Another week, another round of government infrastructure announcements designed to help prop up the UK economy.
After last week’s bumper transport announcement, this week came the turn of energy generation to become the next public infrastructure investment weapon.
Once again it must surely be seen as good news for the industry. Once again engineering has been thrust into the limelight as the potential economic driver and the start of the UK’s recovery. But as with last week’s transport plans, it is clear that there is a long way to go and a large number of difficult choices to make before any actual projects start.
Nevertheless, the announcement that five projects have been shortlisted in the search for the UK’s first commercial scale tidal power electricity generation scheme is particularly exciting. At last we are moving closer towards the realisation of tidal power.
This has the potential to be our first truly large scale renewable power. Our first genuinely carbon free, unlimited source – potentially bigger, more reliable and predictable than wind, and a real alternative to fossil fuels. It is exciting because the UK could use this springboard to become the world leader in a genuinely planet saving technology.
Yet whether the ambitious £20.9bn, 8.64GW Cardiff -Weston Barrage or one of the smaller lagoon schemes is chosen, there will inevitably be a major environmental debate before anything can be started. As climate change minister Ed Miliband said this week: “We have tough choices to make. Failing to act on climate change could see catastrophic effects …but the [Severn] Estuary itself is a protected environment.”
Ironically – and sadly – this fact will probably make it more likely that we will see new nuclear power stations built in the UK before any tidal power is harnessed. Of course news this week of the dramatic increase in the number of civil engineers now contacting the ICE’s Benevolent Fund provides a clear reality check. For as we again report, it is also a case of another week, another wave of job cuts. All of which makes it doubly important to move quickly from infrastructure policy to infrastructure project.
For the sake of jobs, we cannot afford for these crucial energy infrastructure projects to be delayed. Nor can we for the sake of the planet. As President Obama said in his uplifting inaugural address a little over a week ago: “We can no longer ….consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. The world has changed, and we must change with it.” Now is not the moment to shy away from tough decisions. Now is the moment for engineers.