Ministers approve planning permission for £35m tidal energy scheme
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Welsh Government ministers have approved planning permission for a £35m tidal energy scheme off the coast of Anglesey.
Expected to create over 100 jobs within a decade, the Morlais scheme will cover up to 35 sq km of seabed while generating as much as 240MW of electricity (180,000 households) via the power of the tides in the Irish Sea.
The decision means that one of the world’s largest tidal stream energy sites could now be developed just west of Holy Island.
Having invited bids from developers for a commercial lease, the planning process follows a public inquiry last year.
Menter Môn, which is behind the “demonstration zone” after securing permission from the Crown Estate, received official confirmation of planning consent via letter this morning (Friday).
In the letter the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, said: “I remain of the view there is a compelling case for authorising the scheme.”
With this vital hurdle now cleared, a decision is now expected by Natural
Resources Wales with regards to granting Morlais a Marine Licence which will allow turbines to be deployed in the sea.
With construction and operation designed to take place in phases to enable monitoring of impact on wildlife and habitat, work on land is expected to begin early next year with offshore development to commence in 2023.
Gerallt Llewelyn Jones, a director with Morlais, said he was “delighted” upon receiving confirmation, with the plans subject to financial support from the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) as well as the North Wales Growth Deal.
“The decision today comes after many years of hard work and consultation, we’re now looking forward to moving to the next phase and to ensuring it can become a reality,” he said.
“From day one our aim has been to make sure that this project brings local economic benefits in terms of jobs, training and supply chain opportunites.
“Morlais is owned and run locally – this means we will ensure those benefits come right back into our local communities.”
Initial assessments suggest that the project would create 100 jobs within the first decade, without taking into account the wider supply chain, while also creating training and apprenticeship opportunities.
Part of the decision making process for Welsh Government appointed planners was the opposition from agencies including the RSPB, who held “grave concerns” that the project could have a “devastating impact” on seabird populations.
Morlais stressed that any development would take place on a phased basis, but acknowledging that there could be “potential effects” they say that additional tidal devices will only be installed when it’s clear that sea birds and marine mammals are safe from harm.
The specially set-up South Stack Heritage Group also called into question the “unproven” technology and that it would “industrialise” an area of natural beauty that attracts up to 250,000 tourists a year.
In response Menter Môn say that regarding the floating ‘barges’ – up to 75m in length and 3.5m tall, with some on the surface and others anchored to the sea bed – only a maximum of 15 will be of this size with the closest being 1km away from the shore.
The electricity generated will be transferred to an on-shore substation via up to nine sub-sea cables and then on to the National Grid.
But due to Menter Môn’s status as a social enterprise, any surplus income generated will be reinvested into the local area.
Dafydd Gruffydd, its Managing Director, added: “Morlais is an important project for us here on the island as well as the wider north Wales region.
“Not only will it secure long-term quality jobs and help develop local supply chains but it can also deliver training opportunities for our young people right here on their doorstep.
“The potential of Morlais isn’t just economic though – and we have become very aware of our impact on the planet. Both Westminster and Welsh governments have made it clear that carbon reduction is a priority.
“Tidal energy is low carbon, clean and reliable – our aim through Morlais is to play our part in tackling climate change and ensuring we leave a legacy that we’re proud of.”