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Plans for Severn barrage 'lack evidence', say energy MPs

The firm behind the latest proposals for a Severn barrage has hit back against criticism by MPs that the plans lacked evidence.

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee today said Hafren Power had failed to prove the economic case for the scheme – including net impact on jobs and growth – or overcome environmental concerns, and that it recommended smaller projects such as tidal lagoons be examined first.

But Hafren’s CEO Tony Pryor told The Engineer the project was at too early a stage of development to provide the evidence the MPs were asking for, which he described as similar to that given when the planned new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point was approved.

‘We’re talking maybe a 30-month timeframe to get to the level of detail that Hinkley Point has got to, which is what the Select Committee is saying it wants to see now. And that’s what I think is frustrating and unhelpful.’

He added that the Hinkley Point plans were drawn up following the government’s indication that it was minded to build new nuclear plants, and that the private investors behind Hafren Power wanted similar encouragement before spending their money on more detailed assessments.

The Committee’s latest report on the scheme said it would require 30 years of government support through an as-yet unknown fixed energy price but its ability to compete with other low-carbon energy sources was in doubt.

The report said many witnesses called by the Committee were concerned about the lack of detailed, publicly available information about the project and that a more open approach was needed from Hafren Power.

In particular, it said an assessment of the barrage’s affect on regional employment was needed as construction of such a large project would inevitably create jobs but could also lead to job losses in businesses related to the ports industry.

It also said further research was needed to determine the environmental impacts of the scheme, particularly in relation to river flooding, the effect on fish and the habitats created by the huge tidal range of the Severn Estuary.

Committee chair Tim Yeo said tidal energy was a vast untapped resource for the UK but that projects must demonstrate their economic, environmental and technological credentials, and that other technologies such as tidal lagoons should be examined first.

‘The Hafren Power proposal, having failed to achieve this, is no knight in shining armour for UK renewables,’ he said in a statement. ‘The Government should consider whether a smaller tidal facility could develop expertise and provide evidence before a decision about scaling up is taken.’

But Pryor said Hafren was effectively scaling up the Rance Tidal Power Station that opened in France in 1966, dismissing suggestions that the different environmental and shipping conditions of the Severn made such a comparison unhelpful.

‘We believe we can engage with Bristol Port to mitigate all their issues,’ he said. ‘We have a huge consultation planned in our business case, which the Committee seems to have dismissed. We will have to talk to all the stakeholders.’

He added that the firm was confident it could bring the price the government paid for the energy closer to the £95 per MWh likely to be set for Hinkley Point than the £140 per MWh currently offered for offshore wind.

Hafren Power– which was originally a consortium of civil engineering companies including Arup and Mott MacDonald but is now owned by private shareholders – says a barrage could generate 1.65TWh/year of power, around 5 per cent of UK energy needs.

Meanwhile, another firm proposing a much smaller tidal energy scheme in the area, Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay), has just launched an attempt to generate £2m by selling shares to the general public as part of its latest fundraising round.

Readers' comments (8)

  • The key filter question for these schemes is 'what is the capacity factor'? From what I have seen all these tidal barrage schemes, as well as wave power, have CF less than 20%, which rules them out in my view. Only wind (25% onshore and >30% offshore) and tidal stream (>30%) have the capacity factors to make them economic.

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  • I seem to recal a similar study outcome when I was at school in the west country, again when I was at Uni some 15 years later (Mature student) and now this.

    It would be interesting to note how much money had been wasted on feasibility studies for the barrage and associated govenment studies. Maybe just enough to actually build the thing and stop conjecturising about it?

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  • Barrages cause silting. Much power wasted on dredging. Tidal flows and currents are better sites for free mounted underwater devices for collecting power from water movement. Little or no negative environmental or wildlife impact.

    John A - I would be interested in some proof that wind power actually achieves 20 - 30% of max stated capacity overall. I seem to recall a figure of around 3% actual harvested energy from the UK's total wind powered generators. Not a very inspiring ROE.

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  • It seems very unproven but wouldn't tidal stream tech at least offer better opportunity for expansion. Companies have already been researching underwater 'kite' turbines for example.

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  • So our MP's are not in favour of a project where everyone will benefit from the production of electricity.
    However, they are in favour of a high speed train which costs more and is of benefit to only a few.
    Both have environmental impacts but MP's prefer to a strong argument on the barrage and not the HS2.
    MP's are so short sighted.

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  • john k
    I think the low % figure you refer to is the average annual contribution wind makes to demand –
    in 2009 = 2.4%, 2011 = 4.1%, 2012 = 5.2% !!

    I understand the wish some people have to show wind turbines as the panacea to all our ills, but unfortunately they are not, so confusing Capacity factors with Efficiency helps sell the idea, but doesn’t tell the true story. They are NOT the same. Allow me to clear the confusion and give some generally accepted UK figures-

    The info is taken from the
    Department of Energy & Climate Change ( DECC ) & Grid figs
    ( Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics ( DUKES) )

    See Pages 121, 140, 144, 160, 186

    Capacity factor: (actual annual output as a % of max possible output).

    Coal=42%. Nuclear=61%. Pumped storage = 14 %,
    Gas CCGT=62% ( should be 85% ish BUT load following of ‘Renewables’ reduces it).
    Solar PV = 8%. British Wind= 27%. (land =26%; offshore=29%)

    Efficiency: (% of available power converted into useful work).

    Coal=36%. Nuclear=34%. Pumped storage = 64 %, Gas=50%.
    Solar PV = 15%. Wind = 38%

    For more info on capacity factor & instantaneous grid energy mix see-

    As I write this, the UKs entire 4,844 wind turbine fleet is producing-
    just … 1.3% of demand – pathetic !!!
    BUT making loads of cash for wind developers (mainly foreign),
    & prices are set to rise again to pay for it all.

    It’s worth looking thru the rest of that site at the obscene amounts of subsidies they get, paid by ….me & you.
    see -

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  • I am on the Expert Advisory Group for the Kalpasar scheme on the Gulf of Khambat North of Bombay.

    The project originally included a 5800 MW tidal power project. It was abandoned because, even with India's high prices and shortages, it was not near economic.

    Anything the Severn scheme can do, nuclear power can do better and cheaper.

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  • There are still a lot of unanswered questions on the barrage and this was the right decision from MPs. On key point is the lack of proven turbine technology.

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