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MPs say case for Hafren Power barrage scheme unproven

10 June 2013

A tidal barrage across the Severn could contribute to energy and climate objectives, but the Hafren Power scheme has failed to demonstrate economic, environmental and public acceptability, according to MPs on the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.

Tim Yeo MP, Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, commented: 

"It became clear during the course of this inquiry that more detailed, robust evidence about Hafren Power’s proposal and claims is needed. Our inquiry has brought more information into the public domain and furthered the debate, but we cannot recommend the Hafren Power scheme as currently presented to us.

We are not convinced that the economic case for the proposed barrage is strong enough. Hafren Power’s proposal is likely to require a very high level of support over many years through Contracts for Difference.   We do not believe at this stage that the barrage would be competitive with other low-carbon technologies.

Hafren Power have failed to  answer the serious environmental concerns about a potential barrage adequately.   Far more detail and evidence  is needed before their project could be regarded as environmentally acceptable. . The scale of mitigation measures and compensatory habitat required is unprecedented, and questions remain about how a barrage such as the one proposed by Hafren Power would comply with EU legislation.

Concerns from industry, in particular the surrounding ports, have not been fully addressed. The impact on jobs and growth remains unclear, as does the overall employment  and socio-economic benefit when potential job losses are factored in.

We need innovative solutions to help us meet decarbonisation targets while keeping energy prices as low as possible. Tidal energy is a vast resource which remains largely untapped. However, tidal and marine projects must  demonstrate their economic, environmental and technological credentials and their ability to gain stakeholder support. The Hafren Power proposal, having failed to achieve this,  is no knight in shining armour for UK renewables. The Government should consider whether a smaller tidal facility  could  develop expertise and provide evidence before a decision about scaling up is taken.

The proposal from Hafren Power Ltd is for an 18km fixed tidal barrage across the Severn estuary between Brean in England and Lavernock Point in Wales. It would have 1,026 very-low-head (VLH) bi-directional turbines, generating approximately 16.5 TWh/year on both ebb and flood tides. The Committee launched the inquiry following reports that a private consortium had met with the Prime Minister to discuss this new scheme.

Although construction of the barrage would be privately financed, Government support would be required for approximately thirty years through Contracts for Difference (CfD) or a similar mechanism. The long lifecycle of a tidal barrage, thought to operate for over 120 years, could lower the overall levelised cost of energy but is far too distant a prospect to overcome more immediate concerns. The strike price required by Hafren Power is unknown, but the ability of the project to compete with other low-carbon forms of energy is  questionable.  The likelihood of a high strike price over many years risks eating up  an excessively large proportion of the funds available under the Levy Control Framework.

Hafren Power has not overcome the serious environmental concerns that have been raised. Further research, data and modelling are needed before environmental impacts can accurately assessed – especially regarding fluvial flood risk, intertidal habitats and impact to fish. The need for compensatory habitat on an unprecedented scale casts doubt on whether the project could achieve compliance with the EU Habitats Directive."

Tim Yeo MP added:

"While a tidal barrage could offer decarbonisation and energy security benefits, the Hafren Power project in its current form has not demonstrated sufficient value as a low carbon energy source to override local business and environmental concerns. Alternative options exist which may provide a lower cost and less damaging means of meeting our 2050 carbon targets. In the meantime, Government should consider a more proactive approach to managing Severn tidal resources to harness its massive tidal range in the most sustainable and cost-effective way."

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