Severn barrage: decarbonising shouldn’t come at any cost
As one of the few civil engineers in Parliament, I’ve long tracked the debate around attempts to harness the power of the Severn Estuary. Huge potential undoubtedly exists, but as the UK seeks to decarbonise its energy mix, projects of this nature and scale still need to be properly assessed. Parliamentarians, civil servants and the public alike need to know that this necessary policy driver will not come at any cost.
My colleague in another place, the battle hardened Rt Hon Peter Hain MP, has stepped down from the shadow cabinet to intensify publicity for Hafren Power’s proposal for a 10 mile long barrage from Cardiff to Weston-Super-Mare, and has taken to his task with vigour.
Bold claims about the scheme, such as that it will generate 50,000 jobs, employ a (yet to be prototyped) ‘fish-friendly’ turbine and adhere to environmental protection and European legislation, are easily disproved. As is the suggestion that the change in tidal range will have no effect on ship movements. The damming of the estuary will not reduce flooding (indeed, it will make the type of flooding that is an issue in the area already, fluvial and pluvial, worse because water sits on the land for longer through a process called tidal locking) and the 69,000 migratory birds cannot simply relocate to a like-for-like habitat bigger than the size of Bermuda.
Headline grabbing statements such as those above, whilst appealing both environmentally and economically, are not backed up. After much searching on Hafren Power’s website and through the company’s written evidence to the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, it has become evident that there is precious little detail to support these claims.
This is deeply concerning, especially when one considers the £8m expense of the UK and Welsh governments’ three year study into this subject that concluded there was in fact no compelling case for a large barrage. The present campaign to pressurise the Government into allotting parliamentary time for a hybrid bill and a Special Contract for Difference is worrying.
This week, Lord Hylton has a starred question asking the Government when it will announce a decision on the latest plan for a barrage; Mr Hain says the subject has been “studied to death” and that now is the time for action.
But though I know the stakes must be high to secure funding for the promotion of the scheme, there are many less harmful options for harnessing the area’s tidal energy. In November 2012, Regen South West published a discussion document, “Bristol Channel Energy: A Balanced Technology Approach”, outlining the alternative technologies and phasing which could together produce as much energy as the barrage.
My concern now is that the Government, being lost in this skillfully constructed Bermuda triangle of media statements, will flip flop on the decision they made in October 2010 not to proceed with a barrage scheme.
Tony Berkeley, House of Lords – 15 Jan 2013
Tony worked for Eurotunnel during the project’s development and construction (1981-94) and previously on Llyn Brianne dam in Wales and a number of port projects.