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Council leader rejects energy company conflict of interest claim

Cllr Darren Price, leader of Carmarthenshire Council (Pic: Richard Youle)

THE LEADER of Carmarthenshire Council has rejected a conflict of interest claim about a pension fund investment in an energy company whose subsidiary would need council planning permission for an electricity substation.

Cllr Darren Price was asked at a cabinet meeting what steps he was taking to avoid such a potential conflict given what resident Havard Hughes claimed was “Carmarthenshire’s pension fund investment” in Bute Energy, whose subsidiary Green GEN Cymru wants to link a planned wind farm near Llandrindod Wells to a new substation south of Carmarthen via 60 miles of new pylons.

The Plaid leader said there was no such thing as a Carmarthenshire pension fund. Officers and some councillors, he said, were members of the “separate and autonomous” Dyfed Pension Fund, which represented some 50 public sector organisations in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. He added that this fund was a member of an umbrella group called Wales Pension Partnership, which represented eight local authority pension funds and was co-ordinating investments in one or more of Bute Energy’s companies.

He said Wales Pension Partnership was committed to investing in Bute Energy wind farms, and that Dyfed Pension Fund money was not being invested in Green GEN Cymru’s proposed Towy Usk transmission line project.

Furthermore, Cllr Price said the decision to invest in the wind farms pre-dated the publication in January 2023 of the proposed Towy Usk scheme – a scheme he felt was insensitive and inappropriate. “I believe that the cables should be ‘undergrounded’ in line with Welsh Government guidelines in order to protect the landscape for future generations,” he said. Green GEN Cymru said it has always been open to underground cabling “where it may be appropriate to reduce the project’s effects without affecting its viable delivery”.

Cllr Price also said that the council’s “quasi-judicial” planning committee would, when determining any application for a new electricity sub-station, be guided by planning policy and material planning matters and that councillors and officers had codes of conduct to abide by.

In a follow-up question Mr Hughes claimed Bute Energy was unable to afford cable undergrounding because it would have to pay compensation to landowners of £100 per metre while also maximising returns to pension fund investors. “Surely this creates a profound conflict of interest between residents who want undergrounding and local authority pension fund members?” he asked.

Cllr Price said this was not the case, and that he believed undergrounding was viable – in particular because a cable-ploughing company based in Carmarthenshire, called ATP, carried out this work in the UK and overseas. “The technology is proven, it’s cost-effective,” he said.

“From my perspective there is no conflict between ensuring returns for the pension fund and delivering a scheme which protects our landscape.”

Wales Pension Partnership plans to invest £68 million in new onshore energy parks in Wales, helping the country meet a target that all electricity should be renewable by 2035.

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Green GEN Cymru said the existing grid network in Mid Wales did not have nearly enough capacity to connect all the new renewable energy needed for homes and businesses, and that on balance overhead lines were the best solution. A Green GEN Cymru spokesman said undergrounding the entire Towy Usk route could make it six to 10 times more expensive, which would potentially make the project unviable.

He added: “We have had several conversations with ATP and await further information from them before we can better understand if their technology would be suitable for this project. We have always been open to underground cabling where it may be appropriate to reduce the project’s effects without affecting its viable delivery.

“Current plans for the Towy Usk line include a section of underground cabling where the route crosses the river Towy. This change was made in response to feedback Green GEN Cymru received from the public, in addition to environmental and technical assessments, following the first round of public consultation on the route.”

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