Estuary energy schemes short-list 'flawed'

The short-list of renewable energy schemes for the Severn estuary must be reconsidered, green groups urged after a study highlighted "serious flaws" in the way the list was drawn up.

The short-list of renewable energy schemes for the Severn estuary must be reconsidered, green groups urged after a study highlighted "serious flaws" in the way the list was drawn up.

In January the Government announced it had whittled down the 10 potential tidal power schemes for the Severn to a short-list of five, including a 10-mile barrage across the estuary.

But the coalition of environmental groups is concerned the process for arriving at the short-list was biased against schemes which were innovative and could cause less harm to the estuary's wildlife, ecology and landscape.

A review commissioned by the coalition said the estimates of how much power each scheme could generate was "seriously flawed", and based on 30-year-old calculations.

The study by engineering consultants Atkins warned the review of the projects which led to the short-list may have "significantly underestimated" the energy that could be generated from schemes such as a tidal reef.

The reef project had been favoured by some environmentalists, including conservation charity the RSPB, as less damaging to wildlife in the estuary but was left off the short-list because the technology was untested.

The Atkins review also said there were "significant weaknesses" in the way the potential projects were costed, underestimating the costs and risks of the bigger projects such as the 10-mile Cardiff-Weston barrage.

For example, a new deep water port might need to be built in the Severn if the barrage went ahead, significantly pushing up costs.

The review said the report by consultants which led to the short-list did not put equal weight on the environmental impacts of the schemes, and was drawn up too soon.

Short-listing schemes before an environmental assessment of the projects was carried out was "illogical and could fail a legal test", the Atkins study warned.

Martin Harper, head of sustainable development at the RSPB, one of the groups in the coalition, said: "The Government doesn't need to rush to judgment on this. If they do, there is a serious risk they will pick the wrong project.

"As this review shows, that could mean unnecessary damage to the environment, an oversized tax bill for the taxpayer and all for less electricity than is possible."

When the short-list was announced, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said the Government had not "lost sight" of the more innovative schemes which did not make the cut, and announced a fund of £500,000 to help develop new technologies.

But today's report said the funding was "limited" and that investment in developing the potentially less damaging schemes should "be proportional to the scale of the challenge".

Martin Spray, chief executive of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), said: "The need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is urgent, but there are ways of doing this that do not destroy our best wildlife sites.

"The current short-list is biased against schemes that aim to reduce environmental impact but these innovative new technologies may be part of the solution. Government needs to increase the funding pot to speed up their development."

The coalition of groups which commissioned the study also includes the National Trust, WWF, the Wye and Usk Foundation and the Angling Trust.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said: "Severn tidal power has the potential to make a massive contribution to the UK's low-carbon future.

"All technically and feasible schemes have been included on the proposed shortlist, which has been reviewed by a panel of independent experts.

"The door's not closed to less developed technologies like tidal reefs and fences; in fact, we're putting £500,000 into studying them, but they could be decades away from commercial deployment.

"It's not possible to rule out the options on the proposed Severn tidal shortlist, and simultaneously call for serious and urgent action on climate change."

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