It was reported in The Guardian on 31 July, that a new alliance had been formed between the two ancient Celtic kingdoms of Wales and Cornwall, to develop clean, green energy in the Celtic Sea between them, including bidding for leases to build enough floating windfarms in the Celtic Sea to power three million homes by 2035. As was seen by the gale force winds that battered Southwest England and South Wales on the weekend of 5th and 6th August, the area is a very suitable place for the development of electricity from wind power, so the idea makes perfect sense.
It has been noted that Cornwall and South Wales make up some of the most deprived areas in western Europe and that this development could be really good news, if the benefits can go to local people and local supply chains. It was also noted that one key theme of the Cornwall-Wales agreement was to ensure that the agreement is translated into good local jobs. Here in the North East, also one of the most deprived areas in western Europe, we should be not looking at what Wales and Cornwall are doing with envy, but rather as an inspiration.
One thing that is clear is that the greater devolution of power that Wales enjoys has been a factor in helping them to develop their own economy, although the lack of devolution of power to Cornwall has correspondingly been an inhibiting factor in theirs. In less than a year most of our region will have a new Mayor for an enlarged Combined Authority. With this new position, we must push on as a region and develop our green potential in the same way that Wales and Cornwall are. And I think that there is much to develop.
We have great potential for wind power. Firstly, there is the wide expanse of the North Sea just to our east, which we have already begun to exploit as a source of wind power, but there is surely far greater potential. This is seen perhaps most strikingly in the case of the Dogger Bank Project and the great work that is being done at Port of Tyne in South Shields. There a lot of valuable work is being done to contribute to the three large windfarms being constructed on the Dogger Bank in the middle of the North Sea, which collectively will make up the largest windfarm in the world. We also have potential for expansion of onshore wind in various parts of our region.
Similarly, we have potential for wave power. Who among us, hasn’t been for a coastal walk along our North East coastline and seen the white of the waves on a windy day? The kinetic energy from the waves that crash along our shoreline, could be used to turn turbines and so convert to electrical energy. True, the technology is still in development, but just as it is something they may consider in the Celtic Sea between Cornwall and Wales, it is also something we could consider here.
Then there is solar power. This could include solar farms, and panels on houses and public buildings such as schools and railway stations. The potential for solar power in the North East is huge – and the tapping of it has hardly begun. There is also the potential for a large giga factory in Blyth, which it was hoped a couple of years ago would have been set up by now. Despite the problems reported on ITV in April, that “there is an ongoing dispute between potential buyer Recharge Industries and administrator EY over contract payments related to the transferring of a connection to the National Grid”, we can only hope that it will be set up sometime in the near future to bring much needed new jobs to southeast Northumberland and it can then complement the new clean energy hub being established in Blyth. We have the skills in the region; we just need the investment and the opportunities to show what we can do.
Hot water from old mines
Finally, there is the potential for hot water from old mine workings, which could perhaps heat many of our houses, with cheap, clean energy. It was reported by the BBC on 9 June 2020, that a new garden village near Seaham in County Durham would soon be getting its heat from a surprising source: it will be warmed by water from a disused mine. It was noted that, “the temperatures are raised naturally, by heat from the earth’s crust. The water is then pumped up from flooded shafts and used to heat the whole district using a single system.” This is a wonderful part of our great mining heritage in the region and as the BBC commented, “1,500 residents of South Seaham Garden Village shouldn’t notice that the warmth from the radiators derives from the dust-smeared sweat of their forebears.” It can be hoped that many of our old mining areas might benefit from similar schemes in the future.
Community wealth building
We must also, like our friends in Wales and Cornwall, ensure that as much of the profit from these potential green energy sources stays in our region and is not leaked away to shareholders many, many miles away. We need to develop community wealth building. Using local partners, such as universities, the new North East Combined Authority could do similar to what is planned in Cornwall and Wales and facilitate the development of our own green energy sources and ensure that the profits stay here for the benefit of the people in what is the most deprived region in the country. Whether we are considering combating the climate crisis, getting jobs for our young people, or helping to revive our local economy with a real levelling-up initiative it just all makes sense.
We should applaud what politicians are doing in Cornwall and Wales; anything to combat the existential climate crisis is to be welcomed by us all. However, we should also learn from it in our region and see what we can do to develop our own Northumbrian green industries and sources of green energy and campaign for the power to do it. We need to ensure that the wealth created from these industries is kept within our own communities and not leaked away to wealthy shareholders in other places. And we must ensure that our young people benefit from the just transition we have been waiting for in the Northeast, for so very long.
People in Cornwall and Wales are rightly taking pride in their heritage but also looking to the future. We should be doing the same with our heritage and our future. There is much to take pride in and much to look forward to, if we are able to seize the moment.