In one of the UK’s oldest green power stations


Interconnected reservoirs provide power generation at Cwm Rheidol

Tucked away in a secluded valley, you’ll find one of the UK’s oldest renewable energy plants.

For 60 years, the Rheidol hydroelectric power station, near Aberystwyth, has been generating clean electricity from abundant rain.

Operators say Wales has the key ingredients to be a “strong player” in green energy production, but the Institute of Welsh Affairs has warned progress is too slow.

The Welsh government said it has bold ambitions to meet energy needs.

It plans to discuss its plans to tackle climate change later, as world leaders meet in Egypt for the COP27 summit.

Renewables such as wind, solar and hydro provide 56% of Wales’ electricity demand, but the Welsh Government hopes this will reach 70% by 2030, although this is currently under review.

According to boss Dennis Geyermann, people are “always surprised” when they come across the massive hydroelectric power station in Ceredigion’s scenic Cwm Rheidol valley.

“But this is the story of renewable energy — it brings interesting, high-tech jobs to rural areas,” he said.

It consists of a series of interconnected reservoirs, dams, underground tunnels and power stations and is the largest project of its kind in Wales and England.

It covers a total area of ​​62 square miles (162 square kilometers) and supplies enough electricity to power 15,000 households.

Since 2008 it has been owned by Statkraft, a spin-off of the Norwegian government and Europe’s largest producer of renewable energy.

Dennis Geyermann

Dennis Geyermann: “We have the right landscape, we have enough rain and wind and there is a great coastline”

From here, the company’s other renewable energy projects – as far as the Scottish Highlands – are monitored 24 hours a day.

“This is kind of the brains of the operation,” explains Mr. Geyermann, vice president for operations and maintenance.

He said the company – which recently announced it hopes to develop a new green hydrogen plant in Pembrokeshire – had a “major project pipeline for the UK”.

And Wales in particular could be “a strong player when it comes to renewable energy,” he added.

“We have the right landscape, we have enough rain and wind and there is a great coastline,” he said.

“The Welsh people are ready too.”

Sarah South

Sarah South advised young people to gain skills to take advantage of the “big push” to green energy

Sarah South, who is responsible for health and safety at Statkraft UK, grew up nearby and remembers fishing with her father in the plan’s reservoirs, as well as numerous school trips to the site.

She said she would encourage young people to acquire the skills needed to take advantage of the “big push” to green energy.

“Your English, science, math, geography — you might think they’re boring subjects in school — but they’re going to be very important,” she said.

“It’s such a big industry coming through now, and so important for the future of the world.”

What has changed?

Built in 1962, long before climate change concerns filled the headlines, Rheidol’s hydropower system has undergone an energy revolution in the UK.

At that time, almost all of our energy came from burning coal.

Fast forward to 2020 and for the first time in over 200 years, official energy statistics showed that coal had played no part in Wales’ energy generation mix.

And 56% of the country’s electricity demand is now met by renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro.

Officially, the Welsh Government’s target is to reach 70% by 2030, although that is currently under review.

‘Progress is too slow’

Auriol Miller, director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs think-thank, said progress had been too slow so far.

“We need to look higher, further and faster in terms of those goals,” she argued.

The think tank has in a series of reports in recent years urged Welsh ministers to aim for 100% by 2035.

Scotland, by comparison, is pretty much already there.

The dam at the Nant-y-Moch reservoir

Dam at Nant-y-Moch reservoir helps generate enough electricity to power 15,000 households

Neil Lewis, founder of Carmarthenshire Energy, which has helped develop wind, solar and electric vehicle projects across the county, said it took too long to get the plans off the drawing board.

“We have colleagues who have built community-owned wind farms that it took 10 to 20 years to get permission to build,” he said.

“It’s really important that we accelerate our efforts.”

Meanwhile, the Senedd’s Climate Change Commission has also expressed concerns about a slowdown in renewable energy development since 2015.

The Welsh government, which has carried out an in-depth review of barriers to renewable energy this year, has promised new targets by next summer and a national energy plan by 2024.

Earlier this month, it also announced it was setting up a state-owned renewable energy development company for Wales – a first in the UK.

‘Wealth and Value’

In a statement, the Welsh government said it had “bold ambitions for sustainable generation to at least fully meet our energy needs in Wales – while receiving a fair share of its wealth and value”.

It said it was “progressing towards our goals, but we need to go further and faster”.

“We support local organizations to tackle climate change and we will support companies to develop their workforce for the clean energy future,” it added.

“In this cost of living crisis, we need to focus on finding the most affordable solution with the least impact, as the decisions we make today will have a huge impact on generations to come.”

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