UK government rejects tidal power
The UK government has rejected plans for a £1.3bn tidal lagoon project in Swansea, a move which has inspired criticism and consternation from across the spectrum of opinion.
Tidal lagoon energy generation works by building a sea wall and embedding large turbines into it. As the tides go in and out the turbines spin round and generate power. It does not matter which direction the tide is heading, and the energy level is reliable at any time of day or night which gives it a significant advantage over wind or solar power. Tides can be predicted decades in advance, unlike wind or sunshine, and the coasts of Britain are one of the most tidally active places on the planet.
Greg Clark, the business secretary, has told Parliament that the project is too expensive and would have to be subsidised by household bills for decades, making cancellation the best move. However, on closer inspection this justification seems rather thin.
It is estimated that the average household would pay an extra £700 by 2050, working out at approximately £23 per household per year. Compare this to the projected cost of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station – supported by Greg Clark – which is predicted to set the taxpayer back by anything up to £50bn. The price of energy from Hinkley Point C has also been set at £92.50 per megawatt hour. The current wholesale electricity price in the UK is half that, and the rise of renewables will only continue to force it downwards – and yet it is the Hinkley project which has government support.
Whereas the Swansea tidal lagoon also had a high predicted cost per megawatt hour, it would have provided many other benefits. The first is that, unlike Hinkley Point C, the Swansea development would not have been largely owned by foreign governments which see the British energy market as a cash cow. Likewise, the city of Swansea would have benefitted enormously from the influx of jobs.
Secondly, as mentioned above, the UK has enormous potential tidal power. It is always expensive to fund the first major project in a pioneering new field, but the benefits are often worth it. Having given up an international advantage in both solar and wind power thanks to the government cutting support at precisely the wrong time, it seems foolish to do the same again with tidal power. Already key developers such as Minesto, Atlantis and Corpower are looking to relocate to countries such as Canada and France which support new industries much more effectively.
Finally, the environmental impact of investing heavily into green, renewable energy technologies cannot be overstated. People like to say that nuclear energy is safe, but in reality we will be living with nuclear waste for generations. On top of that, the waste water from the plants pollutes the sea heavily.
Having homegrown sources of energy which provide environmental and economic security in perpetuity is a good idea – unless you are a government minister, apparently. It will be interesting to see whether this rejection of a brand new form of large-scale energy for the UK will be reconsidered on appeal, or if other countries will end up enjoying the fruits of UK innovation and labour once again.