Work will begin this week on investigating whether a publicly-owned energy company could boost Wales' renewable energy ambitions.

Such a company may be able to "accelerate the delivery of renewables that will bring a greater level of community and public benefit than the current models offer", Lee Waters told the Senedd today.

Waters, the deputy climate change minister, was speaking after the Siambr heard complaints that, all too often, large-scale renewable energy projects fail to properly benefit the communities where they are located.

He said government had to strike "delicate balances" between supporting communities and meeting climate goals.

"We know that, in order to reach net zero, we're going to have to make more cuts in our emissions in the next 10 years than we have over the last 30 years, and that pace and scale are going to have to quicken in the years beyond that," Waters told the Senedd. "So, there's an imperative for us to act at scale, at pace, but we also need to bring communities with us and we need to be mindful of the other impacts of these developments.

"We're going to have to feel our way through that, frankly; there is no template for doing that sensitively."

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The deputy minister said the Welsh Government was keen to promote more public ownership and fewer energy projects owned by "large foreign-owned multinational companies", and starting tomorrow he would begin a "deep dive" investigation into what more could be done.

"We know there are limits to what the private sector can do to support renewable energy generation in Wales and to bring communities with them, and to give the scale of the rewards from the schemes that they deserve," he said.

The news was welcomed by Plaid Cymru, with Rhun ap Iorwerth quick to note that the Labour minister's plans bore similarities to Plaid's own vision of a publicly-owned national energy company.

Setting up that firm, Ynni Cymru, was one of Plaid's key manifesto pledges in the Senedd election campaign earlier this year.

"I'm delighted that it sounds as if Welsh Government is about to put something very, very similar to that in place," he said. "And I think that that's something very, very positive, because it's a means, I think, to have a real focus on the kind of energy developments that we want in Wales."

The Senedd had earlier heard reports from all parties that firms behind renewable energy projects had to do more to support their nearest communities.

It was ap Iorwerth who led the debate, and he said such projects had a "significant impact" on the people who lived around them. He spoke of "frightening" developments in solar power on Anglesey, where "huge farms" were being planned and built.

"I have no doubt that Anglesey can make a major contribution in solar energy developments, but the truth is that the plans on the table are going to leave a huge footprint on parts of rural Wales with very little benefit for those communities – almost no jobs and no expectations in terms of wider financial benefits or otherwise," he added.

Conservative MS Janet Finch Saunders said there were also concerns about wind energy projects along Wales' northern coast, and their impacts on marine ecosystems and the local fishing industry.

The owners of those farms could be pressed to create "sanctuary areas" around turbines, and make a "unique and enormously positive contribution to marine recovery and carbon net zero, while subscribing to our biodiversity and conservation aims", she added.

Other Senedd members noted the positive impact that some individual renewable projects had brought to their local communities.

Labour's Vikki Howells said the 76-turbine Pen y Cymoedd windfarm had not just created jobs during its construction but had set up a "particularly ambitious community benefit fund" that was providing £1.8 million annually "for businesses and groups across the Cynon, Afan, Neath and Rhondda valleys".

"It's clear that we need renewable energy. But with that, we need projects that benefit their communities," she added.

Samuel Kurtz, from the Conservatives, said the plans for the "groundbreaking" Blue Gem offshore wind project off the western coast of Wales would "unquestionably" bring community benefits for the region.

"Speed is of the essence when it comes to these projects, to ensure that they are not missed and the community benefit isn't missed either," he said, adding: "This isn't a call for bypassing key planning and regulatory constraints, but working in a speedy and constructive manner to help these projects get off the ground and deliver their environmental, economic and community benefits. In every corner of Wales, we have examples of projects striving to make a difference."

The deputy minister said he had "a lot of sympathy" for community "discomfort" about large-scale projects, and on solar energy generally he said "we are better off focusing solar on buildings than we are taking up large bits of land".

On the Welsh Government's plans for future investment in renewables, Waters said: "We do, of course, need to work with private developers and, as has been mentioned, with the supply chain. There are opportunities here for green jobs and green skills, and we need to make sure we maximise those benefits."

He added: "We need to make sure that, with setting up this portfolio, we are focused on action and delivery and pace, and I can pledge that we are doing what we can to do that.

"We can't move as fast as we want to do, that is one of the great frustrations of this role. These are incredibly complex projects, and the process of bringing all the different moving parts together can often be far slower than we'd like them to be. And that is the challenge for us all, because we know the science and the challenge is urgent."

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