Submission from Professor Ian Fells
The tides in the Severn Estuary have a rise
and fall of over 10 metres, second only to the Bay of Fundy on
the east coast of Canada. Harnessing the power in these tides
has been a goal of energy engineers for almost a century (a Government
study group was set up as early as 1925 to report on the potential
of the Severn Barrage). A definitive report, commissioned by the
Secretary of State for Energy, was published in 1989 and has since
been followed up with a further appraisal by the Severn Tidal
Power Group (STPG), which consists of a number of international
engineering companies. The aim is to produce electricity predictably
from a renewable source.
The engineering, economics and environmental
impact of a Severn Barrage have been exhaustively studied. In
the past the scheme has been regretfully rejected on economic
grounds, but that was when any new scheme had to compete with
fossil fuel fired generation. Now that clean energy is at a premium
and marine technologies such as wave power are being actively
pursued the Severn Barrage emerges as a very attractive possibility.
The economics are as good, if not better than wave power, tidal
stream and offshore wind systems; the technology is well understood
(a successful tidal barrage has been generating 240MW of power
at La Rance, in Brittany, for over 40 years and continues to operate
today), those cost would be about the same as for the Channel
Tunnel and could be raised according to the banking community,
provided there was strong and continuing support for the scheme
(the same is true for nuclear power). The Barrage could provide
5% of UK electricity, more if the longer route from Minehead rather
than Weston-super-Mare were adopted, it would provide over a thousand
jobs in tourism, a fast rail or road link to Wales and do much
to control periodic flooding, especially of the Somerset Levels.
The UK is keen to show that it leads the way
in combating Climate Change; unfortunately we have one of the
worst records in Europe in terms of promoting renewable energy.
Here is a scheme based on a fortunate geographical advantage which
we can exploit, just as Austria and Norway exploit their hydroelectric
potential. There will be environmental objections especially the
bird lobby, but the wading birds can be accommodated by designing
areas that dry out at low tide, and there is now considerable
experience in dealing with silting problems.
Here is a much-researched, renewable energy
source, on an heroic scale that would place the UK in the forefront
of clean energy production. It will be a shame if we continue
to neglect it.
1. The Severn Barrage Project, General
Report Energy Paper 57, HMSO 1989.
2. The Severn Barragedefinition study
for a new appraisal of the project STPG http://www.dti.gov.uk/files/file