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Tidal lagoon boss slams 'pathetic' government for 'lack of faith' in industry

Lagoon wall (tidal lagoon power)

Swansea Bay tidal lagoon backers have slammed the government’s “lack of faith” in British industry after it canned the £1.3bn scheme for good. 

Business secretary Greg Clark confirmed yesterday that the government will not back the first-of-a-kind scheme despite recent attempts to breathe life into the project, including a £200M offer from the Welsh Government.

It took 18 months for the British Government to make its decision after ex-energy minister Charles Hendry said backing the project would be a “no-regrets policy” in January 2017.

Chairman of project promoter Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay) Keith Clarke told New Civil Engineer of his huge frustration at two wasted years of project development.

“Where we are now, this is not a realistic critique of tidal lagoons as a predictable and reliable source of energy but a critique of a government incapable of delivering a renewable energy policy, or an industrial sector strategy, or innovation, or assessing the real benefits to communities,” he said.

Clarke, who held chief executive posts at contractor Skanska UK, and consultant Atkins and who is also a former ICE vice president, said his main frustration was the message the government was sending to the industrial sector at large.

“The lack of faith in the industrial sector is pathetic,” he said.

Clarke laid into to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which took on oversight of the Swansea Bay scheme after the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was dissolved in July 2016.

“The engagement in the last two years has been zero,” he said. “In that time we have had three secretaries of state and it is quite clear the capability of BEIS to pick up the work done by DECC is not there,” he continued.

“It is just appalling.”

Hendry’s government-commissioned tidal lagoons review recommended the UK invest in the £1.3bn Swansea Bay pathfinder project and become a world leader in tidal energy. Such an investment would have seemingly aligned with BEIS’ stated intent to invest in innovation and infrastructure.

But  business secretary Clark, in his statement to Parliament, highlighted Hendry’s conclusion that it would be a “leap of faith” to make the assumption that Britain could become a world leader in tidal energy. Instead he cited his own department’s consultants who believe that export opportunities would be limited to design and consultancy. He also highlighted Hendry’s conclusion that only 28 long term jobs would be associated with the operation and maintenance of Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

Clarke said taking such a narrow view missed the point.

“The treatment of the pathfinder tidal lagoon makes a mockery of a supposed new Industrial strategy for the UK that pledges to back the disruptors and embrace new industries for a new future,” he said. “The reality is that indecision sucks the life out of innovation and timid leadership will condemn Brexit Britain to the 20th Century.”

Mark Shorrock, founder and chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Power, agreed with Clarke. “This is a vote of no interest in Wales, no confidence in British manufacturing and no care for the planet, justified through a faux concern for consumers who would readily invest in a British tidal power industry for today and for future generations,” he said in a statement.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers echoed the lagoon team’s view. “It is a missed opportunity to boost innovation and manufacturing in Wales,” said head of engineering Jenifer Baxter. “The project would have been a demonstration of first-of-a-kind technology and would have brought valuable new skills.”

Clarke said that his team was now demanding a meeting with government to explain its decision in full.

“In light of today’s statement and having heard next to nothing from government for two years, the board will be meeting in two days’ time to consider its next steps. There has been no negotiation and it is not unreasonable to expect that government will now be willing to meet and discuss its position on Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon in some detail. We have already requested that meeting,” he said.

The Swansea Bay lagoon has had planning permission since 2015 and developers Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP) had five more full-scale lagoons planned if Swansea Bay had been successful.

Cost for the taxpayer had been a key sticking point for government. Although the lagoon would have been producing free energy for the last 30 years of its 120 year lifecycle, initial costs would have been roughly £123/MWh.

BEIS’ value for money assessment, published alongside  Greg Clark’s decision, claims that the proposed tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay would have a capital cost more than three times as much, per unit of electricity, as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

Keith Clarke and Shorrock dispute this calculation.

Readers' comments (3)

Missed opportunity or prudent decision? Tell us what you think

  • I sympathise about the delay and lack of feedback, but suspect that there are better projects amongst the "five full-scale lagoons planned if Swansea Bay had been successful".
    The Solway Firth promoters argue that is the case.

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  • Hugh Porter

    As a career-long supporter of tidal energy schemes, with a good understanding of these schemes and as a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers this looks like a brave and correct decision by HMG. The UK has had a very lucky escape from a bad deal.
    How well did this project account for optimism bias in its plans, deal with uncertainty and understanding of drivers of risk in costs? Was all of this included within the promoter's risk contingency or perhaps the various contractors?
    The scale of the subsidy that was being sought on this 'pathfinder' opportunity demands a passion for getting under the skin of risk and reward. There are some very transparent and worthy beneficiaries (including the regional economy) and an expectation that this is funded by the rest of us who will hardly notice the raking off of a subsidy from our utility bills.
    What real risk was being taken by anyone other than the UK taxpayers and who are the less transparent beneficiaries of the proposed deal?
    This whole situation does not put the UK civil engineering capability and community in a very good light and suggests to me that we are not yet to be fully trusted with looking after the interests of the UK taxpayer.

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  • Some one should do an independent audit of the BEIS document. I cant believe the cost estimates of industry were a 1/3 of the governments. This smacks of the Torys backing nuclear at the expense of renewables. Grave mistake. An expensive mistake too, if you look at how costly nuclear is to decommission and the lack of storage for radioactive material for the next 200,000 years.
    I hope this idiot Clark never gets voted in again.

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