Barrage leak

If there’s any truth in the rumours that ministers have already decided not to green-light a Severn Barrage, it’s disappointing news.

According to a recent report in The Times, sources within Westminster claim that plans to build a ten mile long tidal barrage across the Severn will be shelved under a cost-cutting drive. The project could, claim its advocates generate up to five per cent of the UK’s electricity needs, but concerns over its local environmental impact and a construction cost put at around £23 billion may, it seems, have caused ministers to rule out the project ahead of an official decision next year. 

But while any talk of the generating potential of the Severn Estuary inevitably turns to the enormous ‘Severn Barrage’, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the 10 mile long Cardiff-Weston Barrage (to give it its proper name) is just one of a number of options on the table. The Department of Energy and Climate Change currently has a shortlist of five – which includes a mixture of smaller barrages and tidal lagoons as well as the larger barrage. So far, none of these have been ruled out – privately or otherwise. 

But even if none of these are given the ahead, The Engineer recently learned that  DECC is helping to fund a number of earlier stage technologies that could find a way around the cost and environmental issues that have bedevilled the barrage.

Though the £500,000 allocated to the so called Severn Embryonic Technologies Scheme is a fairly modest amount, those in receipt of this funding strongly believe they could be onto something.

Chief among these proposals is a tidal fence – a line of underwater turbines, which harness the natural movement of the tides in and out of the Estuary to generate electricity. Though the generating capacity of such a scheme would fall some way short of a larger barrage, it wouldn’t impound huge volumes of water and therefore, claim its proponents, would have less of an impact on the environment and local shipping. 

The point is that if we’re really serious about tapping into the generating potential of one of the world’s best tidal resources, there’s no shortage of options, and all of them, to a greater or lesser extent could generate significant amounts of electricity. Given today’s climate imperatives, and the importance attached to renewable energy by both Labour and the Tories, failing to exploit this resource sooner rather than later would be a pretty damning indictment of government energy policy. 

Jon Excell

Deputy Editor