LONDON (Reuters) - A proposed giant tidal barrage across the Severn estuary in western England to generate clean electricity does not make economic sense and should not go ahead, a study said on Thursday.
The study said the 15 billion pounds it is estimated that the 10-mile barrage would cost would be far better spent on existing and already proven low carbon energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar and combined heat and power.
“Even using the most conservative estimates of costs, the barrage is one of the most expensive options for clean energy there is,” said Matthew Bell, author of the Frontier Economics report for a group of non-governmental organizations.
Underscoring its negative message, the report said it had reached its conclusion without taking into account the local environmental impact of the barrage on one of the country’s most sensitive ecological areas.
The report, for 10 NGOs including the Worldwide fund for nature (WWF), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the National Trust, said justification for the barrage should stem from it being the least cost option.
This, it said, on a range of likely scenarios, was simply not the case.
“The extent of the analysis, the in-built conservatism in the estimates used and the range of sensitivity analysis undertaken suggests that considerable new evidence would be needed to make a large barrage in the Severn estuary an attractive option,” the report concluded.
The British government, searching around for ways to meet its own and European Union targets on cutting climate changing carbon emissions and boosting renewable energy, announced last September a feasibility study into the barrage.
It said such a scheme could supply up to five percent of the country’s electricity.
That could be crucial given that under the EU goal of getting 20 percent of the 27-nation bloc’s energy from renewable sources by 2020, Britain’s target is likely to be 15 percent.
This in turn translates into the country having to get up to 40 percent of its electricity from renewables within 12 years against barely four percent now — most of which is from wind.
But environmental groups slammed the barrage idea as being ecologically ruinous and a vast misuse of funds for what is still a technology in its infancy.
“This report concludes quite clearly that Government support for a hugely costly Severn barrage is not justified,” said David Nussbaum, head of WWF-UK. “There are far better opportunities for renewable energy.”
“Financial support for an expensive, inflexible and highly damaging technology like the proposed Severn barrage would not be a good use of taxpayers’ money.”
But the government is on the horns of a dilemma, needing to meet not only its EU goals and its own target of cutting carbon emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 but needing to secure energy supplies as North Sea gas dwindles.
It is also facing having to retire or severely restrict about one-third of its electricity generation capacity over the next 15 years due to EU carbon emission restrictions and as ageing nuclear power plants reach the end of their lives.
Editing by William Hardy