A missed opportunity as the Public Consultation ends

In response to the close of the Government’s Severn Tidal Power Feasibility Study Consultation the Stop the Barrage NOW campaign is disappointment at the Government’s current public consultation on its shortlist of options for generating renewable energy projects in the Severn Estuary and we believe the Government has failed to invest satisfactory energy, money and imagination into alternative solutions.

The potential to create renewable energy from the Severn Estuary is huge, as is the potential from alternative tidal and wave technologies to help us combat climate change while conserving the birds, fishes, wildlife and ecology of the Severn Estuary. A proposed Barrage is unable to deliver both in equal measure and we should not be willing to choose between climate change and conservation.

The Government’s public consultation, which finished after three months on Thursday 23 April 2009, too narrowly focused on three barrages schemes: Cardiff-Weston, Shoots and Beachley, and two lagoon schemes – Fleming and Bridgewater Bay. Frustratingly, only £500,000 has been earmarked to fund further energy technology innovation, such as a tidal reef scheme. It is clear that the Government has not taken tidal stream and wave technologies seriously enough in their deliberations.

Energy security is a serious and growing challenge. To address this rising problem over the next couple of decades the Government must be more courageous in its pursuit of a diverse renewable technologies mix. The potential for alternative wave and tidal green technology to help stimulate the economy and create jobs is significant. The Government should seek to encourage innovation and investment in new wave and tidal renewable schemes. This Severn Tidal Power Feasibility Study Consultation is a real opportunity to encourage new approaches – and thus stimulate the green economy – not simply resort to old solutions, like a Barrage.

Furthermore, the decision to continue the costly and damaging proposals for a number of Barrages shows scant regard for the unique natural environment and biodiversity of the Severn. This attitude will inflict a blow to the region’s economic prosperity and the future development of the maritime community.

The Severn Estuary is home to four commercial ports: Bristol, Cardiff, Newport, and Sharpness / Gloucester. It is estimated that the Cardiff-Weston Barrage would have a huge negative impact on both Bristol and the South Wales ports jeopardising over 15,000 jobs with the knock-on effects threatening the wider region’s economy.

A Barrage would also be ruinous for the natural environment of the Severn, and require identifying up to an unprecedented 20,000 square hectares of compensatory land under the EU Habitats Directive. The proposed Barrage poses the almost certain risk of devastating most of the fish in the estuary – salmon, eel, Allis and Twaite shad, lamprey and sea trout, while hitting the important regional leisure fishing industry.

Siltation is also a grave problem. No Barrage proposal has satisfactorily addressed the likelihood that, if dammed by a Barrage, the Severn Estuary would silt up very quickly. Severe silting will seriously compromise the operational efficiency of Barrage turbines – making the claimed power output figures and the 100-year lifespan very suspect indeed. This is compounded by experts who argue that the Barrage would produce energy for no more than 6 hours in every 24, therefore, costing twice as much as wind power.

The Government’s consultation has lacked any real opportunities for sustained and substantial public engagement in this debate, especially for those in the south west and south Wales who would be most affected by any of the proposed schemes. It has been a technical consultation which has failed to properly examine the impact of the proposed schemes on the local economy, environment, tourism and public wellbeing. It will be too late to consult the public meaningfully if they are presented with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at a later stage with a even more limited choice than what is currently being considered. This is unacceptable and needs to be urgently addressed.

The Government has a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve the right renewable energy policy in the Severn Estuary. There are real alternatives to a Severn Barrage. Government must be more positive towards a diverse mix of new renewable technologies such as tidal stream and wave opportunities before it becomes too late to save our fish, our unique natural habitats and thousands of jobs around the Severn Estuary.

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