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New tidal lagoon plan attempts to derail Swansea Bay project

Lagoon wall (tidal lagoon power)crop

A cheaper alternative tidal lagoon proposal is threatening to derail the long-delayed Swansea Bay project. 

Developer Ecotricity released plans for two 380MW tidal lagoons in the Solway Firth, which it says could each be built for half the cost of the Swansea Bay lagoon.

Ecotricity announced its alternative proposal at the same time as Swansea Bay-backer Chales Hendry told MPs that a decision on the Swansea lagoon was “moving towards the end game”. 

But Ecotricity founder Dale Vince argued that Hendry’s reasons for supporting the Swansea lagoon “have all fallen away”, calling for an open, competitive process to develop the UK’s first tidal lagoon.

“The government has done well to resist the last couple of years of intense lobbying pressure from backers of the Swansea scheme, there was never a case for paying that much or for moving too quickly to allow for proper competition,” said Vince.

“The projects we have unveiled today are ready to take part in a proper process. There is no need to rush; done properly tidal lagoons could play a big part in our future energy mix, and in lowering our energy bills. There are other companies and other projects that would take part in a proper process.”

MPs investigating the government’s long delay in making a decision on the Swansea pathfinder scheme were told that the Welsh and UK governments were close to making a decision. 

Former energy minister and author of the Hendry review into tidal lagoons Hendry said: “We’re moving, I think, towards the end game. I think it would be very hard to see why it would need to go on a great deal longer.”

He added: “If we stop this whole process now and start again from scratch, we will not have a tidal lagoon industry in this country. People will simply walk away and say it is not worth doing it.”

Last January Hendry urged the government to go ahead with developer Tidal Lagoon Power’s £1.3bn Swansea Bay pathfinder lagoon – which has had planning permission since 2015 – describing it as a “no regrets” policy.

Since then no decision has been made on the 320MW lagoon, which has been dogged by doubts about whether the technology would provide value for money for the taxpayer.

Hendry was speaking to the Commons business, energy and industrial strategycommittee and the Welsh affairs committee, which are jointly investigating why the government has not made a decision on the lagoon.

Developer Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP) chief executive Mark Shorrock said that in the absence of a decision, three of its supply chain had gone into administration. He stressed that if a decision had been made, “we could have been a lifeline to them”.

He added: “It’s very costly obviously. We’re a private sector business, we’re owned by 440 ordinary shareholders and they’ve continued to support the business to make sure we can get to a decision. But it’s a burn rate of some several thousand hundred a month to maintain.

“I think people are hanging in there, but they are hanging in there now.”

The 320MW Swansea Bay lagoon, which could be built by Laing O’Rourke after the firm won a £200M contract in 2015, would generate electricity for 120 years using power from incoming and outgoing tides. If this pathfinder project is successful, five full-scale lagoons are planned.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I am a Chartered Engineer of 45 years standing, and reading this piece today saddens me greatly. There are too many stakeholders in these projects all with opposing interests. If it had been the same in Telford’s and Brunel’s days we would not have the benefit of the rich legacy of Civil Engineering Projects they built as Developer, Designer and Contractor. Have we really advanced in our society?

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  • Both projects proposed have been brought forward with the interests of developer/energy provide. Per se this is not wrong but still disappointingly barrow in view. There is a more ambitious option that is NWE2. This would provide not just low carbon energy for generation to come and of course jobs but also a much needed alternative northwest coastal road, economic regeneration to northwest coastal towns from Flint to Stranraer, environmental benefits in wild life habitats and most importantly an opportunity for new life in otherwise overlooked but inherently beautiful coastal communities.
    North West Energy Squared has the vision for a truly magnificent and valuable civil engineering project.

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