BY JANET HUGHES, Western Daily Press, 12 June 2008

Building a barrage across the Severn to help Britain go green does not make economic sense, says a report out today.

Consultants say electricity produced by the massive £15 billion dam across the Bristol Channel would be about twice as expensive as using other alternative sources of energy.

And they claim the Government would be breaking its own Treasury rules if it used taxpayers' money for the massive engineering project in a bid to keep the final bills down.

Conservation groups across the country banded together to ask Frontier Economics to look into the sums behind the tidal barrage across the Severn estuary ahead of a government feasibility study.

Supporters say building a 10-mile barrier stretching from Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare to harness the second biggest tidal range in the world will produce nearly five per cent of the UK 's electricity.

But the report released today claims Britain does not need the barrage and can achieve tough new European targets, due to come into force in 2020, more quickly and cheaply using windpower and other green technology.

Report author Matthew Bell concluded: "It is hard to think of reasons for the public sector to build or operate a barrage which would not be equally applicable to many other assets in the private sector.

"Not only is the private sector more than able to finance a scheme of this scale, but even using the most conservative estimates of costs, the barrage is one of the most expensive options for clean energy generation there is."

Consultants say the £15bn cost of the barrage is already out of date and Britain could produce the same amount of green energy by ploughing £885 million into offshore wind farms or £926m into small hydro electric schemes.

If tidal stream technology - which generates energy through the movement of the tide without damming the water - could be proved at scale, prices would soon drop to the levels of wind power, the study said.

Environmental groups say running costs would also be cheaper than using other systems but fear the Government wants to meet its obligation to obtain 20 per cent of all energy from renewables by 2020 with a few big engineering projects rather than a complicated combination of alternative technologies such as wind power, hydro power and biomass.

Large wind farms are also controversial and a recent massive expansion programme in offshore turbines announced by the Government earlier this month, which includes two sites off the South West coast , look set to spark a series of local debates in 11 areas of the country.

But conservationists deny being green Nimby's and say even without taking into account the massive environmental damage the barrage would cause and the costs of helping to combat them, the sums do not add up and it would be far more expensive than wind.

Building a barrage at the estuary mouth would generate about 8.6GW - 4.4 per cent of the UK 's total electricity need.

The Government watchdog the Sustainable Development Commission says the barrage should be built from the public purse because it would benefit the population as a whole but today's report claims this would break the rules.

The report was commissioned by eight conservation groups which fear plans for the barrage will ruin the estuary and they chose to launch it in the Welsh Assembly because they sense there is more political support in Wales .

Both Rhodri Morgan, leader of the Welsh Assembly, and former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain have come out to support the barrage, which has been promoted as an answer to climate change and an exciting engineering project which would boost the local economy.

Consultants compared the construction costs of the barrage with other forms of renewable power generation, and did not take into account land acquisition or the costs of creating new habitat - which would be required under EU law to compensate for the losses.


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Page Updated 14-Jun-2008