Severn Estuary barrier could generate 7% of energy needs

The UK should reappraise construction of a huge barrier across the Severn estuary to generate a substantial amount of renewable energy, according to a report to the DTI by engineering firm Sir Robert McAlpine.

The Severn Barrage project, which was first mooted in 1924, could provide 7% of the current electricity demand of England and Wales. However, capital cost is estimated at £10-14 billion and the environmental impacts of a barrier on such a large scale are unknown.

The report implies that the potential environmental costs are justified due to reduced CO2 emissions, erosion and flooding damage. But Phil Williams AM, Plaid Cymru energy spokesman and member of the all-party Economic Development Committee, is sceptical.

“Even those of us who are the strongest advocates of renewable energy and wish to see a reduction in CO2 as quickly as possible have hesitations about the Severn Barrage,” he said to edie.

“A barrage would have a big effect on the whole ecology of the estuary. And there is another question – if it is a good idea; is it the Mendips or the Brecon Beacons we take away to build it?”

The Welsh Assembly is however committed to developing renewable energy sources. The Economic Development Committee has presented to the Assembly its Review of Energy Policy in Wales – Renewable Energy, which calls for Wales to move towards a zero carbon economy by 2050 and tidal power has a role to play.

“Our aim is to move towards generating 20% of Wales’ consumption of electricity from renewables by 2010 and 40% by 2020,” Williams said. “Utilising tidal power on a small scale should be investigated. But for the foreseeable future, if we are to utilise tidal energy the first step would be underwater turbines.”

Overall it appears that concern over unknown environmental impacts may dampen enthusiasm for McAlpine’s proposal. But Williams does not dismiss the project out of hand: “If there is a real world crisis and there has to be a moratorium on all burning of fossil fuels, the Severn Barrage is always a possibility.”

Story by Rob Bell

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