We know that around 58,000 people are working in the energy and environment sector in Wales, generating over £4.8 billion in revenue.

Positively, these sectors are primed for continued expansion over the coming years. However, decisionmakers in Cardiff Bay have long acknowledged that Wales continues to experience a grid capacity crisis - a matter which I have raised repeatedly during the previous and present Senedd.

This is causing an unnecessary trip in the system which is preventing meaningful and long-term progress in the nation’s green industrial revolution. 

Previously, I urged the Welsh Government to set out a clear, cross-departmental action plan for how large-scale storage systems could be brought to north Wales.

Such electricity storage has the potential to improve energy security and increase the use of low carbon electricity. In fact, a recent study by Imperial College and the Carbon Trust showed that electricity storage could save the UK up to £2.4 billion a year by 2030.

In continuing to explore routes to proactively support the green industrial revolution, specifically in rural Wales where our landowners are looking to capitalise on developments in hydropower technology, I was most pleased to use my response to the Welsh Government’s draft budget to urge Ministers to act on a shared interest in microgrids by introducing a trial in north Wales.  

A microgrid is a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously. Such technology can not only provide a backup for the grid in case of emergencies – something that would be incredibly useful for our smaller towns and villages - but can also be used to cut costs or connect to a local resource that is too small or unreliable for traditional grid use. 

In a recent reply to a Written Question to my proposal for a north Wales trial, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Climate Change positively stated that she agrees that “microgrids are likely to be an important element of a smart local energy system and an opportunity to drive local social and economic benefits.” 

Whilst I recognise that the Welsh Government are setting up a working group to review options for supporting flexible grid connections for renewables and energy storage solutions, I am clear that action is needed as soon as possible so that we can help foster a new age of renewable action in rural and coastal communities.  

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The news that support is to be provided to Blaenau Gwent, via the Smart Living programme, to develop a type of microgrid on an industrial estate is welcome, as is the development of such approaches in Bridgend and Milford Haven.

But this progress needs to be replicated across Wales and at pace as the benefit of establishing a microgrid trial in north Wales is plain to see.

Not only would such a trial be in line with the North Wales Energy Strategy, which includes their development as a priority area, but it would also be a much wiser spend of public funds than that proposed on creating a publicly owned energy company which could merely replicate the costly mistakes seen in Bristol.

We currently have an unparalleled opportunity to help stimulate the creation of long-term green collar jobs that will help Wales more effectively meet its carbon emission.

We cannot let efforts in the clean energy sector be undermined by entrenched capacity issues. For rural villages, we could see renewable power created and distributed in the community thanks to microgrids.

I am calling for action which, like my proposed Just Transition Commission, could help ensure that rural communities benefit from decarbonisation. All we need now is to supercharge Senedd interest in microgrids and creating a sustainable rural Wales. 

Janet Finch-Saunders is the Welsh Conservative shadow minister for climate change

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