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Severn barrage must be publicly funded

The £15bn Severn Barrage must be publicly funded and owned, according to a Government-commissioned report released yesterday.

The Sustainable Development Commission’s (SDC) report on tidal power in the UK claims that a Severn barrage must be publicly-led as an asset to avoid “short-termist decisions and ensure long-term public-interest.”

The Severn Barrage could supply 8.64GW of power - equivalent to two nuclear power stations or 5% of total UK electricity demand. The 10km long barrage would do this by harnessing the Severn estuary’s 14m tidal range to drive turbines. It could also carry a road and rail line.

Speaking at the launch of the report at the ICE, SDC economic commissioner Tim Jackson said: “This must be a public sector project. Private sector interest rates of 10% [on money invested for capital costs] would make the Severn barrage’s production of power uncompetitive. The private sector also likes to maximise returns, and this could give rise to cost cutting in construction and unsustainable developments in areas surrounding the barrage.

“It is clear that the Government must pay for initial research into this project, and if it then becomes a private sector project there is no benefit or return for the public money that has already been spent.”

Jackson added that the lower cost of public funding would make the electricity generated by the Severn barrage the cheapest anywhere in the UK.

The report suggests that as well as taxation, public funds could also be raised through a consumer levy added to electricity bills over a ten year period, the issuing of Government bonds, or the creation of a publicly-owned company funded mostly by taxation or a bond issue, with a minority of shares sold to the private sector.

It also asserts that a publicly-led project is the only way of ensuring that the Severn’s network of estuary habitats protected by European law is not compromised as a result of a Severn barrage.

Last week Business Secretary John Hutton confirmed the Government would commission a feasibility study into tidal power in the Severn estuary.

The SDC report, meanwhile, had examined opportunities for tidal power across the UK and on technologies other than a barrage, says that there is insufficient evidence to support tidal lagoons, cofferdam-like circular concrete structures fitted with turbines, as a viable alternative to a barrage.

It does, however, recommend tidal stream technology - the submerging turbines out at sea to be driven by tidal currents - for Government support. This is mainly because the UK is the world-leader in developing it and the report claims there is great potential in manufacturing and exporting the technology.

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