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.