Govt should lead Severn tidal barrage

LONDON (Reuters) - A controversial barrage to harness tidal power in the Severn Estuary between England and Wales would cost around 15 billion pounds and should be led by the government rather than the private sector, a report said.

The UK could generate 10 percent of its electricity from the tides flowing around its shores, with half of that coming from the Severn Estuary alone, said the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), which advises the government on the environmental and social impact of new projects.

The government launched a feasibility study last week into building a hydroelectric barrage across the Severn, describing it as one of the world’s biggest potential construction projects.

At around 8.6 gigawatts, it would put out more power than six of the next generation nuclear power stations currently under consideration in the UK.

“We are issuing a challenge to government that will require a complete revision of attitudes towards a Severn barrage,” said the SDC.

It said a government-led project would be cheaper to fund and would avoid the risks involved in privately-run energy projects, which have had a chequered history in Britain.

“This will not be comfortable territory, but we believe that a publicly-owned approach is essential for a sustainable, economically viable Severn barrage that reduces the risk to taxpayers,” it added.

The SDC said its poll of public opinion showed 58 percent of people across the UK were in favour and 15 percent were against a barrage, which could take around seven years to build and last for 120 years.

Carbon-free power is essential to help Britain meet EU-wide goals of cutting CO2 emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, but some conservationists say the local damage would outweigh the wider benefits.

Environmentalists say overwintering wading birds and spawning salmon would be particularly affected.

“This country needs to make brave decisions to meet its future energy requirements,” said Dr Nick Baker of Lancaster University Renewable Energy Group.

“Local environmental impacts need to be balanced against the more pressing issues of reducing carbon emissions and ensuring national security of energy supply,” he added.

If approved, the scheme would add to a growing list of big infrastructure projects in the UK, including the 2012 Olympics budgeted at 9.3 billion pounds and plans to build a 16 billion pound Crossrail link across London.