Academics don’t agree on it; there’s more than one than proposal, and no certainty that any or all of them will be built. And the cost could be £15billion or more. It is, quite literally, the largest renewable energy project ever proposed in the UK, and it has been around for years.
But some see the development of a Severn Barrage, for which another feasibility study has just been endorsed by the UK Government, as an inevitable consequence of Britain’s need to tackle the thorny issue of climate change by finding new ways to provide power without choking us with CO emissions.
So, the Severn Barrage concept is back on the UK’s energy agenda with a suggested price tag of about £15billion, but which is credited with the capability to satisfy 5% of the UK’s electricity demand.
John Hutton, Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), announced terms of reference for a new Severn Barrage feasibility study at the end of January.
His department will “assess in broad terms the costs, benefits and impact of a project to generate power from the tidal range of the Severn estuary, including environmental, social, regional, economic and energy market impacts”.
It will also aim to identify a single preferred tidal project using either a single technology and location or a combination – including tidal lagoons. And it will consider what the Government needs to do to make it happen from a regulatory perspective, and decide if the project fits with Government energy and climate-change goals.
Feasibility work will stretch until 2010 and cost £9million, followed by public consultation or a “stakeholder engagement” process.
If the Seven Barrage is deemed feasible, construction could take between five and seven years, while prior engineering would bring the schedule up to 12 years, making a barrage unlikely much before 2022.
Steph Merry, head of marine at the Renewable Energy Association, sees the barrage as inevitable.
“If the UK is to achieve its 2020 target of 15% of energy from renewables, we have to look at things like the Severn Barrage,” she says. “It is going to be pretty impossible to achieve (that target) without looking at projects at that scale.”
However, Merry says neither she nor her association are prepared to give an “unreserved endorsement” of the barrage proposal.
“My own personal view is that I would be much more comfortable if we did something on a smaller scale first,” she says, pointing out that other schemes have been proposed, including a tidal barrier to harness energy on the River Dee estuary in North Wales.
She also points to the potential for silting up the Severn channel because of the heavy silt load carried by the river, which could be blocked by any barrier. Similar conditions prevail with the Dee.
Historical Department of Energy documents on power from the River Severn indicate a barrier across the River Seven was proposed as early as 1849 by a Thomas Full-James, the county surveyor of Gloucestershire, but the idea then was to artificially raise the level of the river to provide a better shipping channel to docks at Gloucester.
The Sustainable Development Commission also makes reference to barrage proposals back in the 1920s, and the concept was revived in the 1980s with £20million spent on tidal barrage studies then, including the rivers Mersey and Severn.