Tidal lagoon plans face challenge from RSPB
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.