UK government axes Severn Estuary barrage plan

Despite pulling the plug on the barrage, there was still some hope tidal energy schemes might come to fruition in the Severn estuary in the future.

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Plans for a 10-mile barrage across the Severn estuary to generate renewable electricity from the tides have been dropped by the UK government.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said the £30bn scheme's costs were "excessive".

He said other low carbon options were a better deal for taxpayers.

Welsh environment minister Jane Davidson urged Mr Huhne to continue to help develop wave and tidal power from Wales' "tremendous marine energy resource".

Shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain said scrapping the barrage plan was a "catastrophic blow" in the fight against climate change.

The Severn Tidal Power feasibility study conclusions, published on Monday, found there was no strategic case for major public sector investment in a large-scale energy project in the Severn estuary at this time.

It would be very costly to deliver and very challenging to attract the necessary investment from the private sector alone, the study said.

The study showed that a tidal power scheme in the estuary could cost in excess of £30bn, making it high cost and high risk in comparison to other ways of generating electricity.

Start Quote

The study clearly shows that there is no strategic case at this time for public funding of a scheme to generate energy in the Severn estuary”

End Quote Chris Huhne Energy Secretary

The report did recommend that a Severn tidal project should not be ruled out as a longer term option if market conditions change.

But it noted significant uncertainty over complying with regulation and that a scheme would fundamentally change the natural environment of the estuary.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change also announced eight sites it considered suitable for new nuclear power stations to be built, including at Wylfa, Anglesey.

Commenting on the report Mr Huhne said: "The study clearly shows that there is no strategic case at this time for public funding of a scheme to generate energy in the Severn estuary.

"Other low carbon options represent a better deal for taxpayers and consumers.

"However, with a rich natural marine energy resource, world leading tidal energy companies and universities, and the creation of the innovative Wave Hub facility, the area can play a key role in supporting the UK's renewable energy future."

Analysis

The barrage scheme has been scuppered because the government has said it will not put any public money into it, and without public money no developer has the certainty to develop it.

My government sources say it might make a comeback in the 2020s or 2030s, but certainly not for the time being because they do not think it represents the best value for money.

There were three reasons why the barrage was turned down. Firstly, environmentalists are heavily split over it, and pressing ahead with such a controversial scheme without the wholehearted support of the green lobby, which is championing renewable energy, would have been politically risky.

Secondly, they felt that wind power offered much better value for money.

The third reason was that this was such a big barrage, and such a one-off scheme, that there would not be much learning from it that anyone else could apply elsewhere. If there had been a small barrage proposed, and I suspect there will be soon, then the government would have been far more likely to back it on the grounds that there would be learning.

Welsh environment minister Jane Davidson thanked those involved in the feasibility study for their hard work, and expressed her hope that the area would continue to play a key role is supporting the UK's renewable energy future.

"Wales has a tremendous marine energy resource and we remain committed to exploiting that potential through the deployment of both wave and tidal technologies," she said.

Ms Davidson urged the UK government and others to continue working with the assembly government and other business partners to develop emerging technologies, not just for use in the Severn but also in other locations around the Welsh coast line.

"The sustainable exploitation of this resource will play a vital role in moving us towards achieving our climate change goals and those of the UK," she said.

Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan said: "At a time where public spending is squeezed, it would be wrong to commit up to £30bn for a controversial project which is considered high risk in comparison to other methods of generating the electricity we need."

Plaid Cymru AM and sustainability spokesperson, Leanne Wood, called on the coalition government to commit to investing in alternative technologies to harness the tidal energy of the river Severn.

"The energy potential of the Severn should be harnessed through the development of smaller projects," said Ms Wood.

How the Severn 10-mile (16km) dam would have looked

"These would also stimulate the green economy through the creation of jobs in the construction stages and in maintenance."

Environmental group Friends of the Earth Cymru (FOE) welcomed the decision.

The 10-mile long tidal barrage would have been built between Lavernock Point near Cardiff, to Brean Down near Weston-super-Mare.

Supporters of the project argued it could have generated up to 5% of Britain's electricity - equivalent to two nuclear power stations.

But those opposed to it, including FoE and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), have always argued it would have an irreversible impact on the wildlife of the Severn estuary.

Speaking after the UK government's announcement, Mr Hain said it was "a catastrophic blow" for the fight against climate change.

"It's the biggest renewable energy project by far in Britain," he said.

"It's also catastrophic for Wales because there are thousands of jobs, potentially, in building this and maintaining it thereafter."

Mr Hain said there was no excuse for the government to say it had axed the scheme on cost grounds.

"It is all privately financed. I've met with the construction companies who want to build it," he said.

"They do require £400m of upfront government money to get them through the planning process, but thereafter, the £20bn and more for constructing it, would all be privately financed."

Meanwhile, Corlan Hafren, the development consortium company behind the plans said it could still deliver the Severn Barrage "as a viable project without investing significant public funds."

The company issued a response to the announcement saying the projected 120-year lifespan of the barrage meant it had the potential to provide an economic way to produce electricity.

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