Commission to explore building a barrage across the Severn estuary for tidal energy
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
A new commission will be set up to explore building a barrage across the Severn estuary for tidal energy.
A panel of experts will look at different options for generating electricity from the tide in the estuary, which could include a barrage or a lagoon.
The plans are at the very early stages and not a lot of detail is available yet. But a barrage could generate as much as seven per cent of the total energy needed by the UK.
Behind the plans is the Western Gateway, a new regional group of local authorities including Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol and Wiltshire councils.
Details of the tidal energy commission were revealed in a Cardiff council meeting on Thursday, October 21.
Council leader Huw Thomas said: “The next step is to establish an expert-led independent commission to look at what is the most appropriate technology to be deployed in the Severn estuary, to take advantage of the clearly huge energy potential that exists there.
“But we’re not wedded at this point in time to any solution, rather to make the groundwork on the case for looking at what the options could be—recognising such a project would have the potential to generate seven per cent of the UK’s energy requirements, exploring how can we best deploy that resource on our doorstep to support Cardiff, Wales and the UK.”
Concerns were raised about the cost of any barrage, as well as the potential impact on the environment.
Propel Cllr Keith Parry said: “I’m disappointed to see the old Severn barrage has reared its head again. I thought we got rid of that. It was going to produce very expensive electricity and be an environmental disaster, so why it’s reared head again I don’t know.”
A barrage across the Severn estuary was previously explored about a decade ago, but the plans were dropped. Concerns back then included the impact on marine life and the cost of the technology. A previously planned barrage would have run from Lavernock Point in the Vale of Glamorgan to Brean Down in Somerset.
But in the past few years, tidal energy technology has developed rapidly, as well as increasing ambitions to decarbonise the energy system and cut carbon emissions. The current gas price crisis has also brought to the fore the need to reduce reliance on importing energy from abroad.
One benefit of tidal energy is that the tide is much more predictable and stable than wind or solar energy. A major factor in this autumn’s surge in gas prices is record low wind levels in Europe, leading to much less generation from wind turbines. But tidal energy would in theory be able to generate a steady amount of electricity, avoiding similar fluctuations in supply.
No details however are available yet on who will sit on the commission, or how long they will take to explore the potential options. But the newly formed Western Gateway could play a key role in unlocking investment into any future tidal energy scheme on the estuary.
Dr Jo Dally, director of the Western Gateway, said: “Our partnership connects many different communities across the Severn and is committed to achieving inclusive, decarbonised economic growth for the 4.4 million people who live here.
“The Western Gateway area has many green energy strengths. We are home to a developing hydrogen ecosystem and our ‘Severn Edge’ bid is in the final five shortlisted sites to develop the UK’s first fusion prototype plant.
“We know that the Severn estuary has the potential to meet around seven per cent of our national energy needs. The partnership is progressing work that could see an independent commission established to explore how this can be unlocked. We will have more to announce on this soon.”
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