Turning Wales into a renewable energy world beater

Great Orme, Llandudno, Conwy, Wales

We've been pioneering cleaner and greener renewable energy in Wales and UK-wide over the past decade, and some of our investments are now not only paying for themselves but bringing wider benefits to conservation, communities and farming. Justin Albert, Director for Wales shares his thoughts on energy in Wales.

Right now there’s a unique opportunity to protect and enhance some of the nation's most vital land resources and natural habitats, as well as putting Wales at the forefront of tackling climate change.

We have a chance in Wales to seize a historic moment by fully recognising the potential from investing in a joined-up renewable energy plan to bring three vital benefits - renewable energy, sustainable land use and new sources of income for farmers and rural communities.

Green light

I’ve been in post now for more than six years and I feel that one of our strongest achievements in that time has been for National Trust in Wales to lead the way throughout the organisation on energy conservation and generation. I feel incredibly passionate about this because it’s in line with the principles laid down by the founders of the National Trust, like Octavia Hill and Fanny Talbot who donated the first piece of land at Dinas Oleu in Barmouth - to bring public good and benefit to the nation.

We've been pioneering cleaner and greener renewable energy in Wales and UK-wide over the past decade, and some of our investments are now not only paying for themselves but bringing wider benefits to conservation, communities and farming.

Strategic investment

We made a decision six years ago to throw our resources, energy, money and capital behind renewable technology in a way that enhances rather than detracts from our core places of outstanding beauty, and at the same time delivers energy. We've also done it very publicly.

One example is the hydro unit on the side of Snowdon, near the Watkin Path where 100,000 people walk up to the summit every year. Though you’d never know the hydro was there because it works with the landscape, which has been kept exactly the same as before it was built.

Walk the Watkin Path; one of six main routes to the summit of Snowdon
Walkers on the Watkin Path, Snowdonia
Walk the Watkin Path; one of six main routes to the summit of Snowdon

And we built Britain’s biggest marine source heat pump under the Menai Strait, which heats a 300-year-old mansion at Plas Newydd on the North Wales coast. Installing the pump has saved National Trust in Wales from bringing in hundreds of tanker loads of fuel that were previously required to heat the mansion.

Plas Newydd, Anglesey
Plas Newydd, Anglesey, with the Menai Strait and Snowdonia seen from beneath a large sycamore tree
Plas Newydd, Anglesey

Guests arriving at Trust car parks at Penrhyn Castle and Bodnant Garden, can also see the photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays that power the properties.

Very visibly, people can see that you can create energy efficiently, in places that are beautiful, without affecting the place, or the beauty of the place.

Hydro, heat source pumps and solar energy and even in the right place wind power, can all have their place. However, for us they are all part of a bigger picture around committing to using less fossil fuels and realising that the places that we look after have the ability to compensate for that energy usage.

We've also not kept that knowledge to ourselves. We’ve shown how we can use energy generation from hydro to help communities in and around Bethesda, for example.

Climate change and land use

As one of the biggest landowners in Britain and Wales it is important that we take a leading and inspirational role in linking up renewable energy to better land management, tackling climate change and halting biodversity decline.

Sheep on the Great Orme
Sheep on the Great Orme
Sheep on the Great Orme

We’re keen to keep pushing tackling climate change and renewable energy development higher up the political agenda in Wales. We know we can use land in an environmentally sensitive way to generate electricity and power, and this can be done while caring for the land in a very beneficial way. We have shown this through the way we sustainably develop our in-hand farms, through our methods of farming that bring benefit for nature.

Climate change is right at the top of our agenda and the pioneering work we are doing in Wales has a much larger impact across the globe. Using renewable energy and investing in it and in new ways of doing it, means that we can do it ethically, without using so much fossil fuel.

In Wales, which is largely an upland nation, we have some of the most threatened and marginal farmland anywhere in the world.

As farming dramatically changes, post-Brexit we can work to make sure that any future subsidy system goes towards sustainable farming that protects and enhances our natural environment. That way our native species will come back and flourish. If we don't do that we will see more species in decline. But, if you get it right, you can turn Wales into a real exemplar of what the future of energy and farming will look like.

Changing perceptions

One of the biggest changes I have noticed during my time at the helm is how the work we’re doing in Wales is changing the way the charity is perceived in Wales.
This has changed greatly, and we are seen less as an English organisation that looks after big houses and much more as an organisation that takes pride in our Welsh nation’s land and landscapes and also leads the way on sustainability.

Our renewable energy programme also helps give us the means to afford to do the vital conservation of everything we are guardians of for the nation. It is expensive to run the National Trust in Wales and we now about cover our costs, which is fantastic.
We do all of this because we feel it is the right thing to do. It is what I think Octavia Hill, who founded the National Trust, would have done if she was still around to influence our direction.
I aim to continue moving forward that vital debate about how we fulfil our core function of looking after beautiful places, for ever, for everyone, while tackling the big challenges of our day like climate change and land management and conserving nature.

More about Justin

Justin Albert, National Trust Director for Wales, has had a long and distinguished career in broadcasting and documentary film production in America where he worked at Discovery Communications, Animal Planet and as President of Mandalay Media Arts; making and commissioning a wide variety of award winning programmes about history, culture and the natural world. 

Since returning to his home in Wales he has worked with Horse and Country TV, become a founder of the Hay Castle Trust and, as a consultant, undertaken a substantial review of S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster. 

Justin has worked on preservation and arts projects in Merthyr Tydfil, and is a direct descendent of the Mabinogion translator, Lady Charlotte Guest.  He has been a vice president of the Hay Literary Festival since 2005 and is also vice-president of the Brecon Jazz Festival. Justin lives and farms in Powys with his wife, three children and a scruffy terrier.
He was appointed National Trust Director for Wales in September 2011.

More details can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Albert