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Will Hendry Give Swansea Bay The Go-Ahead?

October 30, 2016

By Paul Homewood  




One of two interesting news items in the Telegraph today:


It was in July 2008 that Charles Hendry suggested it would be “interesting to look at the scope for tidal lagoons” in the UK.

As the then-shadow energy minister explained to fellow MPs, “some people say that they may be the way forward”.

“It is an intriguing possibility,” he went on. “Not one has been built, so many people are trying to estimate what their value and cost would be.”

Fast forward more than eight years, and much the same is true today.

Backers of the technology say it has huge potential to harness the power of the tides around Britain. They want to build a series of giant, horseshoe-shaped sea walls to create artificial lagoons around the coast, with turbines embedded in them that turn as the tides bring water rushing in or out.

Yet still none have been built, with a £1.3bn proposal to construct the world’s first in Swansea Bay mired in debate over its value and cost.

Now, though, Hendry is actually charged with assessing the lagoons’ merits.

In May, a year after leaving Parliament, having served as an energy minister in the early years of the Coalition, he was appointed to lead an independent review to consider “the strategic case for tidal lagoons and whether they could play a cost effective role as part of the UK energy mix”.


Charles Hendry

Charles Hendry served as energy minister in the early years of the Coalition Credit: Eddie Mulholland


He is due to submit the review’s findings to the Government by next week, in a report that could decide the fate of the technology, and affect the wider tidal power sector.

Britain is widely acknowledged to have some of the best tidal resources in the world.

The Government has long been bullish about their possibilities, saying in 2013 that marine energy could “make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s future energy needs”.

Tidal range technologies, such as lagoons, which function in similar fashion to a hydroelectric dam and exploit the height difference between high and low tide, could theoretically one day have a capacity of up to 30 gigawatts (GW), meeting 12pc of the UK’s electricity needs, the Government said.

Tidal stream technologies, more akin to underwater wind turbines, turning with the tidal flow, and wave power technologies could together eventually provide 20pc of the UK’s needs, it estimated, with up to 27GW of capacity by 2050.

For now, marine energy is providing virtually zero UK electricity.

What the world's first tidal lagoon power plant may look in Swansea Bay

What the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant may look in Swansea Bay Credit: Tidal Lagoon Power/PA Wire


According to RenewableUK, just 16 megawatts (MW) of wave and tidal stream technology has been deployed to date, primarily prototypes.

Tidal range hopes were for years focused around the idea of a Severn barrage, effectively building a dam across the Severn estuary. But that proposal was rejected by the Government in 2010 (and again in 2013) amid major cost and environmental concerns.

Around the same time, the green energy entrepreneur Mark Shorrock founded Tidal Lagoon Power and began drawing up detailed plans for tidal lagoons, starting with the 320MW Swansea Bay project.

The proposal won heavyweight backing, even being featured in the Conservative manifesto, and gained planning consent in June 2015.

But like most new energy projects it is not economic without subsidy – and in January, almost a year after the Government began talks on a financial deal, David Cameron dealt a major blow to the project.

“The problem with tidal power, simply put, is that at the moment we have not seen any ideas come forward that can hit a strike price in terms of pounds per megawatt-hour (MWh) that is very attractive,” he said.

Amid such concerns, the independent review was launched.


However, Shorrock, a relentless optimist, claims it is “inconceivable” that Hendry’s meticulous examination will not find in favour of his plan.

“We think we have done an amazing job,” he says. He is seeking an unprecedented 90-year subsidy contract for Swansea Bay, as well as a government loan of more than £150m.

The contract would guarantee the lagoon income starting at £123/MWh, paid for on consumer energy bills – even higher than the £92.50/MWh controversially agreed for the Hinkley Point nuclear plant.

However, unlike Hinkley, the Swansea price would be only partially indexed to inflation, which Shorrock’s company claims means it is actually equivalent to £89.90/MWh.

Shorrock’s pitch also centres on Swansea being the prototype for a series of much bigger lagoons to follow that, he pledges, would come in at the equivalent to £60-£70/MWh. “Large lagoons make cheap power,” he says.

Shorrock says Hendry “got the scale bit very quickly” and moved on to question the industrial potential: “Can we genuinely make turbines and generators here?”


Artist's impression of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon

Artist’s impression of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon Credit: Tidal Lagoon Power


Tidal Lagoon Power is also lobbying hard on this front, claiming that 84p of every £1 on its lagoons could be spent in the UK and that a large-scale rollout of tidal lagoons combined with exporting the technology represent a £71bn “industrial opportunity”.

Richard Graham, the Conservative MP for Gloucester and chairman of a cross-party group on marine energy, says he thinks Hendry “cannot fail to have been impressed by the way in which really every stakeholder imaginable in Wales is supportive” of the Swansea plans.

Compared with other big infrastructure projects such as Hinkley, Heathrow or HS2 “the absence of political opposition is very striking indeed”, Graham says.

But other powerful voices are still critical of the project.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice says: “While constructing a tidal lagoon could bring lots of benefits to an area, including new jobs, regeneration and tourism, it needs to be at a price which is affordable for consumers.

“The prices for onshore and offshore wind power, as well as solar, have been consistently decreasing over the last few years, while tidal remains an expensive low-carbon option. Developing tidal lagoons would be worthy of serious consideration if the costs for tidal power were brought closer in line with other energy sources."


Artists impression of the Swansea Tidal lagoon

Artists impression of the Swansea Tidal lagoon Credit: WALES NEWS SERVICE


Shorrock claims that Hendry’s verdict on tidal lagoons will be seen as a “litmus test for the entire industry”, showing whether it is a “yes to homegrown marine energy in the UK”.

Others in the industry agree that a positive decision would help confidence elsewhere in the sector as tidal stream developers, too, seek to make the financial case for continued support.

Tidal stream projects are just beginning to scale up from prototypes,  often in receipt of R&D grant funding,  to commercial-scale deployment.

In September, Atlantis Resources unveiled the first turbines in what it hopes will eventually be the largest planned tidal stream energy project in the world, a 398MW project,  in the Pentland Firth, off the north coast of Scotland.

But only the first four turbines, with a capacity of 6MW, are expected to qualify for the current subsidy scheme, which offers subsidies worth roughly £200/MWh on top of the market price of power, before it shuts in March.

Thereafter, what support will be available is unclear.

Hugh McNeal, chief executive of RenewableUK, says the tidal industry has “racked up an unprecedented set of world firsts and world-only milestones this year”, but he warns: “We’re at a crucial moment, and right now we risk losing our hard-won advantage. We need the right framework to unlock the great potential we offer, so that we can continue to innovate and grow.”

Shorrock is adamant what the first step must be. “What we need from Hendry is a strong recommendation to green–light Swansea Bay, that’s the number one thing,” he says. “No Swansea Bay, no industry.”


A number of issues are raised here, (and I must say I am pleased to see alternative points of view raised here).


1) The idea that Charles Hendry’s review of the project is in any way “independent” is laughable, as he is absolutely wedded to the goal of decarbonisation at any cost.

2) Talking of costs, Shorrock admits that the deal will involve paying £89.90/MWh, index linked for 90 years. This makes the £92.50/MWh to be paid for 35 years to Hinkley Point look a bargain.

Even then, the deal involves a cheap government loan of £150 million.

3) Shorrock also holds out the prospect of much lower prices for future, larger scale lagoons. This is little more than jam tomorrow, and is a worthless promise.

4) Much is made of the promise of manufacturing jobs created, but subsidised jobs are only created at the cost of other jobs elsewhere.

5) Above all, we should not lose sight of the ridiculously small amount of electricity Swansea Bay will produce. Rated at 320 MW, it is likely to generate no more than 420 GWh a year, at a cost of £1.3 billion.

Compare that with the newly built CCGT plant at Carrington, which is capable of producing 6500 GWh a year, on demand, and for under £50/MWh.


It is really a no-brainer!


  1. martinbrumby permalink
    October 30, 2016 1:12 pm

    Why don’t we just burn £20 notes to generate electricity?
    After all, with Mark Carney in charge at the B.o.E, £20 notes are probably as “renewable” as all their other bright ideas.

  2. Joe Public permalink
    October 30, 2016 1:22 pm

    Tidal might be predictable, but it is 60% intermittent.

    As the tides rise and fall naturally, with no requirement for fuel, tidal power is truly renewable and, unlike other forms of renewable energy, is entirely predictable. As there are always two high and two low tides every day, tidal lagoons will generate electricity over four periods a day, every day of the year. As we hold the tides for 2.5 hours four times a day, we can generate power for up to 14 in every 24 hours.

    [My bold]

    • diogenese2 permalink
      October 30, 2016 2:22 pm

      It may be predictable (in still air) but It is still cyclical, only max for about 2 hours in 6;

      I would be interested to see the comments of a grid controller on how this would be managed.
      Also, what is the impact of wind on flow rate? Is it significant?
      I’m sure Hendry will have the answers to this.

      • diogenese2 permalink
        October 30, 2016 2:34 pm

        Posted prematurely; the answers are here on slides 10 to 14;

        Click to access La%20Rance-BHA-Oct%202009.pdf

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        October 31, 2016 5:36 am

        When visiting St. Malo (as tourist via boat) in mid Sept. I was told by another in the party that the last time he had been in the area he had been told that the Rance tidal scheme was having lots of problems with sea weed.
        Time of previous trip not given but after 2012, possibly 2014, from other comments and a little surprising as he was definitely a left winger and a believer in man made global warming. Have you heard anything about a sea weed problem?

  3. October 30, 2016 1:43 pm

    Just what we need: more intermittent expensive sources of power!
    Whats value for money got to do with it: carbon carbon carbon.

  4. Bloke down the pub permalink
    October 30, 2016 2:25 pm

    Backers of the technology say it has huge potential to harness the power of the tides around( take money from the people of) Britain. There, sorted.

  5. AlecM permalink
    October 30, 2016 2:33 pm

    What about the poor eels?

  6. Timo Soren permalink
    October 30, 2016 3:54 pm

    Unlike most power plants this thing could have a life time of well over 100 years and with turbines on the ground renewable to another 50 plus at a reasonable cost. The boondoodles that feed-Ins alone have created and paid for with little if any return, this thing looks like a no brainer.

    • October 30, 2016 4:52 pm

      Lots of mights and maybes. Of course if Shorrock is so confident, I am sure he can raise finance without a need for any subsidies

      • Keitho permalink
        November 1, 2016 2:14 pm

        If you watch his promo video it looks like a timeshare scam in its format. Much play on recreational advantages but nothing at all on costs and returns and the like.

        It looks like a con job to me.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      October 31, 2016 12:06 pm

      When you say “no brainer” I do hope you mean that you need no brain ie no common sense to choose to build it.

  7. October 30, 2016 3:56 pm

    Can Swansea Bay Lagoon spawn a ***** power industry?

    Wrong question!

    This was the question asked by the Danish and German wind turbine industries. The answer is that it well might, for a time, but it shouldn’t! It is now apparent to anyone with eyes to see, that founding an industry on a hopeless new technology is as sensible as jumping out of a plane with a newly developed parachute made of string vests.

    Hendry is a dreadful fat cat living in a large, hugely expensive and recently purchased Scottish castle. Has it got dungeons?

    • October 30, 2016 5:37 pm

      New technology? Hydro-power isn’t new. Actually this project could go forward using off-the-shelf equipment and most of the cost/benefit analysis could be done on the back of an envelope.

      Having said that, the first thing that should be done is a cost/benefit analysis .

      • October 30, 2016 8:17 pm

        Precisely Jim. And the cost benefit analysis should be done by the investors who might be tempted to put their money into the project.

        It’s an unusual idea, but seems to have worked well in the past!

  8. October 30, 2016 4:46 pm

    If this gets the go-ahead it will prove that the UK energy policy is still in the hands of idiots and/or incompetents.

    It will be an environmental disaster, requiring 90 years of continuous dredging of the lagoon.

    As Euan Mearns showed, the problem of intermittency gets worse the more lagoons that are built.

  9. CheshireRed permalink
    October 30, 2016 4:57 pm

    Does every single piece of UK infrastructure absolutely HAVE to be fiendishly complex, time-consuming and most of all eye-wateringly expensive? Is there a law somewhere that expressly prohibits rational decision-making and instead requires the minister responsible to have a lobotomy before choosing the dearest most complex, crackpot option? I think we should be told.

  10. Harry Passfield permalink
    October 30, 2016 4:58 pm

    Hendry: “Not one has been built” Now, there’s a clue, Mr Hendry.

  11. It doesn't add up... permalink
    October 30, 2016 6:05 pm

    Hendry resigned from being a minister in order to take up (with undue haste) the chairmanship of Forewind – previously held by John Gummer (Lord Deben). He was also a consultant to the partnership behind Icelink – a project he promoted while minister. A serial trougher to rival and even eclipse Yeo.

    As to Swansea Bay itself – some of the best analysis of the project and its proposed successors can be found here:

    Even with the latest version of the new subsidy – is that £123/MWh in 2012 prices, indexed in full until startup, followed by say 75% indexation for 90 years? – the subsidy is egregious, and in effect higher than the original proposal at £168/MWh in 2012 prices plus 35 years indexation.

    We should also remember that Shorrock owns the quarry at the Lizard he hopes to use to supply material for the sea wall – allowing him to profit from the construction phase even if the project goes bankrupt in operation.

    There is absolutely no way this project should be allowed to see the light of day.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 30, 2016 6:10 pm

      Well said, IDAU. These guys could teach Clinton a thing or two about corruption.

      And, where are all the numpties who complain about the cost of Hinckley’s £/kWhr when you compare it to Swansea’s?

  12. tom0mason permalink
    October 30, 2016 10:19 pm

    Alternately Britain could pay the current unemployed a ‘living wage’ to blow at the windmills when the wind doesn’t.
    Far more cost effective…

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      October 31, 2016 5:41 am

      Feed them lentils & beans and 1,000 at a time could power a gas turbine, should any new ones be built.

      • tom0mason permalink
        October 31, 2016 7:00 am

        Umm, could ‘pulse power’ be made reliable enough.
        Maybe a Guinness and pickled egg supplement would make for a more even production. But I feel that is pushing this stout pulse power yoke too far!

      • AlecM permalink
        October 31, 2016 10:23 am

        Treadmills are far cheaper………

        Alternatively compulsory liposuction for fat people to provide fuel for diesel generators……

      • tom0mason permalink
        November 1, 2016 12:55 am

        As Lord Deben might say —

        “England expects that every flatulent will do their duty”

    • dennisambler permalink
      October 31, 2016 11:14 am

      Connect all gym equipment to the grid with Feed in Tariffs. Gives a new meaning to Get FIT.

      • A C Osborn permalink
        October 31, 2016 12:04 pm

        That is really good.

  13. Keitho permalink
    November 1, 2016 2:07 pm

    What will be used to fill in the periods of slack tide which will be 30 minutes later each tide? Slack tides could be up to one third of the cycle.

    Have there been exciting advances in materials science that will make the challenge of keeping these turbines operational in one of the most hostile environments there are manageable?

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