Memorandum submitted by the Royal Society
for the Protection of Birds
The RSPB welcomes the opportunity to contribute
to the Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry into
renewable energy. The RSPB is Europe's largest wildlife charity
with over one million members. We manage one of the largest conservation
estates in the UKwith more than 150 nature reserves covering
more than 275,000 acres.
We are very concerned that unless there are
significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions then birds, other
wildlife and their habitats will be catastrophically affected
by climate change. One of the main ways of cutting emissions is
to bring on stream more electricity generated by renewable sources
The RSPB therefore supports the developments
and deployment of renewables. Indeed, we run our own energy scheme
(RSPB Energy) with Scottish and Southern Energy which provides
renewably generated electricity for our members and also supplies
all RSPB premises.
However, all forms of electricity generation
can damage wildlife if generating plant is badly sited or if it
is developed on inappropriate scale for a particular situation.
The RSPB therefore works with the electricity industry to ensure
that generating plant is sensitively sited with respect to wildlife.
We also work with industry, government, statutory bodies and other
environmental groups to draw up best practice guidelines for the
construction of different sources of renewable energy.
In this submission, we focus on three main aspects
of the Committee's inquiry:
the role that wave and tidal energy
might play in the UK renewable energy strategy;
the environmental aspects of wave
and tidal energy; and
some types of research and development
that may be needed.
In line with the scope of the Committee's inquiry,
we do not consider tidal barrages, which the RSPB generally opposes
because of the damage they can do to estuarine wildlife habitats.
The RSPB considers that there is a need for
a mixture of renewable generation in order to:
avoid possible environmental impacts
due to the sheer scale of use of any one form of renewable energy;
minimise problems associated with
the fact that some renewables give an intermittent or fluctuating
supply (noting that tidal generation is potentially useful in
this context because it can yield a predictable and constant supply);
ensure security and diversity of
In principle, the RSPB therefore welcomes the
use tidal and wave generation. However, because there is very
little such generation at present (none in the case of some forms
of tidal power), its impacts on wildlife are largely unknown.
To determine these impacts, and to further assess
the technical and commercial viability of wave and tidal technologies,
we recommend that the Government funds much more research and
development in this area. We would like to see pilot plant, on
which meaningful evaluations could be conducted, built as a matter
The RSPB's view is that a wide range of different
renewable generation technologies needs to be deployed in order
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the pace required to avoid
dangerous climate change. Indeed, the UK not only needs to build
much more renewable generating capacity but it also needs to construct
more combined heat and power (CHP) plant, much of which would
be fossil fuel (gas) fired. In addition, there will be a continued,
if decreasing, place for more conventional high efficiency fossil
fuel generation, such as combined cycle gas turbines, certainly
in the short to medium term.
A mix of generation technologies is necessary
for a number of reasons. In particular, because the UK currently
has very little renewable generation capacity, coupled with the
fact that we have little or no experience of many of the more
promising technologies (such as offshore wind, wave and tidal),
we have very little option but to continue to use at least some
high efficiency fossil fuel generation, especially CHP, for some
time to come.
A broad range of renewable generation is also
desirable for at least three reasons. First, some forms of renewable
generation, such as wind and solar (and, indeed, wave power) give
an intermittent or fluctuating supply. Until suitable, widespread
energy storage is available at low cost these technologies therefore
need to be used in conjunction with energy sources which can give
a predictable and constant output. In terms of renewables, this
currently means sources based on burning either energy crops or
waste (such as plant or animal waste, sewage, or landfill gas).
Tidal power is a potentially useful additional
form of renewable energy because of the predictability and constancy
of its output.
Second, many renewable technologies that have
little impact on wildlife and their habitats when used on a small
scale, are potentially damaging when widely deployed. Energy crops
such as coppiced willow, for example, will need to be grown on
a very large scale if they are to provide enough fuel to supply
a significant proportion of the UK's electricity. To account for
one per cent, one would need to plant about 1600 square kilometres,
or about 0.65 per cent of the UK land area. The sheer scale of
planting could thus pose problems, in addition to fuel transportation,
rates of water abstract by so many trees and so on.
A mix of technologies would minimise problems
associated with scale because the extent to which any one technology
was used could be limited.
Third, ensuring security and diversity of supply
has long been, and will continue to be, the cornerstone of any
national energy policy. Many different forms of renewable generation
are potentially viable in the UK and a mix of all of them will
obviously help to ensure diversity of supply. Also, renewables
are secure in the sense that they are locally based and not dependent
on supplies from abroad. In addition, they are secure in the sense
that most are directly or indirectly driven by the sun, and are
hence unlikely to run out soon.
For the above reason, the RSPB welcomes the
increased use of tidal and wave power, in principle. We are, however,
mindful of the fact that there is as yet little or no wave or
tidal power in service and hence little or no information upon
which to base any general assessment of possible impacts on wildlife,
as is discussed below.
In assessing the likely environmental impacts
of tidal and wave generation, the overriding problem is that there
are few, if any, large scale examples to draw upon. There are
no tidal dam systems of the type proposed by Tidal Electric, the
World's first commercial wave power station on Islay which only
has a capacity of 0.5MW, and "nodding ducks" are, to
the best of our knowledge, not undergoing trials at present.
Whilst it is possible to make estimates of potential
damage to wildlife based on theoretical considerations or on similar
types of structures, where they exist, it would be far better
to base them on practical examples because nasty, or pleasant,
surprises are always possible in practice.
We would therefore like to see the construction
of pilot plant on which practical tests on wildlife impacts can
be performed. Pilot schemes would also enable better technical
and commercial testing.
5. RESEARCH AND
Wave and tidal power are not near market at
present but could rapidly become so. The RSPB would support immediate
investment in research and development of the technologies with
a view to building pilot, demonstrator plant in the near future.
Assessment of wildlife impacts should be an integral part of this
research and development. We would be keen to participate in such
We consider that more research and development
is also urgently needed on large-scale energy storage. This will
be essential if intermittent and fluctuating forms of renewables
are ever to be deployed on a large scale.