: Do you support plans to replace the Anglesey Nuclear power station?

We've always said we don't want to see money diverted from the renewable energy agenda. On Anglesey we've said that if the UK government made that decision then we'd want to make sure the local residents got the best advantage out of that, not least because in other places we know that the workforce that has been developing nuclear power station often comes in from the country of the ownership of the franchise. With the closure of Anglesey aluminum we also have a superb opportunity to have a major manufacturing base for turbines for Wales or offshore developments. Under the previous Labour government we had the £60 million ports fund but that has now been turned into a totally English fund and we've been given just £700,000 out of that £60 million. It's a completely anti-Welsh initiative to have done that.

TL: So if you had the powers would you support a new nuclear station in Wales?

We've always been clear as a government that we want to harness the renewable sources and that's where we see the primary investment... if the UK government did decide to go ahead with Anglesey then we would support it for the reasons I've already outlined.

TL: Do you support the the North-South (Anglesey to Cardiff) airlink - surely an improved train service would be better use of funds?

There is a fundamental issue about people in Wales, particularly Cardiff and the Welsh Assembly, feeling connected to the north of Wales. So while we have supported the airlink it is also true to say as the Committee on Climate Change have that when you have an emission reduction pattern it is quite easy to be tokenistic about any individual element but actually it's about a package. You've got to get your emission reductions down so if you're ending up increasing in one place you've got to further reduce emissions elsewhere. My agenda is about getting emissions down so my message to Cabinet all the time is that you've got to make sure you can deliver on your overall sector reductions. So if the airlink is kept into the future, a transport minister will always have to look at an increased emissions reduction.

Jane Davidson is Welsh Assembly Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing

Add to StumbleUpon
Welsh construction centre leads field in sustainability
The new Construction and Sustainable Energy Centre in Haverfordwest is a blueprint for the newbuild higher education buildings of the future, in Wales and beyond
Biomass plant gets go-ahead but will not use waste heat
Campaigners have criticised the Environment Agency for not requiring a new wood-chip power plant in South Wales to reuse its waste heat
Wales plans to bring in compulsory plastic bag charge
Welsh Government says a charge is the only way to reduce plastic bag use further and encourage reuse
Undercurrents: the campaign film pioneers still setting the agenda
Eifion Rees reports on the video journalists producing environmental and social justice films that influence public opinion - and consistently get closer to the issues than the mainstream media
EXLUSIVE: How the Environment Agency is gagging one eyewitness to what is potentially one of the UK's biggest environmental crimes
The Environment Agency (EA) is within weeks of letting Monsanto escape its liability for dumping thousands of tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals – including all the ingredients of the DDT defoliant Agent Orange – in two quarries in Wales.

More from this author