Wind energy 'could deliver £2.3bn boost for economy'

An average of 2,000 jobs a year could be created until 2050 and £2.3bn injected into the Welsh economy by onshore wind farms, it is claimed.

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An average of 2,000 jobs a year could be created until 2050 and £2.3bn injected into the Welsh economy by onshore wind farms, it is claimed.

That is the forecast from the first report looking at the economic impact of wind energy in Wales.

The research by Regeneris Consulting and Cardiff Business School is based on how much of the money spent until now on wind farms has stayed in Wales.

But it warns delays to approving and building wind farms will hamper this.

And a leading countryside campaigner says the planning system must be democratic and listen to objections.

Welsh government planning guidance sets a goal to generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity from onshore wind turbines by 2025, with most of it available by 2020.

Although there are plans in the pipeline to reach the goal, not all applications for new turbines will be approved.

Analysis

This detailed report isn't arguing for or against wind farms. It's not part of the debate about how we want to generate electricity in the future.

It's an analysis on how wind farms have affected the economy so far. And If - and it's a big if - if Wales reaches its target of generating 2,000 megawatts from onshore wind, what effect will that have on businesses and jobs? How much will be injected into the Welsh economy?

One of the report's authors - Prof Calvin Jones from Cardiff Business School - says there's a perception amongst wind farm developers that Wales is not an easy place to do business and that's one reason why much more work is being carried out in Scotland.

He says the planning process here is slow and developers tell him that if they are going to be turned down, they'd like to be turned down quickly so that they can move on an develop elsewhere.

The report forecasts that £2.3bn would be injected into the Welsh economy if the target of 2,000 megawatts is reached by 2025 .

The wind farms that we have now, or in the pipeline, will pretty much amount to that target - but not all of them will be approved because of opposition from people living in nearby communities.

So we now know how much developing and running wind farms can affect the Welsh economy - once they're generating most of the money goes to companies outside Wales.

There would have to be radical changes in the whole electricity system before the direct profits from Welsh wind remain here.

The report by Regeneris Consulting and Cardiff Business School says reaching the goal will add £2.3bn to the economy by 2050.

However, it added that the figure will fall to £900m if the pace at which wind projects get planning consent continues at the same rate as it did between 2001 and 2011.

The report was commissioned by the Welsh government and industry group RenewableUK.

It says most of the economic benefits would be felt in construction and manufacturing, particularly the steel industry.

Llywelyn Rhys, deputy director of Renewable UK Cymru, could not tell BBC's Good Morning Wales programme how many turbines could be built.

"That's quite a simplistic formula, a typical industrial turbine generates between two to 2.5mw but turbines generate a range of different outputs," he said.

Mr Rhys said he was "unprepared" to estimate how many would be needed.

"It will be on a case by case basis, so different wind farms will generate different amounts," he said.

"The report looks into the economic opportunities and the employment opportunities of Wales and there's very positive figures in relation to that."

The report makes a number of recommendations, and says investors need to have confidence in the planning system.

"Otherwise, given the considerable upfront investment that is required, there is a danger that planning risks will deter investment and developers will seek alternative locations in the UK and overseas," it says.

It calls on energy companies to talk to local communities early in the planning process.

Impact fears

A lack of grid infrastructure, particularly in mid Wales, is identified as a problem for the industry, as are constraints on the roads.

Plans for wind energy projects have sparked protests from objectors in mid Wales, fearing the impact on roads, the landscape and local communities.

Peter Ogden, director of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW), said: "The whole point of a planning system is to be democratic and democracy means taking everybody's view into account and not just one sector.

"It needs to be democratic, it needs to be inclusive and it needs to be comprehensive in terms of making sure all impacts are taken into account.

"Slowing down the process doesn't necessarily mean you end up with a worse outcome."

The Welsh government wants the UK government to devolve control of planning decisions for the biggest energy projects - those with a capacity of more than 50 megawatts - but the plea has been rejected in Westminster.

'More support'

Environment Minister John Griffiths said welcomed the report, but Gareth Clubb, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, believes ministers should be pressing the case for renewable energy harder.

"Investors are more likely to be investing in Scotland than in Wales because the Welsh government has provided remarkably little support for wind farms, particularly in places like mid Wales where they have been opposed," he said.

"The Welsh government should do more to make the case for wind farms.

"Compare what Welsh ministers are saying compared to what Alex Salmond (Scotland's first minister) is saying - he's given them much more support."

RenewableUK Cymru director David Clubb said: "The report demonstrates that onshore wind energy could provide substantial economic benefits for Wales and also help us to become a more sustainable nation.

"The opportunity will only arise if the industry is enabled to meet Welsh Government aspirations for onshore wind, which in turn requires a much higher consenting rate."

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