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Saturday 17 February 2018
17 February 2018 - NEWS UPDATE
Renewable Energy

Severn Barrage company tells MPs of benefits in face of opposition

The company proposing to build a Severn Barrage has spelled out the benefits saying the scheme would generate 5% of the UK's electricity and create more than 50,000 jobs. But opponents have warned MPs the proposal would ruin the Port of Bristol and could cause an environmental disaster.

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The Hafren Power Severn Barrage

Hafren Power (HP) has told MPs the £30bn barrage would save 7.1m tonnes of CO2 per year compared to equivalent fossil fuel generation and produce the lowest priced power in the UK.

In written evidence lodged with the Energy and Climate Change Committee, the company dismissed claims the 18km barrage connecting Brean to Lavernock Point would cause permanent damage the environment.

They said: "This proposal focuses above all on mitigating the environmental impact on the Severn estuary. Hafren Power's innovative turbines spin slowly, so fish can swim unharmed through the turbines or bespoke fish passes.

"Our turbines are also bi-directional and do not hold back high heads of water, so the tides are more natural. This means we preserve 60% more intertidal habitat than previous schemes proposed, saving the feeding and roosting grounds of wading birds.

"Around 49 square kilometres of intertidal habitat will be lost. This is almost the same amount as would be lost anyway due to rising sea levels, according to Defra projections. To create new habitats for birds and to fund other mitigation measures, Hafren Power will invest up to £1bn."

The company said the barrage and turbines will be operated to eliminate coastal, storm and tidal flooding upstream, to the east of the barrage, and will defend around 50,000 hectares of land from flooding and protect 90,000 existing properties for at least 120 years.

It is also claimed the barrage would become a tourist attraction, similar to the La Rance barrage in France which attracts around 50,000 visitors each year, crreating new jobs and opportunities.

"In the case of the Severn, the potential stimulus is very much greater than this. The Hafren Power project will regenerate the whole region of South Wales and South West England.

"It is likely to attract many more tourists than La Rance, as it would be on the scale of the Øresund Bridge or Millau Viaduct. Upstream, calmer and clearer waters will provide the right conditions for the development of a marina- driven tourist industry, previously impossible in the Severn's fierce tides and currents. The construction of the barrage and its supply chain will provide a major increase in regional and national employment."

Hafren Power estimates that 20,700 direct jobs will be created in South Wales and South West England over the ten years of its construction. These will be supplemented by a further 30,000 indirect and induced jobs.

"The barrage will deliver clean, secure, consistent and predictable base-load power generation for at least 120 years, and probably for much longer. For at least 90 years, it will produce by far the cheapest electricity in Britain."

The proposal, fronted by the former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain is the first since the 2010 Severn Tidal Power Feasibility Study by DECC detailed a number of conclusions which led to DECC's decision not to proceed with public investment into the Cardiff-Weston scheme considered

But Mr Hain said the barrage would bring "considerable benefits" to the UK - creating about 20,000 jobs and generating 30,000 more in the supply chain and other parts of industry, giving an economic boost to south Wales and south-west England.

The electricity generated would be equivalent to three or four nuclear power stations and thousands of wind turbines, the Neath MP added.

He said he understood the controversy around the proposal, which has fierce opposition from environmental groups and claims that it would hit the port at Bristol.

Mr Hain said a Severn Barrage was a "win-win" project for ports in Bristol and Port Talbot and maintained it had attracted almost universal support from the Welsh public.

"This has been studied to death," he said. "We could carry on researching this for decades to come, meanwhile we are not achieving our climate change objectives and missing out on the massive economic benefits.

"We have to think big, act big and grasp this opportunity. This is natural power which in the long term will produce incredibly cheap electricity for the UK and has many other benefits."

However, in written evidence, the Bristol Port Company (BPC) said Halfren Power's public statements had already significantly damaged its business, customer confidence and hundreds of millions of pounds of fully consented investments.

BPC said the HP proposal would also alter water levels and cause erosion and subsequent siltation, constraining access to the Port even more severely than the Cardiff-Weston barrage that was the subject of the Government's 2010 report.

"The barrage would not provide a net benefit to the economy. Any temporary gain from construction employment opportunities would not outweigh the significant value lost from the permanent damage to ports and associated businesses."

BPC said the barrage would reduce the depth of water east of the barrage by 2m and increase siltation.

This reduction in available water would make it impossible for deep-draught ships to enter or exit the Port on 80% of tides. This would make the Port realistically unviable for vessels over 70,000dwt without substantial works in dredging and new locks. This would have a disastrous effect on the local economy.

"The barrage is predicted to cause a minimum loss of 900 direct jobs in ports in the operating phase whilst creating around 1000 operational jobs – a net gain of only 100 jobs from which small gain other job losses from port-related businesses need to be subtracted;

"The fishing industry of the Estuary and its tributaries would collapse in Wales and the South West with a loss of 60 jobs; and around 180 jobs would be lost in the nationally strategically important marine aggregates industry.

"The cost of construction projects in the North West and South Wales would rise as they are dependent on marine-dredged sand from the Estuary."

BPC is also angered by the indication that Halfren Power has indicated that it may promote a Hybrid Bill to authorise the barrage.

BPC said: "This would be wholly inappropriate as it would enable HP to evade rigorous scrutiny of this proposal despite its highly significant environmental and economic impacts.

"Having spent five years securing approval for its £600m Deep Sea Container Terminal, Bristol Port cannot countenance a procedure which seeks to circumvent the process other businesses, which do not benefit from political patronage, have to go through."

Associated British Ports (ABP) said a report by the Welsh Economic Research Unit indicates that its ports in South Wales support at least £79.8 million of output with a GVA of £32.4 million. The activities of ABP's port tenants accounts for an estimated 9,711 FTE jobs with a direct and indirect output of £2.78 billion and GVA of £902.5 million (2% of the Welsh total).

APB's statement said: "It may be that construction of the barrage generates significant but ultimately transient economic benefits. The Government must consider the long term impact of the permanent loss or impairment of key strategic economic assets. 
14.There are clear indications that the construction of a barrage may cause severe long term damage to the economy and jobs in South Wales. "

The RSPB said the work of the Committee was seriously constrained by the absence of any detailed or publicly available information on this proposal and added: "We remain deeply sceptical that a shore-to shore barrage on the scale of that envisaged by Hafren Power can be delivered without unacceptable damage to the Severn Estuary, its wildlife, and its communities."

The Angling Trust said approximately 25% of all salmonid spawning habitat in England and Wales lies upstream of the barrage and the stock of fish in each of the rivers is genetically distinct from any other and added: "It is difficult to see how compensatory habitat for such species could ever be constructed."

The National Trust said during the previous Feasibility Study, it concluded that, had the value of environmental assets been properly considered within the assessment framework, it is unlikely that the Cardiff-Weston barrage would have been short-listed.

The Phase I analysis predicted that it would destroy 80% of the internationally important intertidal habitat and result in considerable mortality of the internationally protected fish populations.

"We are concerned that a disproportionate focus on a Cardiff-Weston proposal may result in resources and investment being diverted away from alternative solutions for harnessing the power of the Severn, which could be both sustainable and more easily transferable to other estuaries."

Friends of the Earth said: "There are very fundamental obstacles to a Severn barrage because of its huge ecological impacts. It is important to recognise that the Severn estuary satisfies several different criteria for the highest level of habitat designation and supports migratory species of bird and fish. The loss of habitat and physical barrier to passage up and down the estuary would be severe impacts. Hafren Power claim that these impacts have been mitigated through design changes but these claims remain unsubstantiated. It is not possible at present to say whether this mitigation is genuine and significant or not."

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