Scrapping Tidal Lagoon Power’s (TLP) £1.3bn Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would be “the right call” as the pathfinder project is “unnecessarily expensive”, a rival developer has claimed.
Ecotricity chief executive Dale Vince, who is behind proposals for two 380MW offshore tidal lagoons in the Solway Firth, told New Civil Engineer the long-delayed lagoon is “the wrong thing in the wrong place” after the Financial Times reported ministers are getting ready to reject the scheme.
Vince said: “If it comes as the FT predicts and it’s a rejection, I think it’ll be the right decision.”
He added: “It’s been sold on the notion that the first one will be expensive and the next ones will be cheaper, but there is no learning curve. These are sea walls and low head hydro turbines in a fairly novel combination – that is all.
“So there’s nothing to learn from building the first one that will lead to a cost reduction. The Swansea project is just the wrong thing in the wrong place.”
Vince said Ecotricity’s proposals are cheaper as the offshore lagoons would use less materials. He added any future tidal lagoon projects should go through the competitive Contracts for Difference scheme.
TLP has plans for four full-scale tidal lagoons if the Swansea Bay pathfinder scheme goes ahead.
While the government-commissioned Hendry review found that backing TLP’s 320MW pathfinder scheme would be a “no-regrets policy” last January, ministers have been dogged by doubts over whether the technology would provide value for money for the taxpayer.
Although the lagoon is expected to generate energy for free by the end of its 120-year lifecycle, initial costs would start at roughly £123/MWh – more expensive than Hinkley Point C’s £92.5/MWh strike price.
MPs are currently investigating the government’s delay in making a decision on the scheme, and ministers are expected to address the inquiry next week.
Last month ex-energy minister and author of the Hendry review Charles Hendry warned MPs that if the project is dropped, the UK will miss the opportunity to develop a tidal power industry.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said no decision has been made on the scheme.
A spokesperson for BEIS said: “As the Business Secretary told MPs recently, while we have quadrupled the proportion of our electricity that comes from renewable sources since 2010, we have a responsibility to minimise the impact on consumer bills and the Swansea proposal is more than twice as expensive as the Hinkley power station. Any decision on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project will have to represent value for money for the UK taxpayer as well as the consumer.
“However, we have committed to continue exploring all of the possibilities and challenges in considering a proposal that – as the First Minister of the Welsh Government pointed out - involves an untried technology with high capital costs and significant uncertainties.”
Sources at TLP have dismissed the Financial Times’ claims as rumours.
A spokesperson for TLP said: “We have repeatedly offered to meet BEIS Ministers and have not been given the opportunity to do so. We are therefore blind with regards the Department’s intent on timing or content of any announcement.
“Government’s Industrial Strategy looks for homegrown and cheap power and that is what tidal lagoons offer. The unit price of power from a pathfinder project at Swansea Bay need cost no more than the unit price of power from Hinkley Point C, which has already received government backing. The first full scale project to follow at Cardiff offers nuclear-scale capacity but for 88 times less subsidy than Hinkley. All major parts will be manufactured in the UK, allowing government to buy British power stations in addition to those it buys from the French, Chinese and Japanese.
“We look forward to learning from government what would be an appropriate unit price for both the pathfinder tidal lagoon and the full-scale tidal lagoons it allows to follow.”
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