I’m not going to lie. Back to the Future is one of my favourite films so any opportunity that I have to reference it in a blog post, I’m going to take it!
Ultimately, this quotation relates to the need to make good decisions for the future. This is essentially what the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 (WBFG Act) is all about; making sure that decisions made are not those that the next generation will have to pay for. This groundbreaking piece of legislation is about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. It makes public bodies listed in the Act think more about the long term and ensures they must do what they do in a sustainable way.
I’m not going to attempt to explain the detail of the Act in a single blog post and besides, clear summaries of the purpose of the Act have already been put together elsewhere. Instead, I’m purely going to focus on my own personal experience with the Act in my time coordinating the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ Re-energising Wales project, a project supported by the Friends Provident Foundation.
The Re-energising Wales project is creating a practical plan for Wales to move towards meeting 100% of its energy demands from renewable energy by 2035. Wales has some of the best natural resources for renewable energy in Europe and the project’s aim is to provide evidence to ensure that Wales reaches its potential, whilst also ensuring that communities and local organisations play a significant role in the transition to a decarbonised, decentralised and democratised energy system.
We are currently providing evidence to convince policymakers in Wales and the UK to make Wales an energy leader, and we are using the WBFG Act as a lever in helping us to achieve this. What is clear is that business-as-usual will not deliver the kind of Wales envisaged in the Act. The Act demands a low carbon society that ‘recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately’ and takes account of global well-being and the capacity to adapt to climate change.
Many of the foundations to enable such change to happen in Wales are already in place through such developments as the WBFG Act and the Environment (Wales) Act. However, it is not enough to set overall objectives and assume they will be met without a radical step-change in activity.
Wales is making progress on renewable energy. As of December 2016, Wales generated over 43 percent of its electricity consumption from renewables. However, the pace of change has been too slow and disappointingly, community ownership of renewable energy generation is still significantly low. Whilst ‘locally owned’ renewable energy capacity makes up 17% of all renewable energy capacity in Wales at 575 MW, community owned renewable energy projects (which form one part of the definition of ‘locally owned’) only total 13.4 MW of this 575 MW.
Enter the Act! Despite it still being fairly early days in terms for the Act, it is already making a difference in the community energy sector.
The IWA has called for more community shared ownership of large scale renewable energy projects. We argued that “There should be more onus on bodies such as Natural Resources Wales to show how their tender process fits into the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 criteria”.
In August 2017, following our and others’ representations, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) awarded a tender to Innogy UK Renewables and Community Energy Wales to jointly develop a large-scale wind project in north Wales. NRW stated that the Innogy bid featured a strong community element thanks to their collaboration with Community Energy Wales which enables the community to own up to 15% of that scheme. NRW also referenced the WBFG Act criteria as a driver for their decision. We now hope to see further shared ownership schemes with higher levels of community ownership.
On the subject of local ownership, our ‘Swansea Bay City Region: A Renewable Energy Future’ case study modelled what a renewable energy future could look like for the region to 2035. It shows the targets, challenges and actions that would be needed to achieve a radical transformation of an energy system at a local level. We believe that helping people to understand where renewable energy resource exists in their local area and how it can be used for local benefit is vital to driving local ownership of renewable energy projects. Our work has influenced the Welsh Government to consider regional and local area energy mapping as part of their development of an Energy Atlas for Wales, particularly in matching new generation with smarter local use of renewable energy.
Another example where the Act has made an impact in my experience was when Sophie Howe, the first Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, voiced her support for the IWA’s local government pension fund fossil fuel divestment recommendations (as outlined in the Re-energising Wales ‘Funding renewable energy projects in Wales’ report). With our support, the Commissioner wrote a letter in March 2018 to each of the Welsh local government pension funds, quoting our evidence to influence their decision making. In March 2018, the Greater Gwent (Torfaen) Fund called for the fund that manages its pensions to withdraw an estimated £245m it has invested in fossil fuels.
Of course, the Act has put a number of the Welsh Government’s own schemes in the spotlight. This includes the proposal to build a new section of motorway, a proposal which, according to the Future Generations Commissioner, could be setting a “dangerous precedent” in the way Welsh Ministers have interpreted the WBFG Act. To finish the blog on the note I started on, perhaps Wales could take further inspiration from Dr. Emmett Brown: