Monday, 20 August 2012


Fantasy Barrage
The potentially fatal combination of Peter Hain’s desperate search for gainful employment (with no doubt much emphasis on the gain) and David Cameron’s attempts to save face by finding a Plan B to restore economic growth, offers us (again) yet another version of the all singing and all dancing Severn Barrage. That aside, we do need to seriously discuss making best use of the renewable energy potential of the Severn estuary and to seriously consider a wide range of options to develop as much energy as possible.

As I have said before, when I was young there Fantasy Island (on TV), now 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 £30 - 34 billion pounds. The resurrection of the Severn Barrage scheme (yet again) should make us wonder about the sanity (financial or otherwise) or the sincerity 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 continue to be trotted out. 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, and we would be certifiable not too.

A combination of tidal lagoons, tidal fences, and 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 generate sustainable jobs and exportable technology to boot.

New Labour and the Conservatives failure to honour their Welsh general election manifesto promise in 2011 to increase the 1 MW limit for off-shore and 50 MW for on-shore threshold for planning for energy projects does not help us here in Wales. This failure effectively prevents the development of potential energy schemes above that threshold as they have to be decided in Westminster rather than in Wales.

Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards (in January 2012) 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 (blocked by Labour and Conservative MPs, defeated by 239 votes to 44) would 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.

I have some serious concerns about any Severn Barrage, it 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 then powerless (but now vision-less and clueless) Welsh Government.

The last thing we need to do is limit the amount of sustainable energy we can develop, we need to maximise the period of generation well beyond the 3 hour energy pulse offered by all previous incarnations of the barrage. A combination of tidal lagoons and other energy schemes could offer release energy for a far longer period than 3 hours and minimise any damage to the environment. By using a variety of options we could generate sustainable jobs and make Wales a world leader in developing the energy generation technology.

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