Plans for a £21bn Severn Barrage are facing the axe because private sector backers see the £250M cost of getting the project through planning as too great a risk.
It is feared that the government will pull public funds for the project in next month’s Comprehensive Spending Review, leaving its fate in the hands of private investors.
But taking the scheme through the planning phase could cost £250M and take up to six years, which would be too much of a risk for the private sector.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is currently considering five different options for the scheme based on a feasibility study drafted by Parsons Brinckerhoff. It is expected to make a final decision on a preferred option in the next two months.
But it is believed that energy minister Charles Hendry is concerned over cost escalation on the mammoth scheme.
The largest option is a barrage between Weston Super Mare in England and Cardiff in Wales with an installed capacity of 8.6GW. Parsons Brinckerhoff estimated that this would cost £21bn. Sources close to the project fear that this is too much given the current economic climate.
“It won’t be a surprise if the government pulls the funding,” said Renewable Energy Association head of marine Steph Merry, who sits on the project’s steering group.
“The spending review has put the final nail in the coffin for the project. Finance is the biggest problem. The project is impossible without public funds. There is too much risk,” she said.
“The spending review has put the final nail in the coffin for the project. Finance is the biggest problem. The project is impossible without public funds. There is too much risk.”
Government watchdog the Sustainable Development Commission agrees that the project must be publicly funded and owned to ensure the price of electricity generated by it is competitive. The Severn estuary has the second largest tidal range in the world and could generate up to 5% of the UK’s energy requirements.
Environmentalists have voiced their concerns over the scheme, particularly the Cardiff-Weston option. The Wildlife Trust believes that 80% of the intertidal habitat in the estuary will be lost because the scheme effectively eliminates low tides upstream of the barrage.
The intertidal area feeds the mud with fresh sediment and nutrients which in turn feeds the living organisms at the bottom of the food chain. “We believe more research is required in the new types of power generation such as tidal reef and tidal fence technology.
This should be combined with a much smaller barrage or lagoon option,” said Wildlife Trust living seas officer Lissa Goodwin.
These technologies were developed in conjunction with the feasibility study and funded by the government through its UK Low Carbon Transition Plan costing £500,000 (NCE 15 July 2009).
Merry disagreed with the Wildlife Trust’s opinion to build a smaller lagoon or barrage upstream because it will sterilise any further development of the “Severn’s phenomenal tidal head resource”.
She said a better solution would be to ditch the Severn plans and focus instead on building similar barrages across smaller estuaries such as the Mersey, Dee or Solway.
Five shortlisted schemes
- 8.64GW Cardiff-Weston barrage - £20.9bn
- 1.05GW Shoots barrage - £3.2bn
- 0.625GW Beachley barrage - £2.3bn
- 1.36GW lagoon at Bridgewater - £3.8bn
- 1.36GW lagoon at Welsh grounds - £4bn