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UK Net Zero Strategy Promises to Build Back Greener: How Will Wales be Affected?

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Written By:

Michael Sweet,
Content Editor,
Business News Wales.

 

The UK Government’s strategy for reaching net zero greenhouse emissions in Britain by 2050 was published on Tuesday, claiming that the plan could create up to 440,000 jobs and release £90bn of investment over the next 10 years, most of it private sector finance.

And there was much about Wales’ contribution to the strategy, which includes expanding electric vehicle use, developing opportunities presented by offshore wind, as well encouraging the application of new fuel technologies such as hydrogen.

Launching the Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener plan, Boris Johnson said it “set the example for other countries to build back greener too as we lead the charge towards global net zero.”

The PM added:

“The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment and thriving green industries – powering our green industrial revolution across the country.

“By moving first and taking bold action, we will build a defining competitive edge in electric vehicles, offshore wind, carbon capture technology and more, whilst supporting people and businesses along the way.”

Meanwhile the plan soon came under fire at Westminster, with Ed Miliband, UK Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, saying it “fell short on delivery”.

Despite the politicking, there’s little doubt the strategy is generally supported by all sides of the political divide in Westminster. But concerns remain over the costs of the vast transition outlined, with the Treasury itself warning that taxes could rise to support the implementing the plan, particularly given that £30bn a year in tax revenues from fossil fuel duty will go up in smoke. The Welsh Government has yet to respond officially to the strategy.

The 367-page document makes a number of references to Wales, encouraging a joint approach between Westminster and and the devolved administrations “to ensure consistent action to reduce emissions.”

Carbon capture and storage, and the use of hydrogen, are two areas of particular focus in the plan and have major significance for Wales.

The UK Government’s strategy confirms its decision to back a major low carbon and hydrogen energy project for north Wales and England’s north west.

The HyNet programme is one of just two carbon capture, usage and storage schemes, to be selected by government for fast track development. HyNet will produce hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in transport, industry and homes while also capturing and storing carbon dioxide produced by energy-intensive industries.

The go-ahead for HyNet – which will involve government revenue funding the scheme – could begin to see decarbonising north east Wales and the Manchester/Liverpool region from as early as 2025, reducing annual CO2 emissions by 10m tonnes by 2030.

In Wales, the HyNet consortium – which includes Hanson Cement, the single largest industrial emitter in north Wales – is set to decarbonise Hanson’s Padeswood Works operations near Mold, and transform industry across Wrexham and Flintshire through switching to clean hydrogen.

The strategy also makes reference to £20m offered to the South Wales Industrial Cluster to support the deployment of decarbonisaton infrastructure in the south, and create a net zero industrial zone from Pembrokeshire to the Wales-England border by 2040.

The £30m + BEACON project led by Aberystwyth University, working with Bangor and Swansea Universities and the University of South Wales, is reflected as a model project in the plan.  BEACON has reportedly enabled hundreds of Welsh businesses to develop and trial ideas on an industrial scale and  get their products – including bio plastics, food additives, building materials and fuel, closer to market. Noting Wales’ achievements in recycling, with 403,000 tonnes of CO2 avoided in 2019/20, the plan pays tribute to “a truly collective effort by local authorities, communities and households.”

On transport, the plan refers to the Welsh Government’s ambitions for users of electric cars and vans, ensuring they “are confident that they can access electric vehicle charging infrastructure when and where they need it by 2030”.

The Welsh Government’s Electric Vehicle Charging Strategy has identified a need for 30,000-55,000 fast chargers and up to 4,000 rapid chargers by 2030. An EV Charging Action Plan is due to be published on the specific support mechniaisms for the roll-out of a comprehensive network.

And on housing, the plan makes much of Wales’ Optimised Retrofit Programme which is delivering fabric improvements, heating technology and intelligent use of energy supplies to more than 1,500 homes across Wales. As part of programme, the Welsh Government has committed to support landlords to decarbonise 230,000 social homes over the next decade. Lessons learned from the programme are intended  to help decarbonise Wales’s 1.2 million private-rented and owner-occupier homes later down the track. Meanwhile, the plan’s references to UK households benefiting from grants to install low-carbon heat pumps, as part of a £3.9bn plan for decarbonising heat and buildings, including a £450m boiler upgrade scheme has received criticism.

Senedd Member Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, said on social media that the heat pump fund would only “cover 0.3% of Welsh homes”. Other commentators in and beyond Wales have questioned the level of funding to be made available for heat pump conversion.

Finally, is nuclear returning to Wales? As part of its net zero strategy, the UK Government confirmed that it intends to make a final investment decision on a large-scale nuclear plant by the end of this parliament.

In December 2020, the government announced the start of negotiations on  Sizewell C in Suffolk. Negotiations are ongoing and do not rule out new plants using advanced nuclear technologies. To this end, the government has put forward a £120m Future Nuclear Enabling Fund to provide support in relation to “barriers to entry.”  The fund, details to be announced in 2022, will help in “retaining options for future nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors, with a number of potential sites including Wylfa in North Wales.”

Recently the Welsh Government created the publicly-owned nuclear development company Cwmni Egino to re-establish the decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear plant as a site for small modular reactors.

As the net zero strategy was unveiled, more politics came to the fore. Welsh Secretary, Simon Hart, used the moment somewhat surprisingly to take aim at the Welsh Government, tweeting:

“Today’s announcement of further funding for nuclear could pave the way to create thousands of jobs in North Wales at Wylfa Newydd.

“I really do urge Welsh Government to join us in prioritising job creation rather than being fixated with politics and risking a break up of the UK.”

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