The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced the shortlist of schemes aimed at generating environmentally friendly electricity using tidal power in the Severn Estuary.
The shortlist is made up of five projects which include a mixture of barrage and lagoon technologies.
The largest project, Cardiff Weston Barrage, has the potential to generate almost five per cent of the UK’s electricity by harnessing the Severn Estuary’s tidal power.
Further projects include the Bridgewater Bay Lagoon, a proposal that impounds a section of the estuary without damming it; Beachley Barrage, located above the Wye River; Shoots Barrage; and Fleming Lagoon.
Prof David Elliott, co-director of the Energy and Environment Research Unit, expressed concern at the perceived lack of innovation in the proposed projects.
He said: ‘The DECC shortlist inevitably includes the Cardiff Weston Barrage, since this is the most studied and largest option. But it is also the one that is most opposed by environmental groups as it would block the entire estuary, unlike the various lagoon schemes, which they would prefer.
‘But missing from the chosen list is the 'tidal fence' proposal, which would make use of tidal current turbines mounted in a causeway - that too would avoid massive environmental impact. Also missing is the 'tidal reef' proposal - another novel, less invasive option. It is good to see lagoon being taken seriously but the DECC seems to have wanted to play it safe and avoid new ideas.’
Dr Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Solarcentury, added: ‘My main fear is that long-term capital-intensive projects like this reduce our chances of quickly making headway with energy efficiency and microgeneration.
'The government now recognises that solar PV has the potential to deliver more than 18TWh or seven per cent of the UK’s entire renewable energy target by 2020 - more than the proposed Severn Barrage, which will not be operational until at least 2022, and a greater contribution than that suggested in the government's Renewable Energy Strategy (RES) from wave, tidal stream and biomass electricity technologies. At Solarcentury, we are sure the potential is much higher even than that.’
However, alongside the shortlist, energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, has announced £500,000 worth of funding for new green technologies such as tidal fences and tidal reefs. The development of these technologies will be monitored before any decision is made on the shortlist for the Severn tidal power scheme.
Miliband said: 'The five schemes shortlisted are what we believe can be feasible, but this does not mean we have lost sight of others. £500,000 of new funding will go some way to developing technologies still in their infancy.’
According to Welsh minister for environment, Jane Davidson, the shortlisted schemes combine new and existing engineering solutions with relatively well-understood hydroelectric technologies. The impact of these is expected to form part of the second phase of the government study into tidal energy.
Davidson said: ‘I am pleased the Welsh assembly government, together with Defra and the South West Regional Development Agency, is contributing £500,000 to support the development of innovative options for harnessing tidal power in the Severn Estuary.
‘We are encouraging Welsh companies involved with marine technology to be among those applying for access to this fund to help demonstrate the potential of innovative technologies, as the South West Regional Development Agency is encouraging those in south-west England.
'We consider it essential that key stakeholders and the public at large are aware of the issues involved in capturing Severn tidal power and provide their input into the ongoing studies.’
The government intends to publish the Strategic Environmental Assessment for consultation. This will involve an in-depth study of the environmental resources in the Severn Estuary, which has the second highest tides in the world.