(Title Image: National Trust)
Another week, another short debate. This time it was the turn of Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy), who focused on a subject everyone in the country is familiar with: rain.
Janet said that while rain can be devastating, there are opportunities – particularly in terms of renewable energy, with resource studies suggesting Wales has the potential to generate up to 63MW of additional hydroelectricity, many of which could take the form small-scale local schemes on smaller rivers.
Her biggest concern was finance and the lack of engagement by landowners next to the river:
“Unsurprisingly, my research has left me deeply disappointed at what seems to be an approach to hydro that just isn’t inspiring investment by our riparian landowners. They could be harnessing a great, free resource: rainwater. This can be changed, by enabling hydro to flourish, through: introducing a hydropower development programme that provides a 50 per cent grant towards the total build cost of future hydropower schemes and a 75 per cent grant towards the cost of the consenting of future schemes; providing incentives to invest in infrastructure, such as loans for equipment to be paid off over longer timescales, in line with the lifetime of the asset.”
– Janet Finch-Saunders AM
There were also little things everyone can consider doing, with Janet citing the Senedd building’s rain harvesting system to provide water for flushing and maintenance, which could be replicated on a much smaller scale.
Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) described rain as our “secret weapon” by creating and maintaining the landscape. While Dinorwig hydroelectric plant near Llanberis was the “star of the show”, there were smaller community-led hydro schemes across the country that deserve praise.
“One of our greatest natural assets”
Replying on behalf of the government, the Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said that while rain was one of our greatest natural assets there was no room for complacency – pointing back to 2018’s dry summer.
The Minister also confirmed the Welsh Government’s support for small-scale hydroelectric schemes:
“Janet seemed to question Welsh Government’s commitment to them, but just today, I announced the continuation of 100 per cent business rate support for community hydropower projects for 2019-20. And the scheme has already supported almost 50 hydropower projects in the year, including seven community-owned projects. “
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths
The Minister said it was for the UK Government to decide on whether to reintroduce or raise feed-in tariffs to make small-scale hydro schemes more viable and attractive – it’s not within the Welsh Government’s powers.
Dŵr Cymru is also set to spend £74million on research and development between 2020-2024 focusing on protecting water quality, improving water retention in the land to prevent flooding and improving biodiversity.