Giving Wales more power over energy must be one of the UK’s takeaways from COP26
It is Energy Day at COP26 today - my message will be “decarbonise, decentralise, democratise”. If there is any consensus in Glasgow today, it should be that the decarbonisation of our energy system must bring historic improvements for local communities.
Those can’t just be buzzwords – they must result in an energy mix of low carbon technologies, better jobs, cheaper bills and more local control over our energy systems. The old, centralised methods of command and control have failed us. The future needs to be responsive to local need and local opportunities to tackle the global crisis.
For us in Wales, the first step towards this must be the devolution of powers over the Crown Estate – something my Crown Estate (Devolution to Wales) Bill would achieve if adopted by the government.
With its origins dating back to 1760, the Crown Estate in its modern sense functions as a publicly owned property business with significant assets in Wales and far-reaching control, including over our seabed.
It means that, rather than going to the people of Wales, at present revenues from renewable energy produced off our coasts disappear into HM Treasury after a 25 per cent cut for the Royal Family.
Devolving the Crown Estate’s Welsh territorial assets would bring our natural resources back home
The vast marine energy potential, currently controlled by the Crown Estate, could fast-track Wales’ net-zero journey.
New demands for clean electricity from transport, home heating and industry will double electricity needs in Wales by 2050, according to the Climate Change Committee.
With renewable marine energy assets valued at £549.1m, tapping into the potential of the Crown Estate’s assets in Wales could revolutionise our clean energy industry.
The Crown Estate captures the endless contradictions of the union, the inequalities of ownership which underpin it.
Devolving the Crown Estate’s Welsh territorial assets would bring our natural resources back home, allowing us to align marine and offshore wind energy production with Welsh decision-making and priorities.
The management of the Crown Estate has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament since 2017, following the recommendations of the Smith Commission.
This means that the Scottish government now manages the Crown Estate’s assets and receives the surplus revenues. Wales, meanwhile, is missing out: it is impossible to see any reasonable argument for this inconsistency to be permitted to continue to prejudice our nation’s low carbon ambitions.
The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has now publicly and unequivocally endorsed my Bill to Devolve the Crown Estate to Wales. If only he and his predecessors had come around sooner and fought for equal terms for Wales under our renewed devolution settlement in 2017, our clean energy revolution could already be well under way.
Senedd has now held powers over the environment for over twenty years. We have enjoyed more planning powers over energy generating schemes since 2017. It makes no sense whatsoever that, in that context, our seabed and around half of the foreshore is still controlled by an unelected body based in London.
It is antithetical to the spirit of devolution for the Crown Estate to make decisions over Welsh natural resources, without any requirement to consider the will of local communities or consult the Welsh government.
With democracy in decline, the green transition presents an opportunity to revitalise the connection between people and government. That must include transforming our energy system from an overly centralised and poorly performing carbon-heavy system into a clean future governed by communities.
Wales still bears the scars of the scorched earth policy inflicted on industrial communities in the 1980s. The green transition must be different. As a nation rich in renewable energy resources, the clean energy revolution can create high skilled jobs and raise the living standards of people in all corners of Wales.
Putting our government in charge of the Crown Estate is a crucial step towards placing more power in the hands of Welsh communities, showing that decarbonisation can work the benefit of our people and democracy.
Liz Saville-Roberts is the Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Plaid Cymru westminster leader.
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