The Severn Estuary has the second largest tidal reach in the world. The gravitational pull of the moon causes huge amounts of water to flow in and out of the estuary twice a day. If only we could tap that power in some way…
Tidal power is infinitely renewable. It’s a bit like wind power in that it really does seem that we can dip our bucket into this well of power and its potential is huge and never-ending. So I say let’s get on and find the right bucket!
There have been plans for a Severn Barrage for well over a century – although they have mostly been rather vague plans rather than specific ones. The most enduring idea has been to build a barrier from the English side of the Severn, just south of Weston-super-Mare, at Brean Down, across to the Welsh side of the Severn at Lavernock Point, via the island of Steep Holm. This would represent a 12 mile wall with holes in it where water flows would drive turbines which would generate power.
Other barrage sites, both upstream and downstream are mooted, as is the idea of sticking a road link on top of such a barrier which always tends to muddy the already cloudy waters of the estuary.
The idea of a barrage has resurfaced again and it’s interesting that its price tag appears to have doubled in the two years since the last idea was knocked on the head – now a barrage would be a £30bn project whereas just over a couple of years ago it was a snip at half that amount – ha ha!
With an English father and Welsh mother I tend to talk about the Severn as joining two nations rather than separating them but there is a slanging match, or debate, developing across the divide. Liam Fox, Conservative ex-Minister and MP for North Somerset has grave worries over the plans recently announced by Peter Hain, Labour ex-Minister and MP for Neath.
In Fighting for Birds I discuss, briefly, the Severn Barrage and predict that it would be an idea that would come back – and it has, rather quickly.
Martin Harper writes a good blog on the subject and Martin himself was fully and deeply involved in the arguments over this basic idea last time around. It’s not just the RSPB and WWT who are against this barrage, many other groups view it with dismay from anglers and fishermen who depend on migratory fish such as salmon, lampreys, eels and shad, to surfers of the Severn Bore and the Port of Bristol (would you want a wall in the way of your ships?) and thousands of local residents (wh0 fear increased coastal flooding and massive disruption of their lives from the construction process). But you should be concerned too – the consortium involved in this new vague plan want your money to start the project off.
Big flashy projects like this attract flashy politicians like Peter Hain. Once the details of this ‘plan’ are examined I have confidence that its claims of job production, energy production and environmental friendliness will be shown to be exaggerated and its costs, environmental dangers and risk of delay in construction will have been played down. So it is with many large construction projects from the Dome to the Channel Tunnel.
Yes the tidal power of the Severn should be tapped, but how it is tapped requires rather more thought than a new version of a Victorian scheme of a big wall with turbines. Let’s get this right because getting it wrong would be an environmental, economic and social disaster.