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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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Proposed work on dangerous Dorglwyd Junction set to be delayed

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ELIN JONES AM and Ben Lake MP have expressed their frustration following a recent statement from the Welsh Government noting that work on the A487 Dorglwyd junction from Comins Coch, would be delayed.

The junction has witnessed several crashes and close-calls over recent years, with local residents calling for the development of a roundabout or similar traffic-calming measures.

The Welsh Government announced in September 2016 that a feasibility study would be undertaken by the following Summer as to consider potential options to improve the junction.

However, a recent letter from Ken Skates AM, Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to Elin Jones AM and Ben Lake MP noted: “We are aware of the issues at the junction and an improvement scheme has been within our upgrades programme for some time. Unfortunately, due to limited financial resources and competing priorities, it has progressed slowly.”

“We are currently reviewing the scope of a possible improvement and considering solutions which are affordable and minimise environmental impact. When we are in a position to present outline solutions, a workshop with local stakeholders will be held. This is likely to be in early 2019.”

Elin Jones AM said: “Whilst I do welcome such clarification from the Cabinet Secretary on the next steps for Dorglwyd junction, it is disappointing to read that no major works for the transformation will happen due to the expense of the project. It is positive however to see that a smaller scale improvement is now to be pursued, with consultation likely to be undertaken in early 2019.”

John Roberts, local Ceredigion County Councillor for Faenor ward, added: “I share both Elin Jones’ and Ben Lake’s disappointment at the response from Ken Skates AM. The original plan was to encapsulate a more global project including the Llanbadarn bypass therefore we need to be more realistic in our aspirations for Dorglwyd corner. Having discussed the project on site with both Elin Jones AM and Ben Lake MP last week we were of the opinion that a much smaller project which could solve the Dorglwyd issue was feasible and be much cheaper than the present scheme. We will wait for the consultation period in 2019.”

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Museum lights up the past

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CEREDIGION MUSEUM has had a full refurbishment of its lighting thanks to £116,558 of grants from Welsh Governments Museums Archives and Libraries Division and the Rural Community Development Fund.

Museum Curator, Carrie Canham, said: “Lighting has been a problem for us for some time; the system was so old that we couldn’t get new bulbs for some of the fittings. Also, we love to put on theatrical and musical performances at the museum but we couldn’t create an atmosphere with just strip lights and footlights. We’ve now got great stage and display lighting and it’s transformed the whole experience for our audiences.

“The new lighting system is all LED, so not only does it look much better it is also more suitable for the more delicate exhibits and it saves us money on our lighting bill.”

The lighting was designed and installed by DBNAudile, who specialise in museum lighting.

The team managed to install the system with minimal disruption to visitors.

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KeolisAmey awarded Wales and Borders Rail contract

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KEOLISAMEY is pleased that the Welsh Government has announced its intention to award the contract to operate the Wales and Borders rail service and the South Wales Metro to KeolisAmey.

Upon successful completion of a 10-day standstill period, the contract will run from June 4, 2018, to October 14, 2033, with rail services transferring on October 14, 2018.

This standstill period is normal procurement practice.

KeolisAmey is a joint venture partnership of international public transport operator Keolis, and infrastructure asset management specialist Amey.

KeolisAmey currently runs the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in London, which has one of the best records in UK rail – consistently better than 99% reliability. Additionally, we operate and maintain Greater Manchester’s Metrolink – the largest tram network in the UK.

Alistair Gordon, Chief Executive of Keolis UK, said: “This will be a transformative new rail service for Wales and its borders which will see Keolis once more combine its worldwide expertise in passenger operations with Amey’s engineering excellence.

“We look forward to the successful completion of the procurement process – this exciting contract will deliver for all of Wales. The procurement process was rigorous, resulting in transformative solutions for the benefit of all in Wales, and indeed, future generations.

“While the proposed changes won’t happen overnight, the railway will be unrecognisable in five years thanks to the vision of the Welsh Government.”

Andy Milner, Amey’s Chief Executive, said: “Building on our successful partnership with Keolis, which already sees us deliver two high performing services – the Greater Manchester Metrolink and London’s DLR – we are honoured to be asked to operate the Wales and Borders service.

“This is a great opportunity for us to use our joint capabilities to deliver a first-rate service for Wales. We will be focused on working with Transport for Wales to transform the existing infrastructure and introduce new trains to significantly improve the passenger experience, as well as creating hundreds of new jobs and apprenticeship opportunities.”

KeolisAmey is unable to make any further comment until the procurement process has concluded and the contract has been awarded.

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