THE controversial Severn barrage has come a step closer to reality after senior Cabinet members gave the idea high-level backing.
It is understood that Environment Secretary David Miliband, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain and Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling are pushing for the £14bn alternative energy project to be built.
It is thought that a barrage could provide 5% of Britain’s electricity, making the nation the first in the world to harness the power of the tides on such a scale.
But a barrage could also have a heavy environmental cost, jeopardising the unique habitat of the Severn estuary. The Countryside Council for Wales said it would “cause irreversible impacts”, while Friends of the Earth Cymru said that a barrage would be the “wrong solution” and “wrong renewable technology” for the estuary.
The Government will unveil its White Paper on energy on Wednesday and will include the potential of the Severn barrage. This would represent a U-turn on the last energy White Paper four years ago, which ruled the scheme out.
Mr Hain said, “The Severn barrage is a project whose time has come.
“At a time when we face the growing threat of climate change, projects like this can play a significant role in reducing our carbon emissions.
“A Severn barrage could generate up to 5% of our electricity supply and it would be a cleaner, greener and predictable source of electricity.
“If we are to face up to the problem of climate change we need to take projects like this very seriously indeed.”
And Mr Miliband said, “Generating 5% of the UK’s electricity from a reliable renewable source is a huge prize, so a tidal barrage across the Severn has to be worth very serious consideration. Other environmental impacts need to be weighed in the balance but we will not be protecting biodiversity unless we tackle climate change.”
The Severn Tidal Power Group has proposed a 10-mile barrage stretching across the estuary from Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare. Only one such barrage exists in the world, in La Rance, in Brittany, but it is less that a thirtieth of the size of the proposed Severn barrage.
Julian Rosser, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said, “The Severn barrage is the wrong solution to the problem and the wrong renewable technology to be pursuing in the Severn estuary. We believe that the Government should give more support to marine current turbines and tidal lagoons.
“These could be constructed far more quickly and cheaper than the Severn barrage and make a real contribution and provide renewable energy to Wales in five years instead of 15 years.”
The energy White Paper is unlikely to go into great detail about tidal power as the Sustainable Development Commission is currently investigating this renewable technology.
And despite the new-found enthusiasm for energy from renewable sources among senior Cabinet members, nuclear power is likely to play a significant role in the UK’s future energy supply.
Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Show yesterday, Mr Darling said, “I advocate the case for reducing our demand for energy, for having more wind-farm capacity, more renewables and I’m going to be announcing changes that I think will encourage even more renewable electricity but I also think there ought to be a mix.”
Mr Hain has been a long-standing sceptic of nuclear power but it is understood that he will accept the need for new power stations if the White Paper states they are needed to “keep the lights on”.
Evolution of a Severn Barrage