New Year, New First Minister for Wales

Lisa Childs, Senior Account Director at Copper, looks ahead to what a new First Minister of Wales in 2024 means for Wales’ net zero ambitions

The news in Cardiff Bay this week was the worst-kept secret in Wales; a question of when, not if, following heavy hinting and the postponement of Welsh Labour’s annual conference from March to July 2024.

On Wednesday, Mark Drakeford announced his resignation as Welsh Labour leader. In his statement, he said: “When I stood for election as Leader of Welsh Labour, I said I would stand down during the current Senedd term. That time has now come”.

However, I don’t think anyone was expecting the announcement would come before Christmas, hurtling the WhatsApp groups of Cardiff Bay into chaos.

It was an emotional day, as we reflected on the sacrifices the First Minister made during the pandemic, the visible impact the loss of his life partner has had on him, and lamented what might have been had the Covid-19 pandemic not dominated his premiership.

Mark Drakeford succeeded Carwyn Jones as First Minister in 2018 and outlined his intention to stand down and First Minster halfway through his second term. Mr Drakeford will stay on as First Minister of Wales until his successor is elected as Welsh Labour leader, and appointed as First Minister, in March 2024.

 

Battle of the big-ticket departments

The First Minister’s announcement has sparked the firing gun on the next Welsh Labour party leadership election. The expected front runners are Vaughan Gething (Minister for Economy) and Jeremy Miles (Minister for Education and Welsh Language) – although rumours are also circling around Eluned Morgan (Health Minister) and Hannah Blythyn (Deputy Minister for Social Partnership).

Vaughan Gething has been forefront of engagement with stakeholders regarding the Celtic freeport and investment in Wales, and benefits from union support, an existing profile within the business community and, perhaps, higher public recognition due to his previous role as Health Minister during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, both front runners have served as prominent Cabinet members in the Welsh Government so it is likely that, no matter the outcome, we will see a continuation of the current approach towards decarbonisation and major energy and infrastructure projects.

 

What this means for energy and infrastructure policy

The First Minister has been steadfast in his commitment to net zero, with his close ally Julie James heading up the key department responsible for maximising the opportunity that net zero presents for the Welsh economy.

With the Infrastructure Bill making its way through the Senedd, the establishment of Ynni Cymru, the Celtic Sea offshore wind opportunity and other developments on the horizon, Wales is on the cusp of a green energy revolution.

However, if we are to decarbonise, if we are to reach our net zero targets, and if we are to achieve 100% of Wales’ annual electricity consumption from renewable energy by 2035, then we must also acknowledge that we do not currently have the grid connectivity to do so.

It is widely recognised that the lack of grid infrastructure is holding back the green economy; indeed, the Climate Minister, Julie James, highlighted it as the number one issue for her team at the Future Energy Wales conference held in November 2023. This would surely be a priority policy area for the incoming First Minister and their climate minister to focus on.

Another priority, which the Infrastructure Bill attempts to solve, is around the constraints in the DNS consenting process that is leading to delays and adding critical time to project lifespans.

Wales is not on track to meet its 2035 commitments unless the Welsh Government supercharge their consenting processes. Renewable UK’s Plug The Gap report questioned whether Wales’ DNS system is robust enough and up to the challenge presented by the climate emergency.

There have been 22 applications under the regime in the past 7 years, with a 41% refusal rate. Of the 9 projects refused, 44% were refused by the Minister against the Inspector’s recommendation.

Due to the long-term nature of this policy area, industry and developers will no doubt be calling out for the incoming First Minister to provide consistency, collaboration with industry, and clarity on how we are going to achieve the bold promises and targets set by the Welsh Government.

 

Clear red water?

Having governed in Wales for over 25 years, and against a backdrop of a Conservative UK Government since 2010, how the future First Minister of Wales interacts with the UK Labour team and Kier Starmer will be of interest to business leaders and commentators alike.

Both front-runner candidates are seen to be aligned to the Shadow Cabinet and their policy platform, so any potential for “clear red water” or policy divergence between the Welsh Government and potential future UK Labour Government should be kept at bay.

 

Process

Whilst Welsh Labour haven’t announced the process for electing the next leader, we can assume that it will follow the process used in 2018.

When Carwyn Jones stood down and Mark Drakeford was elected 5 years ago, Welsh Labour used the one-member-one-vote system – like the one used to elect Jeremy Corbyn.

It means all party members – and members of unions and affiliated groups – get an equal vote. So, whilst optically important, which candidates are backed by which unions and other affiliated members becomes less important. Nonetheless, we know that Vaughan Gething enjoys staunch support from the Welsh trade union movement.

In 2018, after candidates were announced, we also saw which Labour Senedd Members (then Assembly Members) nominated each candidate in the Welsh Labour Leadership Election – with Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan coming second and third to Mr Drakeford. Although a formality and not weighted in the election, shoring up the backing of fellow MSs will be a key target for candidates and will bolster their campaign.

A rejected alternative option in 2018 was to reform Welsh Labour’s electoral college, giving half the vote to party members and half to affiliated members. To reiterate, the process for electing a leader in 2024 is yet to be confirmed.

 

Copper Cymru

At Copper we have a growing team in Wales of highly skilled and experienced professionals dotted all around the country. We can support with strategic communications, public affairs, community relations and branding & design from project inception to delivery.

We have over 15 years’ experience in delivering for clients in Wales and are currently supporting clients with exciting projects in wind, solar, grid, carbon capture and storage, and re-industrialisation.

We’ll be following the Welsh Labour leadership election every step of the way and providing our expert analysis.

 

Let’s chat // Coffi a chlonc cyn bo hir?

To join our Copper Connect mailing list, or if you’d like support with Welsh public affairs, please get in touch with Lisa.Childs@copperconsultancy.com to find out more.

This year’s Solar and Storage Live conference is set to be the biggest yet!

The industry descends on the NEC in Birmingham for its annual showcase event from 17th-19th October.

 

Coming out of the recent political party conference season, Solar and Storage comes at a time when the role of communities in the planning process, net zero and utility-scale solar are all firmly on the political agenda. With a general election on the immediate horizon too, clear battle lines are starting to be drawn.

Despite rumours in a recent Observer piece threatening a resurgence in proposed restrictions to solar farms on agricultural land, the sector can breathe a cautious sigh of relief that, as of yet, there has been no real evidence of a change in policy on this from Rishi Sunak. What the Prime Minster did do however, was to use his recent party conference speech to advocate for a wider rollback of net zero commitments to 2050.

In contrast, the would-be Prime Minister in waiting, Keir Starmer, has put commitment to the development of clean energy front and centre in Labour’s vision for power. At the Labour Party conference, Shadow Secretary for Climate Change and Net Zero, Ed Miliband, also pledged to bring forward an Energy Independence Act which would implement measures for the UK electricity system to be 100% clean power by 2030, and defend the UK against shocks in the global energy market. He also announced that Labour wanted to work with businesses to increase investment, with £2.5bn committed from the public purse to help clean energy industries.

Rejecting Sunak’s recent withdrawal of green policies and investment, Starmer stressed the importance of ‘speeding up’ investment in clean energy. Shadow Minister for Industry and Decarbonisation, Sarah Jones, when speaking at a fringe event on the role the gird can play in unlocking net zero, emphasised that listening to the views of local communities will be essential for this. For utility-scale solar projects, this could also mean rewards of discounted energy bills for the communities hosting them.

Energy Minister, Graham Stuart, will be addressing the industry in person in Birmingham this week. He spoke positively about the role of solar to meet net zero when he addressed the Solar Energy UK’s summer reception earlier this year, and delegates will be wanting to hear more of the same at the NEC.

Copper’s latest report of public attitudes to solar – published earlier this year – found overwhelming support for the technology. But local uncertainty of development naturally leads to doubts during the planning process where reassurance needs to be the strongest. The industry must cut through myths and misinformation to build meaningful consensus and a societal licence for the role which solar, particularly at a utility-scale, will play in achieving UK energy security and net zero.

 

Copper will be attending Solar & Storage Live from 17th-19th October – You can find Copper for a chat on RSK Group’s stand N11 in Hall 5.

On day two our Director Sam Cranston and Senior Account Manager Imogen Fawcett will each be sharing their insights on community-based solar engagement and how to gain public support. If you’re attending and would like to discuss what the recent party conferences mean for solar as we head into the next general election, or how we can bring communities along with us.

Claire Coutinho MP appointed as Secretary of State for Energy and Net Zero on the 31 August 2023.

Replacing Grant Shapps, who has been appointed Secretary of State for Defence following the resignation of the previous Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace. Before this appointment, Coutinho was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Families and Wellbeing, and an MP for the East Surrey constituency.

Our briefing analyses Coutinho’s views on energy policy, and the likely implications of her appointment for the sector. You can read the full briefing here The New Energy Secretary

If you would like to find out more about how Copper can help you navigate changes to energy policy, please contact Phoebe Sullivan.

 

Despite a now widespread understanding of the concept of climate change, and our global drive to Net Zero, it’s surprising just how low UK public awareness and understanding of renewable energy is.

There are also some interesting divisions in knowledge and support across certain demographics. Our report provides useful insights on helping segments of society to better understand renewables and engage.

To read our report, click here.

To find out more about our research into renewables, check out our recent reports into nuclear and solar.

A lot has moved on since our 2022 research was published. There are now well over ten solar projects being explored publicly as part of the NSIP regime in the UK. We’ve also seen significant announcements in the 2023 Spring Budget.

So how can we deliver quality solar projects at the scale needed and bring the community along for the journey?

Read the report, we’ve written in collaboration with Solar Energy UK here – 2023 – a transformative year for Solar: a study of public attitudes to solar development

Read our previous report here – 2022 – A bright future for solar: a study into public attitudes to solar energy

As utility-scale solar projects go from strength to strength in the UK, Copper Consultancy has demonstrated continued excellence through Ecotricity’s Heckington Fen solar farm being accepted for examination.

Copper’s role ranged from delivering the project’s statutory consultation, to political and community insight, and most recently involved producing the consultation report that was submitted as part of the Development Consent Order (DCO) application.

This important milestone for Heckington Fen solar farm continues our 100% success rate for applications being accepted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate.

To find out more about our work in solar energy, read here.

A General Election is on the horizon and net zero targets are quickly approaching. We’ve set out to understand the public’s thinking about the role climate change will have in voters’ minds at the ballot box and asked the question: will the next General Election by won or lost on climate change.

Ben Heatley, Managing Partner at Copper Consultancy discusses how the UK should respond to war in Ukraine, suggesting that it should be a catalyst for more rapid change in the country’s energy system.

 

The world has looked on in horror as scenes of violence and destruction have emerged from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The crisis is humanitarian, and every effort must be taken to bring pressure on Russia to halt their aggression, so that focus can move to supporting the millions of Ukrainians who have been bereaved, injured and displaced.

Western nations have responded swiftly, seeking to exert economic and political pressure on the Putin regime, in an attempt to force a change in strategy, and to limit funding to the Russian armed forces.

Energy reliance

There is a significant limitation to the West’s plan, namely Europe’s reliance on Russian oil, and particularly gas. Some Eastern European nations are almost exclusively supplied with Russian gas, while Germany and Austria receive about 50% of their gas supplies from Russia.

On the surface, the UK is not as dependent, receiving approximately 5% of our supplies from Russia, but that doesn’t tell the full story as we live in an interconnected world, and it’s challenging to distinguish exactly where gas that arrives via pipeline has originated from.

One response to this crisis, will inevitably be to seek to increase supplies from the North Sea and Norway, along with LNG supplies from Qatar and elsewhere. However, that is a short term solution that will not address the fundamental challenge of an overreliance on one country for our energy supplies. It will also not enable us all to transition to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

Energy independence

The International Energy Association has produced a ten point plan to reduce the use of Russian oil and gas, while accelerating the transition to net-zero. As a country, the UK needs to take every opportunity to enact these recommendations, so that we can put greater pressure on Russia, and accelerate our own transition to an affordable, reliable, sustainable and self-sufficient energy system.

The good news is that we are already in line with a number of the EIA’s recommendations. We are planning a transition away from gas boilers, we are expanding renewable energy systems with offshore wind and solar schemes booming, and we do have a strategy to support the nuclear industry, particularly by backing small modular reactors.

We must move faster to support the UK’s energy market at a time of enormous uncertainty and price rises, and to play our part in international relations. Renewable technologies not only represent the most environmentally sustainable solution, but they are also the most affordable and self-sufficient options.

Making rapid progress in our own energy independence also sends a message to Russia that we are preparing for a future where dirty, carbon intensive, imported fuels will no longer be necessary, and therefore cannot be used as a high stakes bargaining chip.

Bold decision-making

In practical terms, that means the Government making clear and decisive policy decisions to prioritise a rapid transition to clean energy independence. It must come forward with the long expected National Policy Statements on energy, giving clear and unequivocal backing to renewables and nuclear power, and transmission upgrades. The Government must emphasise that at a local level, planning authorities should support solar energy schemes as a means to get additional clean energy into the grid quickly. The Government must also rescind the moratorium on onshore wind in the England, as a clear statement of intent.

At a domestic level, far more needs to be done to insulate homes and install heat pumps in place of gas boilers. The hydrogen and district heating industries must also be further supported to play their part in decarbonising domestic heat.

Some commentators have suggested that the UK should reinvest in domestic gas production, and possibly even fracking, in response to war in Ukraine. There may be a small role for increased domestic supply from the North Sea. But in the long term this is seriously flawed logic, as it only serves to tie the UK further into a hydrocarbon based energy system, which is interconnected to Russia and has faced unprecedented price inflation in recent months.

The future isn’t about replicating the past. Instead we must accept the compromises inherent in the need to genuinely shift from an unsustainable system, to a sustainable one. In that process, we must all make compromises, by accepting that new energy infrastructure will impact us all in some way with views and landscapes changed, and our homes altered.

We must simultaneously do more to support the poorest, helping them to weather short and medium term price rises far more effectively than we have to date.

United front

In the second world war, the UK was encouraged to dig for victory, in order to supplement domestic food supplies and reduce reliance on imports. That initiative saw parks, playgrounds and gardens transformed into allotments. We face a very different situation today, but in order to tackle the combined threat of climate emergency and energy insecurity, we may need a similarly united national effort to achieve our goals.

Interested in learning more about this or other topics discussed on our website? Then please contact us at: https://www.copperconsultancy.com/contact/

Copper has been appointed by Ecotricity to deliver consultation and engagement activity for a new DCO solar park in Lincolnshire.

This adds to a growing portfolio of Copper’s energy clients in the UK, building on experience across offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, nuclear, hydro and energy transmission.

Energy director, Sam Cranston said “We’re thrilled to have secured the opportunity to work with one of the UK’s leading and greenest energy companies, bringing forward a proposed solar park that would generate enough electricity to power more than 100,000 UK homes per year.

“It’s exciting for our team to be working with clients and on projects that will play a significant role in helping the UK towards meeting its net zero targets and deliver a sustainable future.”