23 May 2007 - 09:15
  • News Code: 105358

Senior cabinet ministers are pushing for Britain to be the first nation in the world to get much of its power from the tides, as part of a massive new expansion for renewable energy.

The Environment Secretary, David Miliband, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain and Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling want a giant £14 billion barrage to be built across the Severn.

This would generate about 5 percent of Britain’s electricity without producing any of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Their move is not meeting any serious opposition within the cabinet but will spark off a furious row with environmental bodies, which say that the barrage would devastate the estuary’s wildlife.

Hain told The Independent on Sunday that tidal power was “a huge untapped energy resource“ and that “the Severn barrage is a project whose time has come“.

He added, “With the huge threat of climate change, it is only through clean, green energy projects like this that we can make the necessary reductions in our carbon emissions.“

Miliband said, “Generating 5 percent of the UK’s electricity from a reliable renewable source is a huge prize, so a tidal barrage across the Severn has to be worth very serious consideration. Other environmental impacts need to be weighed in the balance but we will not be protecting biodiversity unless we tackle climate change.“

The 10-mile barrage--which is proposed by the Severn Tidal Power Group, a consortium of six major companies--would stretch across the Severn estuary from south of Cardiff to south of Weston-super-Mare. Only one such barrage exists anywhere in the world--at La Rance, Brittany--and it is less than a 30th of the size.

The plans will get a boost from two government White Papers to be published this week. The planning White Paper, out tomorrow, proposes making it easier to build such major infrastructure projects by setting up a new commission to take decision-making powers away from local councils.

On Wednesday the energy White Paper will put heavy emphasis for combating global warming on using energy more efficiently and greatly expanding the use of renewable sources.

Last night the Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling indicated that he and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, would back a new generation of nuclear power stations. But Brown has ruled out providing government money to help build the expensive plants and, despite the rhetoric, is less committed to all-out nuclear expansion than Blair.

The White Paper will mention the huge potential of the Severn barrage but will not devote much space to it as tidal power is the subject of an inquiry by the official Sustainable Development Commission. But it will mark a sharp departure from the last White Paper four years ago, which ruled it out largely on environmental grounds.

The Government’s official environmental advisers, however, say there is “no basis“ for the change in policy. The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales say that the scheme would “cause irreversible impacts“ to the estuary’s “internationally important habitats“ for birds and other species and its “unique ecology“.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth and other environmental pressure groups also vigorously oppose the proposal, and ministers are in a tricky position because they are likely to have to protect the whole estuary under European legislation.

In this case, they would have to demonstrate an overriding public interest--such as reducing emissions of greenhouse gases--for the EU to allow it to go ahead.



News Code 105358

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