Energy minister Lord Hunt has said that any Severn Barrage scheme would be unlikely before 2020, and that costs for the shortlisted schemes could rise, with connections to the National Grid alone projected to cost some £2bn.
Speaking to the House of Commons’ energy and climate change committee, Hunt was answering questions about the proposed Severn Barrage schemes.
Hunt said that construction of a scheme by 2020 was unlikely. “You can construct a timetable for one of the smaller schemes so it could be operational by 2020,” but indicated that this would be tight, and committee member indicated their scepticism. Such a timetable would be simply impossible for the larger schemes, he said.
Hunt said that the five shortlisted schemes may not be a final list, and that rejected schemes could make it back on the shortlist once technology had caught up. “It might be that we have to go back to schemes in a couple of year to see whether the technology has caught up.
“But we want to see how far we can take this shortlist and move to a decision next year,” he said.
Hunt said that for some of the smaller schemes, private money alone fund them but the massive Cardiff-Weston barrage was simply too large. “Inevitably public finances would be used, especially for the Cardiff-Weston scheme because of the huge size and cost.”
Hunt added that existing subsidies for renewable energy schemes were not suitable for the Cardiff-Weston scheme, although one of the smaller schemes - presumably the Beachley Barrage - does fit existing criteria as its generating output is less than 1GW.
But the massive Cardiff-Weston Barrage would need a special kind of subsidy to work, as the costs are so high, Hunt said.
“The scale of the Cardiff-Weston Barrage is huge and would have great implications for grid infrastructure. Costs of conversion run to £2bn at least,” he said.
An aide to Lord Hunt indicated that a ‘smart grid’ would be needed to manage the times when the Barrage could produce power - determined by the tides, so often at inconvenient times.
She also said that the cost - approximately £21bn would; “Change because it would go up.” She said costs were based on studies carried out in the 1980s and 1990s and adjusted for today. A realistic cost would be calculated differently, and would be likely to increase outturn costs.
Hunt also said that the decision to build a Barrage would not determine whether the UK would meet its renewable power targets, and that: “I am confident we will meet the targets without this and we should not include a Severn scheme in planning to 2020.”
He said to include any scheme at the Severn would; “Preclude any decisions we make and we must decide this through the proper channels,” he said.
Hunt said other technologies such as carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is; “Hugely important for this country,” and said he hoped a scheme would be in operation by 2020.
Finally Hunt said any scheme would carefully consider environmental impacts. “There will be impacts and if you cannot mitigate, then look at compensation. If that cannot be managed, then develop a scheme of equal environmental value. We could look at other parts of the country, with provision for species of equal value,” he said.
He said economic and environmental impacts would be given equal consideration, and that the ‘step change’ required by the Committee on Climate Change was already in action.
The five shortlisted schemes:
- 8.64GW Cardiff-Weston barrage, costing £20.9bn;
- 1.05GW Shoots barrage, costing £3.2bn;
- 0.625GW Beachley barrage, costing £2.3bn;
- 1.36GW lagoon at Bridgewater Bay costing £3.8bn
- 1.36GW lagoon at Welsh grounds, costing £4bn.