After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 two women in southern Germany asked their energy company to provide the city’s 2,000 inhabitants with only renewable energy. They were told it couldn’t be done.
Inspired by this rebuff the two women went on to create their own renewable energy company; and the village of Shonau in Baden Wurtenburg now supplies 150,000 customers with its array of solar, wind, hydro and biomass systems.
Wales is endowed with abundant supplies of renewable energy. Every historic village has a river or stream running through it. Wales has at least four times the amount of wind as Germany.
So what is holding Wales back? We are proud to have taken a lead where we can, but must continue to do so while winning back powers from Westminster and in spite of the ongoing shortage of funding.
Wales is the pioneer of a 5p levy on carrier bags. The hedgerows and streets of Wales as well as sea life across the world have benefited enormously from the 70 per cent reduction in single use carrier bags it has brought about.
Likewise, Wrexham council was quick off the mark to take advantage of the feed-in tariffs (FITs) for solar energy introduced by the last UK Labour government. It now has 4.5 megawatts of installed energy proudly adorning up to 3,000 of its council houses and public buildings, keeping tenants warm and bills low. But most local authorities were left behind once George Osborne started dismantling the FIT, and are yet to seize the opportunity to rediscover their roots as municipal energy suppliers.
Wales needs greater devolved powers to prevent the monopoly of energy distributors from blocking new entrants into the energy market.
Huge advances in storage technology make it perfectly possible for individuals and communities to generate enough energy to meet most of their needs; smart meters, for example, enable us to track exactly how much energy we use at different times of the day.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the design of new homes. The Low Carbon Research Institute at Cardiff University has designed a house that is effectively its own power station, within the budget for social house building.
We in Wales already produce more electricity than we use. We already have many of the powers needed to generate energy that will benefit the Welsh economy and the rest of the UK in a way that is clean, sustainable and mindful of our climate change obligations to future generations. We need to use them – and then go further to ensure Wales continues to lead the way in the fight against climate change.