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Latest Welsh energy conference reveals gap

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download (4)OVER 200 representatives of business, government, academia and a few community organisations crammed into a Cardiff conference to look ahead at energy in Wales on Monday (Dec 15). The overwhelming message was one of frustration at the widening gap between the amazing potential for renewable energy in Wales and its realisation. David Jones for Marine Energy Pembrokeshire flagged up the resource lying all around Wales that is currently untapped.

Our tides and waves could potentially power Britain and Pembrokeshire is among the best sources. Even a modest 30 MW installation could provide 2000 person years of employment and be operational in a few years. The meeting called often for vision and leadership quality from government. Lack of progress was also caused by a cobweb of regulations that choke progress in their dark embrace. Plaid Cymru assembly member Alan Ffred chairing the event, said that planning rules should insist on community benefit, as this would have cut through many of the complexities.

He said: “It is incomprehensible that community benefit was not included as a requirement, a tragic wasted opportunity.” The industry itself took a share of the blame for not getting communities on their side at the outset. “Wind is now toxic in Powys”, said the chair of Powys against Pylons. “I am not highly qualified like all the other speakers, I am just a fairly good dairy farmer, but I cannot get a wind turbine for my farm now, people are so hostile to them.” Examples of companies who had got their public relations right were also cited, such as Swansea Bay lagoon. They were the exceptions. This contrasted with public opinion.

Peter Davies, also from Pembrokeshire and chair of all things to do with sustainable futures at the Welsh Assembly reported on the million conversations exercise across Wales. He said: “People’s first concern with energy is cost, but climate is a high second when it comes to long term concerns. People like renewables and are against coal and fracking with mixed views on nuclear.” This feeling is shared in Pembrokeshire according to an online petition for the county to move to renewables.

A well known climate denier MP also spoke, and presented a barrage of unreferenced figures showing that climate change had stopped years ago, stating we have enough fossil fuels for hundreds of years, and the thing to do is to get on with fracking and coal mining in the UK as these produce cheaper energy. Gerwyn Williams for UK onshore Gas Group presented graphs showing vast sources of gas to frack. His company is seeking investment on the stock exchange without success.

Interestingly, both the climate denier and the gas chief were ignored by the rest of the meeting. Renewables were what everyone was interested in. Another huge barrier turned out to be the national grid. We heard that even a very modest 18kW community hydro cannot go ahead because there is no grid capacity. Mid Wales including Ceredigion and Powys are especially grid poor. All the capacity has been prebought up by giant solar farms which may or may not ever be built.

Maxine Frerk from Offgen who regulates the UK grid said this did not sound right and she would look into it. Plaid Councillor for Ceredigion, Alun Williams spoke to her afterwards and arranged to meet with her and Western Power, which is the grid operator blocking progress, to get to grips with the challenge. The conference was called because of the possibility to allow Wales to take control of power generation up to 350 megaWatts, which is up from the present 50MW.

This increase in powers is a result of the promises made to avert the Yes vote in the Scottish referendum. Conference speakers favoured this increase in powers, but with the right leadership. Welsh Labour Government Minister, Carl Sergeant spoke warmly about community renewables. He acknowledged we needed a Wales based planning inspectorate to cope with the increased powers. He refused to answer any questions with any detail, figures, dates or actions, much to the frustration of the waiting media.

The day had started with the coffee running out early. The prestigious attendees from governments and corporations queued in vain after their long journey for the expected cuppa. This, sadly, epitomised the lack of ability in Wales to rise to its potential. Alan Ffred, chair of the Environment Committee said: “Frustration is a word we are hearing a lot today.”

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Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian

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NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.

The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.

High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).

NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.

24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.

NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.

Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.

“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.

“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”

Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.

Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.

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​Major bequests for Aber research ​

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TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.

The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.

Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.

The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.

The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.

“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”

Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.

The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.

“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”

In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.

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Driving Wales to international skills success

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AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.

The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.

Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.

This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.

Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.

Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.

Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.

“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”

In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.

“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.

“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”

Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.

“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”

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