The Welsh Government's actions on renewable energy have been branded "lethargic" and "lacking any sense of urgency" by a new Senedd Climate Change Committee report.

Despite an escalating climate emergy, the committee said, there has been a slowdown on renewable energy development since 2015.

Barriers to developing the renewable energy sector in Wales - such as energy grid infrastructure - remain in place years after being identified, the report noted, with Welsh Government promises on the issue "the same today as they were ten years ago."

Llyr Gruffydd MS, chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, said: “We are lucky in Wales to have been blessed with natural resources that are ideal for renewable energy development, both on land and offshore.

"But there are significant, long-standing barriers that must be addressed for Wales to unlock its full renewables potential.

“In 2012, the Welsh Government promised a range of actions to tackle these issues but, a decade later, the same promises are still being made.

"Over the last ten years, the lethargic response to solving these problems has lacked any sense of urgency, and if the Welsh Government is serious about tackling the climate emergency then we need to see action – not empty words.

“Now is not the time for the Welsh Government to be dragging its feet.

The National Wales: RWE Renewables UK argued that access to the Welsh Government Woodland Estate for onshore windfarm projects should be streamlined. (Picture: VisitWales)RWE Renewables UK argued that access to the Welsh Government Woodland Estate for onshore windfarm projects should be streamlined. (Picture: VisitWales)

"It must act on the loud and persistent calls for improvements to Wales’ grid infrastructure and demand action from the UK Government, rather than waiting at the side lines until it’s simply too late.”

The climate committee, made up of Plaid Cymru, Welsh Labour and Welsh Conservative Senedd Members, consulted thinktanks, trade bodies and private energy firms for the report.

Perhaps the most significant barrier identified was Wales's energy grid - the network of powerlines, pylons and interconnectors serving the UK energy system - which Climate Minister Julie James last year called "historically poor infrastructure", as she announced that energy regulator Ofgem would be working with her department to update it.

Other concerns included a lack of resources at the local authority and Natural Resources Wales level, affecting the speed and efficiency with which planning applications for renewable energy projects were processed.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs and Ripple Energy - an energy provider that allows consumers to buy into wind farm projects in exchange for savings on their energy bills - recommended that the Welsh Government expand the use of shared ownership for energy projects.

This model allows communities and commercial energy providers to jointly own a development. It was recommended that every renewable energy development be required to reserve "at least 30 percent of the project’s capacity for consumer ownership”.

RWE Renewables UK, a subsidiary of controversial German energy giant RWE AG, disagreed.

The company's rep said: "You’ve got to really ask yourself: is that appropriate for a local community to put money into?

"Are they really wanting the risk? We’ve seen lots of examples where local authorities and stuff around the UK have got involved in schemes and lost a considerable amount of money.

"We also have to be careful, as developers, not to be selling schemes that we don’t think are a good use of public money.”

A 2021 study by environmental group Greenpeace found that RWE AG remained the largest carbon emitter in Europe.

The company, which owns and operates coal mines alongside its renewable projects, sued the Dutch government last year over its intention to phase out coal and shut down coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The National Wales: German climate activists protest RWE, 2016. (Picture: 360.org)German climate activists protest RWE, 2016. (Picture: 360.org)

In its contribution to the Senedd climate committee's report, RWE Renewables argued against the establishment of Ynni Cymru, a publicly owned energy company for Wales, saying it would "reduce the attractiveness of Wales to private companies" and "take attention away" from climate change.

The climate committee responded: "The Welsh Government must provide an update on progress towards the development of proposals for Ynni Cymru, including how it will complement the work of the commercial sector, the Welsh Government’s Energy Service and other Welsh Government funded organisations whose purpose is to support community and public sector projects."

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RWE said that access to the Welsh Government's Woodland Estate - publicly owned woodlands in Wales - should be streamlined for developers, and recommended a "private/public partnership" approach to projects on the land.

Energy developers also argued that Wales should make its renewable energy generation targets more ambitious.

"Developers expressed the view that the Welsh Government’s vision for renewable energy development was not sufficiently clear and lacked ambition," the report reads.

"They suggested that focussing on matching local renewable energy generation with energy demand could constrain the growth of the sector, forfeiting considerable social and economic benefits."

The committee accepted this suggestion, recommending that the Welsh Government should aim for Wales to become a net exporter of renewable energy, rather than simply aim to meet energy demands within Wales.

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