Welsh dam could give 7% of UK electricity

A massive hydroelectric dam across the Severn estuary was among the proposals the Welsh Assembly submitted to the UK Energy Review.

The £10bn barrage could provide 6% of Britain’s total present electricity consumption, or the equivalent of two nuclear power stations, over the next 150 years.

The dam would stretch across 10 miles between Lavernock near Cardiff and Brean Down in Somerset, and make use of the enormous tidal energy of the Severn estuary.

Andrew Davies, energy minister for Wales, presented the plans as a clean and nuclear-free way of reducing carbon emissions: “The barrage would be equivalent to around two nuclear power stations operating continuously, lasting not 40 to 50 years with a problematic legacy but operating for 150 years plus.

“Throughout its life the barrage would produce zero-carbon electricity on a totally predictable, low-cost and reliable basis, which could also have considerable long-term financial investment attractions,” he said, while also acknowledging the “significant environmental and engineering challenges” of the project.

The dam faces strong opposition from environmentalists over its scale, cost and effects on wildlife. Green groups Friends of the Earth, WWF and RSPB question whether the project would deliver the overall CO2 savings claimed in the proposal due to huge construction costs both in monetary and energy terms, and called for smaller-scale renewable projects instead.

Head of WWF Cymru Morgan Parry said: “We accept the urgent need for the Welsh Assembly Government to address climate change through developing marine renewables as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions but building the Severn Barrage is not the answer.

“It was only two weeks ago that the Chancellor announced huge investment for developing small scale renewable projects called microgeneration; the Assembly should be following suit and putting investment into these smaller project which would bring both environmental and economic benefits to Wales,” he said.

Other Welsh contributions to the Energy Review included proposals to develop clean coal, renewables such as wind and solar, and carbon capture and storage technologies.

“The need for the world to move as quickly as possible to a low carbon energy economy, whether through large scale generation, energy efficiency or microgeneration, offers enormous opportunities which the Welsh Assembly Government believes can most effectively be seized through strong partnerships, not only with the private sector but also in conjunction with Whitehall, universities and local authorities,” said Andrew Davies.

More information on the Severn barrage project can be found on the DTI website.

Goska Romanowicz

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