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Concerns over £3bn public sector pension fund investments in energy company

Pylons generic (Pic: Andrew Martin, Pixabay)

A £3 BILLION public sector pension fund is to consider withdrawing or withholding investment in an energy company whose subsidiary wants to build two lines of controversial electricity pylons in Mid Wales.

In an unusual move, Carmarthenshire councillor Alun Lenny – a member of  Dyfed Pension Fund board – asked his colleagues to put the proposal to a committee whose role includes approving the pension’s funding strategy.

Carmarthneshire councillor Alun Lenny (Pic: Supplied)

Cllr Lenny said the prospect of first one and then two lines of pylons connecting planned wind farms near Llandidrod Wells and Lampeter dozens of miles away to a substation near Carmarthen had caused a public uproar. People, he said, wanted the cables buried underground to protect the landscape.

Cllr Lenny – the council’s Plaid Cymru cabinet member for resources – wrote to the pension fund board ahead of its meeting saying the council would not normally correspond in this manner but that on this occasion there was “a particular need to”.

Addressing the board, Cllr Lenny said an umbrella pension group of which Dyfed Pension Fund is a member – called Wales Pension Partnership – had agreed to invest £68 million in a company called Bute Energy. This company wants to build wind farms in Wales, with its subsidiary Green GEN Cymru behind plans to build the two pylon routes through an area of Wales known to lack grid infrastructure.

Cllr Lenny said Wales Pension Partnership’s £68 million investment decision pre-dated the publication by Green GEN Cymru of its proposed Towy Usk pylon route and, more latterly, its more westerly Teifi Usk one, both of which run through Carmarthenshire.

He said the council was creating a 16-mile cycle route in the Towy Valley and that the Towy Usk pylon proposal would, in its view, cause “significant damage to the landscape” and seriously conflict with the cycle path project.

For this reason, and also as owners of farms in the proposed path of the pylons, Cllr Lenny said the council supported residents and businesses’ concerns regarding the pylons. “To ‘underground’ the cables would remove objections overnight,” he said.

Dyfed Pension Fund has thousands of members who work for 50-odd organisations in Mid and West Wales. Like many pension funds it has faced pressure to divest from fossil fuel companies, and it has committed to move its investments to low-carbon ones due to what a board report described as the “systemic risk to the overall stability of every economy and country” posed by climate change.

Carmarthenshire Council, meanwhile, is committed to becoming “net zero” by 2030.

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It emerged this week that the council is among the landowners which haven’t allowed Green GEN Cymru surveyors or their representatives onto their land.

Cllr Lenny said it was valid to press Green GEN Cymru on whether it had properly explored the costs of undergrounding by a method called cable ploughing, which a company in Carmarthenshire specialises in.

His approved resolution calls on the pension fund committee, which meets next month, to consider whether there is cause or opportunity to withdraw or withhold the investment in Bute Energy. The committee will also be asked if it’s possible to engage with Bute Energy or its Green GEN Cymru subsidiary to ensure a “full and proper evaluation” of cable ploughing costs.

The Welsh Government wants electricity to be fully decarbonised by 2035 – up from around 55% currently – which would require a big increase in renewable energy from wind and solar farms.

Bute Energy said it was proud of the £68 million Wales Pension Partnership investment, adding that the funding wasn’t being allocated to Green GEN Cymru.

A Bute Energy spokesman said: “Our partnership with the Wales Pension Partnership means that members of the local Government pension scheme will benefit from Bute Energy’s success, contributing to our mission to keep as much of our investment in Wales as possible, for the benefit of its people and communities.

“The Wales Pension Partnership’s investment demonstrates that it is possible to achieve financial returns for its members while also advancing social and environmental goals. Through our partnership, the Wales Pension Partnership is making a vital contribution to the Welsh Government’s climate strategy, its targets on local and shared ownership of renewable energy projects, and its vision for a greener Wales.”

Green GEN Cymru has previously said that the existing grid in Mid Wales did not have nearly enough capacity to connect all the new renewable energy needed in the future and that, on balance, overhead lines were considered the best overall solution. It claimed that burying cables underground was six to 10 times more expensive.

The company said a section of the planned Towy Usk route would include a section of buried cables where it crossed the River Towy, and that it was awaiting further information from the Carmarthenshire-based cable ploughing company to see if its technology would be suitable for the project.

Speaking earlier this week, a Green GEN Cymru  spokesman said: “We have always been open to underground cabling where it may be appropriate to reduce the project’s effects without affecting its viable delivery.”

Meanwhile, a pylon campaign group called Carmarthenshire Residents Action Group has welcomed the step taken this week by Dyfed Pension Board. Group spokesman Havard Hughes said: “Residents are delighted to see the letter by Cllr Alun Lenny to the chairman of the Dyfed Pension Fund board echoing many of the concerns raised by residents.”