A ripple of concern swept through the renewable energy industry last week, following John Hutton's announcement at the Bournmouth Labour Party Conference to commission a feasibility study for the Severn Barrage proposal.
The cost of the 10 mile barrage is estimated at a minimum of 15 billion and would be the largest world wide. Hutton stated that the barrage could not only provide up to 5% of UK electricity but would also be a "truly visionary" project.
However The Renewable Energy Centre released a cautionary statement highlighting its concern that the Government, in its urgency to meet its carbon targets has "plumped for a project which will cost billions of pounds, take over ten years to construct and which may prove in the long term, not to be a cost effective or sustainable solution."
The Renewable Energy Centre was clear in its support for all kinds of renewable energy and reiterated its commitment to promoting and encouraging both UK businesses and individuals to consider renewable technologies. The Centre believes that alongside the Severn Barrage study, the Government should also assess other solutions which could harness tidal power and actually provide a larger and more constant supply of energy to the UK.
In particular marine current turbines, offshore wind farms and tidal lagoons have been cited as reliable sources of renewable energy and it is widely thought that if any or all of these solutions were implemented, the research and installation costs would still fall short of those projected for the Severn Barrage.
One of the main concerns relating to the barrage is the energy output it will provide. The Barrage relies on the ebb tide and so produces energy only at these times in the tide cycle. Bearing in mind the fundamental principle that electricity can not be stored, this in effect creates supply spikes to the National Grid. In order to keep the power supply constant, the barrage will need to be supported by several gas fired power stations which in turn will produce carbon emissions. This will not only affect the cost effectiveness of the barrage but contradict the aim of finding other energy alternatives to fossil fuels. The use of marine current turbines for example, at several locations around the UK would ensure a consistent supply of energy as tidal times change throughout the day, depending on the location. Energy could therefore be generated steadily around the clock, rather than in short bursts as with the barrage.
It has also been widely publicised that the barrage will have a significant affect both on the environment and wildlife currently established in the area and it has been argued that if some of the alternative tidal power solutions could be implemented, much of the environmental impact could be greatly reduced if not negated altogether.
The sustainability of the Barrage was also highlighted as a potential problem. Silt is likely build up in the barrage basin over a period of time, reducing the amount of water available to generate energy which would eventually mean the barrage would become redundant. It is unknown how long the build up of silt would take but The Renewable Energy Centre believes that a project commanding so much investment and which aims to secure the future of generations to come, should be sustainable over time.
It is thought that the feasibility study will cost millions of pounds to complete although many experts believe there is already enough evidence to prevent the project from going ahead. Angela Gallacher, Head of Press and Marketing at The Renewable Energy Centre stated "The Severn Barrage debate has been running for nearly 150 years and it seems no one is any nearer to making any final conclusions."
She continued "We support all kinds of renewable technology which is why the barrage project is a double edged sword. The barrage will undoubtedly create a valuable energy source for the UK but it should not be regarded as the only solution. The Government's investment to renewable energy should include a diverse range of technologies not only to distribute economic opportunities throughout the UK but also to reduce the impact on society and the environment."