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Insight | After Swansea are tidal lagoons dead in the water?

Cardiff lagoon

The government’s decision to can the £1.3bn Swansea Bay tidal lagoon has been met by anger and frustration from many corners. 

With a number of other tidal lagoon projects hoping Swansea Bay could spark their projects into life, the government’s decision to axe the project has understandably left many questioning the future of tidal lagoons in the UK. 

However, backers of the beleaguered £1.3bn Swansea Bay tidal lagoon pathfinder scheme have insisted it is not the end of the road for UK lagoons, despite losing its prolonged argument with government.

On Monday (25 June) business secretary Greg Clark put the question of whether the UK should try to develop a tidal lagoon industry to bed by pulling government support for the £1.3bn Swansea Bay pathfinder scheme.

Citing concerns over high costs for taxpayers – Clark claimed the lagoon would cost three times as much as new nuclear plant Hinkley Point C over Swansea Bay’s 120-year lifecycle – he explained the risks outweighed the rewards of a home-grown tidal industry.

It meant developer Tidal Lagoon Power’s (TLP) five full-scale lagoons planned to follow the Swansea Bay pathfinder were also swept off the table, as Clark told MPs it would be “irresponsible” to support them.

It all sounds like the final nail on the coffin for tidal lagoons in the UK – and yet backers of the Swansea Bay scheme are not calling it a day just yet.

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Wales Cymru director Keith Jones is already hoping to meet with Welsh secretary Alun Cairns after the parliamentary summer recess to explore other tidal options.

Jones said: “For the time being, the opportunity to do something ground breaking and world leading in energy and create a legacy for future generations has been lost.

“Now we need to move on and look for other, perhaps different opportunities so that Wales can maximise the potential of one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.”

Jones stressed that cancelling the Swansea Bay lagoon is “a missed opportunity” to invest in the UK construction industry.

“The immediate plans for Swansea might be shelved now, following the statement by Greg Clark, but the ideas I know that are possible, the outcry from supporters, Welsh MPs, backers of green and wind energy and the civil engineering community point to a range of different options,” said Jones.

“Wales has a very long coastline and opportunities to use the tidal power need to be examined. Alternative innovative solutions need to be explored now and put to the decision makers, including Greg Clark and the Secretary of State for Wales and our own First Minister as soon as possible.”

Clark himself hinted the door is still open, confirming he has been “in receipt of proposals” for alternative schemes but stressing any new project “must be able credibly to demonstrate value for money” for taxpayers.

Rival lagoon developer Ecotricity welcomed the government’s decision, claiming the Swansea proposal was “at least twice as expensive than tidal needs to be”. Its chief executive Dale Vince has long backed a competitive tender process which would open the arena for alternative lagoon proposals.

Meanwhile TLP chief executive Mark Shorrock warned that while it would continue to fight for a Welsh lagoon industry, if the UK is not interested TLP will take its technology – and cash – to Europe.

Shorrock said: “Together with Welsh Government we will deliver a UK tidal lagoon industry centred in Wales. Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon remains key to our vision.

“While we establish the way forward for our Welsh projects, greater emphasis will naturally be placed upon the projects we are already developing in international waters, including those in northern France.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Michael Thorn

    It is tantalising to contemplate the power of the tides but not find a viable way of capturing it. The Severn Barrage Project in the 1970s was the nearest approach to a practical solution, with the added bonus at that time of a Second Severn Crossing, but that opportunity has probably now been lost for ever. The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon is the right idea in the wrong place. There has never been a satisfactory response to the question of how the capacity of the lagoon will be maintained in an estuary with relatively high sediment loads. The lagoon would progressively fill from the back with sand and mud: what would be the timescale and/or how would the infilling sediment be removed and discharged? The idea needs to be re-applied in a low-sediment environment.

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  • Had this project been in the South East of England it would have had full parliamentary support from all parties. The Government's failure to support it is another example of the 80/20 rule - 80% of all UK investment will go to support 20% of the population.

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