Science & Environment

MPs say Severn barrage plan is significantly flawed

Severn Barrage artist's impression
Image caption MPs have criticised Hafren Power's plan for an 18km (11 miles) barrage between England and Wales

The latest plan to build a barrage across the Severn to generate electricity has been severely criticised by a committee of MPs.

Hafren Power had outlined a £25bn tidal scheme to generate up to 5% of the UK's electricity needs.

But the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee said it could not recommend the plan.

It said that on both economic and environmental grounds the case remained unproven.

In 2010, the then Energy Secretary Chris Huhne pulled the plug on public efforts to build a barrage saying there was no strategic case for the project.

However, a private consortium called Hafren Power put forward another plan for an 18km-wide (11 miles) fixed scheme between Brean in England and Lavernock Point in Wales.

Ongoing support

It would feature 1,026 bi-directional turbines that the twice daily tide would turn, generating 16.5 terawatt hours of electricity per year, equivalent to three nuclear power stations or 3,000 wind turbines.

But MPs were not convinced by the company's plans. There was concern that while the construction of the barrage would be privately funded, significant levels of government subsidy for the electricity would still be required for 30 years.

"We are not convinced that the economic case for the proposed barrage is strong enough," said committee chairman Tim Yeo, MP.

"We do not believe at this stage that the barrage would be competitive with other low carbon technologies."

Concerns were also raised over the environmental impact of the plan. There were worries that such a large artificial dam would impact flood risks, cause damage to intertidal habitats and harm fish.

According to Tim Yeo, the company had failed to answer serious environmental questions.

"Far more detail and evidence is needed before their project could be regarded as environmentally acceptable," he said.

Hafren Power said the MPs' report was "unhelpful and frustrating". It said the project would deliver £25bn in private finance, 20,000 construction jobs and the cheapest zero carbon electricity over its lifetime.

"We believe the environmental and economic issues can be solved with everyone working together," said Tony Pryor, the company's chief executive.

"It will also be much cheaper and last much longer than offshore wind farms which have high levels of public subsidy."

Hafren said their case had been strengthened after five major companies recently signed up to work on the project.

However, committee members were not convinced the barrage idea had enough public support.

The MPs' lack of support and enthusiasm for the scheme was welcomed by environmental campaigners.

"This report should bang the final nail in the coffin for the current Severn barrage proposal," said Mike Birkin, from Friends of the Earth.

"The scheme is not cost effective and has little public support."

Follow Matt on Twitter.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites