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Tidal lagoon plans face challenge from RSPB

January 11, 2017

By Paul Homewood


h/t Patsy Lacey



Developers hoping to build a series of tidal energy lagoons around Britain are facing a major challenge from the RSPB which is demanding years of delay between projects to assess whether the first lagoon disturbs wildlife and kills fish. 

Tidal Lagoon Power wants to build a world-first lagoon in Swansea Bay and is currently awaiting the outcome of an independent Government-commissioned review of the technology’s potential, led by former energy minister Charles Hendry, which is due to be unveiled on Thursday.

Central to the company’s case for the £1.3bn Swansea project, which would require substantial financial support from consumers and taxpayers, is that it will be the prototype for a series of lagoons, with subsequent larger projects following swiftly after and offering proportionately better value.

But in a submission to the Hendry Review, seen by the Telegraph, the RSPB warns that “the ecological impacts of tidal lagoons are not currently well understood” and that “any future lagoon should be conditional on Swansea being constructed, operational and this knowledge being available to inform later design”.

Mark Robins, senior policy officer at the RSPB, said it was likely to take several years after the 320-megawatt Swansea project started operating before its environmental impacts could be properly assessed.

That meant the influential group, whose objections have led to other major energy infrastructure projects being scrapped in the past, would “almost certainly” oppose plans by Tidal Lagoon Power to build a 2.7GW project at Cardiff until such an assessment had been carried out and proved that any concerns could be addressed. 

The RSPB says lagoons are a “high risk” technology and could potentially cause the loss of habitats for wildfowl and other birds, the “risk of mortality to fish and other animals that pass through the turbines” and could interfere with the sediment flows throughout the estuary.

While it is not yet known whether the Hendry review shares the RSPB’s concerns – with sources close to the lagoon project optimistic the report will be broadly positive – the environmental group’s position nevertheless presents a major obstacle to the company’s plans.

Tidal Lagoon Power currently intends to begin the 18-month planning permission process for the Cardiff development in 2018 or 2019, when the Swansea Bay project would only just be starting construction. Swansea is not expected to be completed until 2022 at the earliest.

The company is seeking an unprecedented 90-year subsidy contract for the Swansea project with a price starting at £123 per megawatt-hour of electricity, even higher than the £92.50/MWh controversially agreed for Hinkley Point, as well as a loan from the Government.

It has sought to justify the high price it requires for Swansea by stressing that subsequent, much bigger lagoons at Cardiff and elsewhere would be substantially cheaper.

It has also centred its lobbying on the idea that the UK could quickly establish a major domestic and export industry, representing a £71bn “industrial opportunity”. In a letter to the FT on Monday, project backers including GE and Sheffield Forgemasters argued that “tidal lagoons can quickly become a pillar of the UK energy mix” and that the UK should embrace its “first-mover advantage”. Years of delays would threaten the establishment of such an industry.


From what Mark Shorrock and his Tidal Lagoon Power company have been saying, they seem to be confident that they will get the go ahead from Charles Hendry, which makes you wonder whether they have been given a nod and a wink.

But that does not necessarily mean the the government will accept his advice.

Environmental concerns such as this might just tip the decision.

  1. Ian Magness permalink
    January 11, 2017 2:16 pm

    It’s not just the RSPB that is on to this. All of the different stakeholders in the fishery business (anglers through to landowners) are objecting due to serious concerns over the anadromous populations, especially the smaller sea trout (or sewin as they are known in that part of the world). Fishery bodies believe that the turbines could cause significant mortality among arriving or returning fish.
    But, hey, the government never worried about bat and bird slicing wind turbines, so why bother about the few remaining migratory salmonids that breed in our rivers?

    • roger permalink
      January 11, 2017 10:46 pm

      Interestingly, the Inner Solway has been adversely affected by the wind turbine offshore array known as Robin Rigg, with continual massive disruption to the sands and channels over and through which the salmonids migrate and return.
      The Solway rivers have also been degraded in their upland areas by monstrous onshore farms where footings for the towers and access roads, substantial enough to withstand the width and weight of concrete lorries and component transporters, are carved and embedded in the fragile moorland spawning grounds.
      The numbers returning since this work has been undertaken have given rise to such concern that these Solway rivers have been made compulsory catch and release by the posturing buffoons in the travesty in Edinburgh.
      Fishing effort has slumped on these rivers with a corresponding slump in fishers and tourism.
      The riparian owners are unfazed by this as they are also the landowners receiving the mouth watering annual rents for what was until this scam was legislated, worthless upland bog.
      You couldn’t make it up!

  2. Nick Dekker permalink
    January 11, 2017 2:24 pm

    For comparison, the first 1,100MWs of installed solar PV under the Feed in Tariff scheme in 2011/2, will eventually cost the consumer £10.5 billion, repeat £10.5billion. I have a letter from the government stating this. Why this is never mentioned in beyond me.

  3. January 11, 2017 2:55 pm

    It’s a pity the RSPB hasn’t taken the same attitude to bird slicing wind turbines, both onshore and offshore. There are too many unknown unknowns, in terms of environmental impacts, of tidal lagoons, particularly in the Bristol Channel.

    • January 11, 2017 3:35 pm

      Saves me saying it, Phillip! I think the whole idea of tidal energy stinks but if there is anything that might possibly make me warm to the idea it is the fact that the RSPB is against it.

      More and more it becomes evident that we do not need these horrendously expensive vanity projects which only serve to make rich men even richer, poor men even poorer and governments feel good about themselves. Ruinously expensive intermittent electricity supplies which almost certainly will do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions (on the increasingly dubious assumption that such action is necessary or even advisable) is immoral. There really is no other word for it.

    • January 11, 2017 4:40 pm

      @Philip @Mike Surely RSPB are just angling for the normal bribe ?
      Green Dogma and cash overshadows their care for birds.

    • David Richardson permalink
      January 11, 2017 5:27 pm

      Yes thanks Phillip – saved me some typing as well. We visit Gibraltar Point a few times a year – We are told that it one of the most important areas for visiting wading birds. It is managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust of which Mrs R and I are members. You have to hunt around a bit before you find photos like this one – and this is just a small sector.

      Any birds coming from the east have to run this gauntlet.

      It is amazing how your view can be distorted when your palm is crossed with silver. I stopped being a member of the RSPB a long time ago when its membership numbers reached 20 times the level of when I joined.

      • January 11, 2017 6:40 pm

        I gave up my membership when they started wasting money on climate change and started to participate in the wind turbine scam.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        January 12, 2017 1:54 pm

        I quit over an article of pure climate change drivel in Birds and did so with a letter to the president. I got a reply full of the usual lies. I delight in using any freepost envelopes that come my way to remind them. Just about to do one to the National Trust saying no way until Ghosh has gone and common sense returned.

  4. Dave Ward permalink
    January 11, 2017 2:55 pm

    “And offering proportionately better value”

    “Would be substantially cheaper”

    Which is it? In any case, what the hell do they think is even remotely sensible about demanding subsidies for NINETY YEARS, FFS??? Has anyone got the slightest idea what state this country (never mind the political situation), will be like then?

  5. Adrian permalink
    January 11, 2017 3:11 pm

    Well it’s good overall although can’t really see how drowning birds is conceptually different to chopping them up. Perhaps they can see the difference.

    • Ross King permalink
      January 11, 2017 5:43 pm

      I’m not sure birds would be stupid-enough to ignore intake-screens. They’d take off before being sieved-out.

  6. Green Sand permalink
    January 11, 2017 3:18 pm

    The biggest challenge to these projects is an outbreak of logical thinking.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      January 11, 2017 6:40 pm

      Your not suggesting that someone ask what else they could get for £1.3 billion and a guaranteed £123 per MWh ? Perhaps 2 or 3 of those CCGT plants that aren’t being built.

  7. Alan Haile permalink
    January 11, 2017 3:26 pm

    Strange for the RSPB to express concern for birds. They have no objections to wind turbines which kill millions every year, in fact they have built a couple of their own.

  8. January 11, 2017 4:10 pm

    Beat me to it Alan Haile. We don’t hear anything from them about the bird and bat populations that are decimated by these horrible bird choppers.

  9. January 11, 2017 4:19 pm

    How about this for radical? I bet there is a stream or river near you, wherever you are in the UK. A lot of them are underground or flowing through pipes. Why not harness this continual power with lots and lots of small (or large in rivers) electricity generators? The British Queen is part powering Windsor Castle this way. A few hundred at a time. The British Isles has waterways all over it. Utilise them. Using and reusing the same water all the way down a stream or river. This countries industries were built on water power and some of that infrastructure is still there. Mill ponds and diverted streams abound, if you look for them.

    • January 11, 2017 4:38 pm

      TheJaffer : There is a reason why paths take a route and not what seems to outsiders an easy shortcut.
      Same applies for energy : If such magic solutions worked the corps would not be wasting their money on more complex solutions.

    • mothcatcher permalink
      January 11, 2017 5:59 pm

      Jaffer – If Hydroelectric is going to work, it needs very big, fast flows. There are plenty of small-scale lowland schemes about, but they aren’t really effective. Yes, it is a surprise to me too that they aren’t, as I have always been in awe of the power of water. In some situations you might be lucky enough to grind your corn with it!
      And with tidal power, it is also counterintuitive to me that the energy density turns out to be so small. Far better to leave our estuaries as natural habitat, without a doubt.

      • Dave Ward permalink
        January 11, 2017 6:36 pm

        I watched (part of) an episode of “Restoration Man” a few nights back. The programme featured a couple who managed to save a derelict water mill, on a pretty fast flowing river near the Scottish borders. They had to completely re-construct the under-shot wheel (to comply with planning regulations), and it looks to be about 15ft in diameter, by 2-3 ft wide. They’ve now got it hooked up to a generator, which we were told, produces 8kW (about 11hp). The presenter actually said “8kW per day”, but that’s meaningless. Now scale that down to a meandering stream, and you’ll see why this technology will never be more than a niche market.

        I got the impression that the above installation is part of a FIT scheme, yet they had to shell out £25k to get the mains laid on! I wonder if it wouldn’t have been more cost effective to use it to provide all their power, and not bother with the grid at all.

      • January 11, 2017 10:01 pm

        @Dave W

        refurbishing an existing installation is a minefield. The subsidy regime has changed – but it was the case that only equipment in present production and certified (Type Approved) could be used… and it had to be performed by an “ordained and Ofgem anointed installer”. That has changed and rules have been bent…

        What is notable is that you get to double dip the subsidy for using the leccy on site! – it’s a sort of RHI style thing – you get paid extra (i.e. twice!) to consume the leccy you generate.

        I’m a bit agog at the £25K for a feeder – since even a smaller single phase domestic install is 80A and 8kW is ca. 33A – so if the site had any electrical feed at all the wheel’s output would be a fraction of the cable capacity. Maybe they are talking about the equipment require to protect and feed the power back up the wire (G59 in this case) – but even still – that’s still quite a big price tag.

        The hurdles for small hydro are mostly regulatory (The Environment Agency) and bureaucratic whim and wilful misinterpretation of the rules is all too common. I’m biased having been trying to get a scheme licensed for 6+ years – the cost of officialdom buggering around is presently over £2 million to the taxpayer.

      • Derek Buxton permalink
        January 12, 2017 10:41 am

        I seem to recall being taught in Physics that it was the head of the water that mattered. That is the potential energy which can be converted into kinetic energy, but the Laws of the Conservation of Energy still apply!

    • roger permalink
      January 11, 2017 11:10 pm

      Not radical at all and already being deployed by the above mentioned landowners on Solway and other rivers and heavily subsidised by you!
      Utilising an archemedes screw, these are set in spawning streams to further enrich the subsidy seeking classes. Of course there is a fish pass but as the powers that be are well aware, these are ineffectual in preventing the mincing of fish as the Germans found on the Rhine where large numbers of these contraptions were set a few years ago with disastrous results for the migrating species in that river. Not only the anadromous species were affected. It was found that a number of fresh water species also do mini migrations and were also minced – both on the upward and the downward migration so doubly effective!
      There is a German paper to this effect but I can’t find it at the mo.

      • January 12, 2017 12:06 am

        As far as I’m aware Archimedes screws are fish friendly – unlike Kaplan turbines which have been providing minced fish at a number of UK locations for a while now. Screens are mandated for new installs(PDF) – I don’t know about current practice retrofitting existing installations – the 154 page guidelines above are I suspect open to some interpretation…. – which would likely stop the Swansea scheme in its tracks…..

        Fish passes as far as I’m aware aren’t very effective compared to an unobstructed river and their design has been quite static for some years….

      • roger permalink
        January 12, 2017 9:15 am

        Not the paper I was looking for but a more recent one on the Rhine. It is in English

      • January 12, 2017 12:05 pm

        roger – thanks – interesting.

        Published 2016 – which explains why I wasn’t aware ….

        There isn’t much info related to the impact of screens….

        I confess to being quite surprised at the mortality percentages quoted on Archimedes installations as I’ve seen fish pie mix coming out of inadequately screened Kaplan units…

      • roger permalink
        January 12, 2017 4:16 pm

        Fish passes incorporating screens are at time of flood part of the problem rather than the answer.
        Detritus carried by the rising water is forced against the screening system, more often than not causing a total blockage and thus leaving the passage through the screw as the only option.
        This is particularly the case in autumn as the leaves fall in great numbers and unfortunately as returning fish numbers peak.
        Predatotrs such as sawbills otters herons and mink benefit enormously from this set up as their meals are obliged to follow restricted channels or are held in pools by the blockages.
        Subsidies inevitably bring out the worst in the people who plead for them.

    • catweazle666 permalink
      January 12, 2017 1:22 am

      Like this?

  10. Ross King permalink
    January 11, 2017 5:40 pm

    Thejaffer: The technology is called “Run-of-River” generation, ans is employed here in B.C. (not uncontroversially!)
    Apropos fish getting mashed in water-turbine blades, screens & fish-ladders are commonplace to circumnavigate dams. And I’m sure the subject is sufficiently well-studied that there’s info. on smolt-kill for those that flush-through (my distant memory from a dam-tour is that the % is relatively small … but they would say that, wouldn’t they!)

    • January 11, 2017 5:47 pm

      The Swansea crew seem less than keen to discuss the details of the scheme – particularly with reference to other similar technology already in operation.

      Take a way the subsidy and it’s a dead duck anyway.

      Take away the obscene subsidy – and spend it on something actually worthwhile.

  11. catweazle666 permalink
    January 11, 2017 6:41 pm

    Do I detect the aroma of brown envelopes?

  12. Dung permalink
    January 11, 2017 8:02 pm

    I thought that the silt build up completely destroyed this method of generation. In order for it to work: the lagoon has to be constantly dredged which in turn destroys the financial benefits.

    • Ross King permalink
      January 11, 2017 8:14 pm

      “Where there’s muck, there’s money!”
      (And the reverse is true too: “Where there’s money, there’s muck, esp’lly with public-works projects!” But I digress …..)
      A trip down the Mekong reveals an endless armada of (massively overloaded!) motorized barges, carrying sediment dredged from the navigable channels. Presum’ly to reclaim land down-stream.
      My point is that there might be a market for the dredged material for this same purpose in UK.

    • January 11, 2017 9:38 pm

      Unless you are a Dutch or Belgian dredging company – in which case = happy days

  13. January 11, 2017 10:42 pm

    ‘Tidal lagoon plans face challenge from RSPB’

    Is that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Boondoggles?

  14. It doesn't add up... permalink
    January 12, 2017 1:15 pm

    Meanwhile today Charles Hendry can collect his lavish fee for writing his report in favour of Swansea Bay which has now crept up to £1.3bn.

  15. Ross King permalink
    January 12, 2017 8:21 pm

    FYI …..
    Yes, dams provide the ‘head’ (aka potential energy) to be reaped by hydro-electric turbines: economies of scale prevail … the bigger, the better.
    Out here in B.C., the ill-iterati and Luddite-minded are knee-jerk anti-dam (and just about anti-anything ‘progress’). At first mention of a proposed “Dam”, the mobs are demonstrating. (Ask them what boils their kettle, and allows them to watch ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ on TV, and one gets a slack-jawed, glazed look.)
    In this antagonistic envt., the ‘Run-of-River’ concept was born here (I stand to be corrected) as a means of salvaging *some* of the energy that’s otherwise wasted (by way of heat to the atmosphere, nota bene!) by letting it flush-away to the ocean. So, it’s a sort of hybrid, born of getting *something* rather than nothing.
    Truth be said that massive concrete dams have their disadvantages … witness Three Gorges Dam’s displacement of vast tracts of agricultural land and the large population of reliant farmers. Add methane production; add long-term silting-up; add risks of collapse, esp’lly in seismically-active zones.

    I’d like to elaborate briefly on my comment above: ” …. energy that’s otherwise wasted (by way of heat to the atmosphere … by letting it flush-away to the ocean.”
    If my vestigial memory of Hi-School Pyhsics is right, all Potential Energy expended ends up as heat. Homo sapiens has figured-out how to harness that fact to their benefit with no net gain of heat-emission!
    And so, all gravity-sourced electricity ends up as heat in the atmosphere — as it always did, as a result of warming-up the river-bed thro’ friction, and as it does now with hydro-electricity harnessed to provide heat to the species.

    Don’t get me going on Soalr & Wind Energy … Hydro delivers 24/7/52 … beat that!

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