Rejection of Severn tidal barrage provokes response

Download document:

UK Government Severn Barrage Feasibility study - .PDF file.

Engineering firms have hit out at the government’s rejection of plans to build a tidal barrage across the Severn Estuary.

One group of companies even claims to have a plan to deliver the barrage for almost half the government’s project cost and without significant public investment.

A government feasibility study released today concluded that a barrage between Somerset and South Wales would cost £34.3bn and investment in other low-carbon schemes would represent better value for money.

Chris Huhne, secretary of state for energy, said: ‘The study clearly shows that there is no strategic case at this time for public funding of a scheme to generate energy in the Severn Estuary. Other low-carbon options represent a better deal for taxpayers and consumers.’

This included the option of smaller projects such as a lagoon across Bridgwater Bay (£17.7bn estimated capital cost) or the Shoots barrage (£7bn) further upstream, which the study concluded did not offer cost or energy yield advantages over a single larger scheme.

However, Corlan Hafren, a consortium of firms, including Halcrow Group, Ove Arup & Partners and KPMG, has put forward an alternative analysis of the potential costs of the barrage.

‘Our cost estimates are closer to £17bn or £18bn, which is a hugely different sum,’ Halcrow director Ben Hamer told The Engineer.

‘Our independent studies show the cost of electricity is going to be comparable with offshore wind and cheaper if you add in the intermittency factor of wind.’

He said the relatively low-tech engineering required to build the barrage meant it was not as risky as the government was predicting and this meant the official cost estimate was too high.

The government report said the project would be unlikely to attract the necessary private investment in current circumstances.

Severn Tidal Power Group, another consortium, including Balfour Beatty and Taylor Woodrow, agreed with this analysis, saying the decision had left the project ‘in limbo’.

‘The upfront costs of getting planning consent are very high and planning consent can be withheld at the secretary of state’s decision at a very late stage,’ the group’s spokesman, Roger Hull, told The Engineer.

‘I can’t see any private sector company spending large amounts of money to push forward planning consent. After consent is in place, that might be a different matter.’

But Hamer said Corlan Hafren had spoken to a ‘raft of investors’ and expected sources, including venture capital firms and pension funds, to be interested in different aspects of the project, depending on the risk level.

‘Importantly they need to be given the right signals that if this were something they were to invest in, government would support it through political mechanisms, albeit we understand they’re not in a position to support financially,’ he said.

Tom Foulkes, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), welcomed Corlan Hafren’s report as ‘innovative forward thinking’.

‘However, government’s role in this austere environment remains vital,’ he added. ‘It must help unlock private investment through the provision of a clear long-term road-map, fit-for-purpose regulatory framework and a democratic, efficient planning system.’

While ruling out the barrage in current market conditions, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also said it wants half of the 59GW new generating capacity needed by 2025 to come from renewable sources, particularly wind.

The other half is being left open to nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) options but without specific targets. Despite reiterating its policy of no public subsidy for nuclear energy, the government has confirmed eight potential sites for new nuclear power stations and ruled out three others.

Launching a further consultation on its draft energy National Policy Statements, DECC also announced the regulatory justification of new nuclear reactor designs by Westinghouse and Areva, and set out more detail on requirements for clean-up by new nuclear developers.

Huhne said: ’I’m fed up with the stand-off between advocates of renewables and of nuclear which means we have neither. We urgently need investment in new and diverse energy sources to power the UK.

‘We’ll need renewables, new nuclear, fossil fuels with CCS and the cables to hook them all up to the Grid as a large slice of our current generating capacity shuts down.

‘The market needs certainty to make this investment happen and we are determined to clear every obstacle in the way of this programme.’

Foulkes of the ICE said the government would need to significantly ramp up progress if it wanted half of new generating capacity to come from renewable sources by 2025.

He said: ‘Government will need to focus [on] supporting the development of the supply chain and skills base to support this growth, as well as eliminating the lingering obstacles to private investment.’

A consortium of UK engineering firms is proposing a barrage across the Severn Estuary that could, it is projected, harness tidal energy to generate double the output of a nuclear power station. Click here to read more.