Arguments reignite around Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project

4th August 2016

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  • Generation ,
  • Renewable ,
  • Energy ,
  • Natural resources


Gary Booton

The government's review of the feasibility of tidal lagoon projects has been told the technology can provide a huge boost to the UK's struggling economy. But, equally, that it is so expensive, it is too much of a risk.

Several trade bodies, including the Electrical Contractors Association, are urging the government to support a tidal lagoon project in Swansea Bay to give the UK’s post-Brexit economy a much-needed boost.

However, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) has pointed out that tidal lagoons are expensive compared to other renewables technology.

The comments were made in responses to the government’s review of the feasibility of tidal lagoons. This was launched in February despite the government being in negotiations with Tidal Lagoon Power about a guaranteed electricity price for its planned scheme in Swansea Bay.

The firm has planning permission for a £1bn 320MW peak capacity project in the bay, but Natural Resources Wales has yet to award a licence and there have been growing concerns over the cost. Tidal Lagoon Power reportedly wants a guaranteed electricity price of £160 per megawatt-hour, far above the £92.50/MWh being given to the proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. In February, Ecotricity said it could build tidal lagoons at the same price as nuclear.

Nonetheless, the response from the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) stated:‘Given the current economic climate, we suggest it is vital that the government and industry work together to ensure that sufficient investment flows into Wales. By bringing large-scale, no carbon energy projects such as tidal lagoons to Wales, the region can attract other inward investment, create jobs and showcase the innovation and skillset Wales and the UK has to offer.’

There would be many opportunities for ECA’s members with any project, it added. This includes providing transformers, switchboards, cables and undertaking the electrical installation work.

RenewableUK appeared to have taken a similar line in its response. It would not provide a copy to the environmentalist, deputy chief executive Maf Smith said in a statement: ‘Britain has a unique opportunity to take the world lead in this technology. We’re confident that this review will show the huge potential that tidal lagoons have to the UK, boosting the economy and providing clean energy for generations to come. A decision on the Swansea Bay project needs to be forthcoming [as] further delays could jeopardise these opportunities.’

However, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) takes a different line. It warned that, in comparison to other renewables, there is little scope for cost reduction when building tidal lagoons, since it is a mature technology. This calls into question their potential to play a cost-effective role as part of the UK energy mix, it said.

The coalition government studied the potential for lagoons before as part of its 2010 study into a Severn Barrage and concluded they would be less economic than the large Barrage options, which themselves were not found to be economically viable, the REA added.

Similar points are made by angling body Fish Legal in its response, which claimed that Tidal Lagoon Power’s initial modelling of the scheme’s impact on migratory fish was inadequate. It said the project was awarded planning permission on the assumption that the affects on fish would be insignificant, but revised modelling has since shown it could potentially cause 5% mortality rate for fish passing through the site.

A spokesperson for Tidal Lagoon Power said the company had submitted an array of documentation to the review, including on how it would compensate for any environmental impacts, and new evidence on the flooding benefits lagoons can provide.

The review, which is being led by former energy minister Charles Hendry, is due to report in the autumn.


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