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22nd January, 2008

Severn tidal power study could unlock massive renewable potential

Tuesday 11:35

The massive potential for tidal power from the Severn Estuary to provide low carbon, renewable electricity was highlighted today by Energy Secretary, John Hutton, with the publication of the terms of reference for the Government's feasibility study.

Tidal barrages and lagoons will be looked at in the feasibility study which will analyse the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of the possible projects. It will enable the Government to decide whether and on what terms it could support a tidal power project.

One of the possible technologies, a Severn Barrage, would harness the power of the Estuary using the proven technology of a hydro-electric dam, but filled by the incoming tide rather than by water flowing downstream. Such a project, as the recent report from the Sustainable Development Commission confirmed, has the potential to generate some 5% of UK electricity from a renewable British source.

John Hutton said:

"The potential scale of this project, and the impact it could have for both securing energy supplies and tackling climate change is breathtaking. The Severn Estuary has some of the best tidal potential in the world and could more than double the current UK supply of renewable electricity, and contribute significantly to targets for renewable energy and CO2 emissions reduction.

"We must understand the cost and the impact that a project of this scale could have, not least the environmental, social and economic effects. But the need to take radical steps to tackle climate change is now beyond doubt. Tough choices need to be made. We must consider all our low carbon energy options."

The study, which will include a Strategic Environmental Assessment, is expected to last roughly 2 years. It is expected to conclude with a full public consultation in early 2010. The work will be done by a cross-Government team, also involving the Welsh Assembly Government and the South West Regional Development Agency, bringing together expertise from a number of organisations and engaging stakeholders and the public at large.

Building on the work of the Sustainable Development Commission and earlier studies, the feasibility study will:

* assess in broad terms the costs, benefits and impact of a project to generate power from the tidal range of the Severn Estuary, including environmental, social, regional, economic, and energy market impacts;

* identify a single preferred tidal range project (which may be a single technology/location or a combination of these) from the number of options that have been proposed;

* consider what measures the Government could put in place to bring forward a project that fulfils regulatory requirements, and the steps that are necessary to achieve this; and,

* decide, in the context of the Government's energy and climate change goals and the alternative options for achieving these, and after public consultation, whether the Government could support a tidal power project in the Severn Estuary and on what terms.

The publication of the terms of reference comes on the day that the Energy Bill receives its second reading in the House of Commons. The Energy Bill sets out a range of measures to address the twin challenges of tackling climate change and securing energy supplies.

This includes strengthening the Renewables Obligation to drive greater and more rapid deployment of renewables in the UK. This is expected to triple the electricity supplied from renewable sources to around 15% by 2015.

The Bill also enables investment in carbon capture and storage. CCS has the potential to reduce the carbon emissions from fossil fuel power stations by up to 90%. The Government has announced details of a competition for the first commercial scale demonstration of CCS - this will help reduce costs and risks for future projects and put the UK in the lead on the design, construction and operation of CCS.

Notes to Editors

1. The Severn Estuary is one of the largest estuaries in the UK. The estuary's classic funnel shape, unique in the UK, helps give it the second highest tidal range in the world.

2. The feasibility study will consider all tidal range technologies, but not tidal stream technologies. Tidal range is the vertical difference between the highest high tide and the lowest low tide (up to 14 metres- 42 feet - in the Severn Estuary). Electricity is generated by impounding a large volume of water on the high tide and then passing this water through turbines once a height difference is created.

3. There are two main tidal range technologies - barrages and lagoons. A Severn Barrage would be a barrier from the English to the Welsh coast over the Severn estuary. There are several proposed locations for such a barrage including between Cardiff and Weston, as recommended by studies in the 1980s, which would have a capacity of 8640 Mega Watts and an estimated output of 17 Tera Watt Hours a year - providing around 5% of current UK electricity demand. A tidal lagoon is an artificial impoundment that would be constructed in shallow water areas with a high tidal range.

4. All of the possible technologies must comply with a wide range of environmental legislation, including the EU Habitats and Wild Bird directives. The Severn Estuary is of National, European and International nature conservation significance - and so has been afforded the corresponding levels of legal protection. It is designated as both a Ramsar Site and Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Habitats Directive and is in the process of being designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The Estuary also comprises a series of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Client ref 2008/013

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