Swansea Bay: What ever happened to the world’s first tidal lagoon?
It’s been more than a year since a government-commissioned report said to get on with it
Today, once again, tidal power did not feature in the British government’s spring statement.
It didn’t come up last year, in neither the spring nor the autumn Budgets (though its likely subsidy scheme was put on pause).
It has now been more than a year since former Tory MP Charles Hendry delivered his government-backed review of tidal power, and urged the government to “seize the opportunity to move this technology forward now.”
The review – which cost a cool £156,000 of taxpayer cash – appears to have been left in a drawer somewhere in the Treasury. Hendry has not been heeded and tidal power has not happened.
What once appeared to be ministerial dithering – tidal lagoons were, after all, a key part of David Cameron’s National Infrastructure Plan – is looking more and more like a conscious decision not to progress with the first-of-its-kind Swansea Bay project, which could power 120,000 homes a year and make the UK the ‘world leader in a new global industry’.
That’s (presumably) because it’s really quite expensive, though it likely would bring down costs for future, bigger lagoons.
Just before the statement, during an oral questions session in parliament, BEIS secretary Greg Clark remarked that the project would be twice as expensive as Hinkley (which is a bit of an exaggeration) but said government “won’t close the door” on tidal.
Tidal Lagoon Power told Unearthed that Clark’s claim “looks back, not forwards” and said one possible outcome from the proposed Welsh Government investment is for the project to “get away at the same price and duration as Hinkley but almost 70 times lower cost on bills.”
A tidal lagoon is a power station that generates electricity from the natural rise and fall of the tides. They work by capturing a large volume of water behind a man-made structure which is then released to drive turbines and generate electricity. The Swansea Bay ‘pathfinder’ project, which was supposed to start construction this year, would be the first of its kind, though the UK has discussed building more and even exporting the technology around the world.
Meanwhile International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has upset the Austrian engineering firm Andritz – which plans to build a factory in Wales to support the project – by refusing to meet with them.
Andritz Hydro boss Peter Magauer told the Mail on Sunday: “We got strong encouragement in the first phase, but recently had mixed signals. We don’t understand why the UK is hesitating.”
There could be lots of jobs on the line. US turbine maker GE is cutting 1,100 jobs at its Rugby and Salford plants which would have been involved with Swansea Bay.
Meanwhile another company lined up to be involved in the project’s supply chain was forced to make more than 100 workers redundant after entering administration.
People are upset
Across the aisle, leading politicians are lining up to take government to task for its tidal inaction.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem who ran the energy and climate change department when Swansea Bay was in development, told Unearthed:
“Given Brexit makes a pro-active industrial strategy even more urgent, the opportunity of a new tidal lagoon industry ought to be a no-brainer.
“Regrettably the Conservatives’ right-wing Brexiteers are also populated by climate change sceptics and their pro-fossil fuel prejudices seem to be preventing them from engaging any brain when it comes to renewable power.
“Failing to back Britain’s nascent tidal power industry, when we lead the world [on this technology], may turn out to be as stupid a mistake as the Conservatives failing to back wind power when the UK was also leading the world back in the early 1980s”
Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow BEIS secretary, accused government of “deepening the problems it faces” in meeting its own decarbonisation targets.
She told Unearthed: “The government’s energy policy is undermining the UK’s ability to meet its climate change obligations.
“On its own, the government’s clean growth strategy doesn’t even fulfil the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.
“Yet, the government shows no signs of changing, but rather deepening the problems it faces. The government commissioned an expensive report on tidal, but shows no signs of giving the go ahead to Swansea tidal lagoon.”
And Tidal Lagoon Power, the company behind the prospective project, appears to be getting impatient.
A representative for the firm told Unearthed: “With the clear recommendations of the Hendry Review and the Welsh government’s offer to share the start-up costs, the UK government has all that’s needed to make up for lost time on tidal power.
“The Swansea Bay community and UK-wide supply chain are itching to get going on a pathfinder tidal lagoon, the ask of available funds is modest and the sheer potential for our island nation is enormous.”
And Charles Hendry, who took a year-long deep dive into the world of tidal power? He told Unearthed still hopeful.
“I hope the government will announce its decision in the near future and I remain positive that it will see the benefits for the UK in leading this new industry.” (But he also said basically that in July of last year)