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Sunday, October 17, 2010

A barrage too far?

The Independent on Sunday speculates that Secretary of State for Energy, Chris Huhne will tomorrow jettison Labour's unfunded Severn Barrage project, rather than make the taxpayer foot an estimated bill of £10bn to £30bn for what many are predicting could be an ecological disaster.

They say that Chris will use a Commons statement to outline details of how the government intends to keep electricity flowing in the next four decades while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050:

"We need to turn our grid from being one of the dirtiest in Europe to being one of the cleanest," a senior Whitehall source said.

Among the measures to be announced will be a firm commitment to generate at least a third of our electricity from renewables by 2020 and to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to reduce the emissions from fossil fuel power stations by as much as 90 per cent. It will be a radical shift from the UK's historic reliance on fossil fuels, which accounted for more than 80 per cent of all electricity generation until the late 1980s.

Mr Huhne, a Liberal Democrat, will also give the go-ahead in principle to nuclear power stations on eight sites in England and Wales near existing reactors, although the issue remains politically contentious for his party.

He will concede that a 10-mile Severn barrage, stretching from Weston-super-Mare in Somerset to Cardiff in south Wales, is financially unviable. The idea of using the Severn to generate electricity on a massive scale dates back to the 1920s. Successive Labour ministers have argued that the project offered a "huge prize" of generating 5 per cent of Britain's needs.

Mr Huhne will stress the economic case for investing public funds instead in emerging technologies, such as CCS, that have the potential to be developed and exported, particularly to rapidly developing economies such as China. "If we are going to be incentivising things, there is only one Severn tidal stream," a source said. "You can only do it once. There are not the export opportunities there are with carbon capture, solar or wind."

Although the Severn Barrage has become enormously totemic for some people it has become clear that not only is it unaffordable, even in good economic times, but that the projected investment could be better spent in terms of energy production. There were also justifiable concerns about the environmental impact of the barrage, not just in terms of the local ecology but also in the amount emissions that would be produced by manufacturing so much concrete and the scarring of the countryside in quarrying stone for the project.

If this decision is confirmed I would not shed too many tears. The barrage was always a pipedream in my view, the product of a flawed vision. That does not mean though that we cannot look at other ways of tapping the Severn for energy through tidal lagoons etc. Hopefully, Chris Huhne will leave the door open to that sort of investment in the future.
"[T]idal lagoons" ... have been the way to go for a long time now with de minimus inpact on the overall ecology of the Severn estuary.
Still think we should look at the smaller Shoots Barrage on the Severn upstream from the point where the Wye merges into the Estuary (and build a replacement for the Severn Tunnel on it too)

You are right about the scheme being a pipedream, but we should always leave it on the back burner in case it becomes less so. 5% of the UKs energy in one project delivered entirely from renewable energy is not to be sniffed at.
You are right on this one.

A Shoots Barrage and tidal lagoons in the sites identified in the original consultation, would generate more energy than the Barrage.

To Matt I would argue that "5% of the UKs energy in one project" says to me that that project would have to be so large it would be detrimental.

It's an almost Soviet mindset that says that the largest project must be the best, particularly in the field of renewable energy.
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