26 September 2007 – The UK’s first large tidal energy scheme – with the potential to deliver 5 per cent of the country’s electricity – is to be subject to a multi-million pound feasibility study, heralding a clash between the government and environmental groups.
John Hutton, business secretary, announced the study into a tidal barrage across the Severn estuary at the Labour conference in Bournemouth, claiming it was a “truly visionary project” that would help Britain meet its carbon reduction targets.
But Mr Hutton is braced for a backlash from environmental groups that believe the scheme would destroy the estuary’s mud flats – an internationally recognised wildlife habitat for wading birds. He has told colleagues that the green lobby must make some hard choices if Britain is to face up to its obligations to tackle climate change.
“The government Gordon Brown leads will not be among those who say they want to tackle global warming by moving to low carbon energy sources but then oppose every opportunity to do so,” Mr Hutton told the Labour conference. “We will not shrink from taking the critical decisions on the future security of our energy supply – including whether to allow investment in new nuclear power stations.”
The study into what would be one of Britain’s biggest infrastructure projects will cover the environmental, social and employment impacts on the estuary and look at the prospects for other tidal barrages.
The 14-metre tidal range of the Severn has long been viewed as a huge potential energy source, its funnel shape giving it the second highest range in the world.
The idea of building a barrage from the English to Welsh coasts has been mooted since the 19th century, but it would require compliance with a range of European Union environmental legislation.
Dr Mark Avery, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds conservation director said: “The Severn estuary is one of the UK’s most important sites for water birds. A barrage would do enormous damage and its layers of legal protection are there for good reason.
“There could be much better ways of harnessing the Severn’s power and the feasibility study should examine tidal lagoon and tidal stream schemes which could cost less, do less damage and generate more energy.”