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The UK must seize the opportunity of floating offshore wind in Wales

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4 min read

When you stand on the coast of South Wales and look to the south and west, you’re not just gazing at the horizon – you’re also looking at the future

Specifically, the potential for clean energy that can help power the whole United Kingdom. Sitting a few miles out to sea is a potential over 20 gigawatts of floating offshore wind (FLOW) generation which could power millions of homes.

FLOW in the Celtic Sea isn’t just an exciting renewable energy scheme that could lead to thriving, local clusters. It would be a key part of meeting the UK’s net zero targets, bring larger investment levels into Wales than have been seen in decades, and create thousands of high-quality, long-term jobs. 

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has never been more pressing to not be dependent on energy from abroad. We must diversify our domestic energy supplies to make the UK more resilient for the future.

The case is therefore growing for the UK to be the first-mover in FLOW. The recent Welsh Affairs Committee’s report details that FLOW could attract £20bn of direct investment, and the world’s largest energy companies are already drawing up Celtic Sea investment plans. FLOW in Wales now feels a little further ahead following the Welsh government granting consent for Project Erebus, off the Pembrokeshire coastline, which could power over 90,000 homes.

Policy certainty is critically important. The taps will not begin to turn on investment without a clear pipeline of projects to give developers confidence, and longer-range targets beyond 5GW of FLOW by 2030.

As this process gets going, expect massive increase in demand for planning authorities. How long it can take to get planning consent for wind projects is a historic problem, so the UK and Welsh governments must work together to get FLOW projects over the line swiftly.

In the past, fixed bottom offshore wind projects have seen manufacturers overseas benefitting from construction rather than local supply chains. Our committee is determined to not let the same mistakes happen with FLOW: local businesses must benefit from the future demand.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has never been more pressing to not be dependent on energy from abroad

The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed on which FLOW in Wales will take shape, says it will require developers to provide investment plans in any bid they make to support local wealth and job creation. These mechanisms must be given teeth to ensure commitments are met.

Developer accountability along with government investment will enable ports like Milford Haven and Port Talbot to capitalise on their prime position to become manufacturing and operations powerhouses for FLOW. Firms like Tata Steel could form links in a strong Welsh supply chain. 

Even if FLOW was to be up and running today, all these efforts will be fruitless without grid capacity in Wales to receive and distribute the newly-generated energy. Our previous inquiry into the issue found that constraints on the outdated network continue to impede renewable energy progress.

What will help here is clarity from the UK government. As with FLOW projects, network upgrades cannot be planned without targets and roadmaps for developers to work to. The government must continue to coordinate with industry to accelerate grid improvements. 

None of these are insoluble problems, but a matter of harnessing the potential energy sitting out at sea with the right combination of leadership and ambition. It will require a harmonised effort from the Crown Estate and UK and Welsh governments and the vision to see this opportunity as not just benefitting Wales, but a project of national significance. The prizes are great. Our inquiry heard that, once up and running, FLOW in Wales could open up a global energy export market to the UK worth £500bn by 2050. 

The future is just over the horizon. We need to reach out and take it.

Stephen Crabb is Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire and chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee

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