Minister on the fence regarding large-scale hydroelectric schemes

(Title Image: © Copyright William Matthews and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence BY SA 2.0)

Here’s a round-up of the key points from this afternoon’s environment questions.

There could be a Clean Air Act….just not yet

After having a quick grumble at Extinction Rebellion protesters in Cardiff, Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), moved on to the substance of their protest.

“….the current First Minister said he’d bring a Clean Air Act forward….he indicated that you and he had had a discussion on this….Regrettably, yesterday, in the legislative statement, we saw no announcement at all in this particular area. Two thousand lives a year are taken prematurely in Wales – five a day, Minister. Action is required in this area, so when protesters say that they’re not seeing action, do you now see that, in this particular area, there is a lack of action and a lack of urgency from the Welsh Government?”
– Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM

The Minister’s thoughts on the matter hadn’t changed from a statement on clean air a few weeks ago; there’ll be a consultation and that will feed into plans for a Bill. She agreed with Andrew that there needs to be proper engagement with businesses to achieve cuts in carbon emissions by 2050 and she’s already attended an economic council meeting at the request of the business community – a sign that attitudes were changing.

Badger cull ruled out again

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) relayed the concerns of beef farmers that several factors around pricing and stockpiling for Brexit have harmed the sector.

Another issue was bovine TB; 12,000 cattle were culled last year and each mass cull will have an impact on the rural economy. With the farming industry feeling the Welsh Government could do more, would the government now be willing to “introduce a stronger element of a badger cull”?

He later suggested that the government was blaming farmers for problems when the government wasn’t doing enough with the powers at their disposal.

The Minister accepted the beef industry has experienced some severe turbulence, but she didn’t have the same resources as, for example, the Republic of Ireland to deal with it. She rejected the suggestion of “blame culture” towards farmers.

“In relation to your question around bovine TB, and I absolutely accept the personal side of this and the distress it causes, you’ll be aware of the TB eradication programme refresh that we had, and we’re working through that. The short answer to your last bit – do we think we should introduce a badger cull – the answer’s ‘no.'”
– Energy, Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham)

Dam that river?

There were several questions regarding hydroelectric power. Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) wanted to know what would happen to rate relief schemes for small-scale hydroelectric plants after March 2020?

Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) didn’t believe there was much detail on how the government would implement various renewable energy policies to boost the marine economy, while Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) wondered why Wales wasn’t pursuing larger hydroelectric schemes involving dams and alike?

The Minister didn’t know what the budget would be next year, so it’s unclear what will happen to rate relief. She’s already met with Natural Resources Wales to discuss developing a licensing and regulatory system for marine energy. However, she cautioned against large-scale onshore hydroelectricity:

“Hydropower schemes can be very complex, and they need to be designed and managed very carefully, to avoid unacceptable impacts on communities and the river environment. There are implications for our rivers….you will see more barriers being taken out of rivers than dams being installed…..Unfortunately, because of the geography of Wales, there are now very few remaining large-scale opportunities for hydropower to make a major contribution to our energy supply, but I’m certainly very keen to hear of any specific projects.”
– Energy, Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

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