It is time for a renewed debate on how we can harness the renewable energy potential of the Severn estuary. We need to consider a wide range of options to develop as much energy as possible without wrecking the environment. Now as I have said before, when I was a child there Fantasy Island was on TV, now it appears we will have Fantasy Barrage, which promises all things to all people all the time – but at a price - financially for starters we are now talking about up to £34 billion pounds.
The resurrection of the Severn Barrage scheme (yet again) could make you wonder about the sanity (financial or otherwise) of some of the usual suspects. I have no doubt that the usual glib fatuous statements about the project being the solution to all of South Wales’s economic and transport woes will be trotted. If it sounds too good because it simply is - it's a fantasy, yes we need to develop the renewable energy resources of the Severn estuary, we would be certifiable not too.
A combination of tidal lagoons, tidal fences, turbines based in tidal current rich areas and wave energy generation technology (currently being tested off Scotland) and some carefully situated off-shore wind farms could generate a significant amount of sustainable energy with significantly less environmental damage and jobs to boot. Perhaps if the Labour and the Conservatives had honoured their Welsh general election manifesto promise (in 2011) to increase the present 50 MW limit (which prevents the development of potential energy schemes above that threshold) as they are decided in Westminster rather than in Wales.
Back in January, Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards called for energy powers to be transferred to the Welsh Government, his bill would have given the Welsh Government powers over energy generation in Wales. The bill would also have ensured equality with Scotland and Northern Ireland and would have meant that Wales would have been better placed to fight fuel poverty with responsibility for our own resources.
Very fair and entirely reasonable you might think, but Mr Edwards motion was voted down by Labour MPs, who were more than happy to team up with Conservatives MPs to stop their own party in Wales taking these powers. The proposal was defeated by 239 votes to 44 after Labour and Conservative MPs teamed up together against the Bill.
I and more than a few other people have some serious concerns about any Severn Barrage, firstly is does not generate enough energy over a long enough period to justify the cost and it would be environmentally damaging. A more logical solution would be to build tidal lagoons, one in Swansea Bay would be ideal to test out the technology but has been repeatedly stalled and delayed by a hostile Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and previously powerless (but now vision-less) Welsh Government.
We need to maximise the period of generation well beyond the 3 hour energy pulse offered by previous incarnations of the barrage have offered. This is something that a combination of tidal lagoons and other energy schemes could offer release energy for a far longer period than 3 hours. By using a variety of options we could generate sustainable jobs and skills not to mention make Wales a world leader in developing the energy generation technology.
I welcomed the news that former Wales and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has resigned - perhaps jumped before he was pushed would have been closer to the truth - from the shadow cabinet - I for one won't miss him. The news that he plans to act as effectively a salaried lobbyist (for he remains paid by us as MP for Neath) to campaign for a barrage across the Severn estuary, did little to excite me. His desire for gainful employment should be welcomed, but, I would ask just exactly who he will be representing in the House of Commons? And should he not declare an interest?