Richard Morgan is a former research assistant for David Evennett MP and also a former Councillor of Bexley Council.
The proposed Swansea tidal lagoon project is losing its buoyancy and momentum! Since Charles Hendry concluded his report in January by calling the project a “no regrets” option, nothing has happened.
Despite being a 2015 Conservative Party manifesto commitment, having been granted planning permission, being the subject of an incredibly supportive independent report, and being in the increasingly rare position of receiving cross-party support, the project has stalled.
When questioned by MPs in Parliament, it seems the major sticking point is the proposed strike price (government guarantee to subsidise the cost of electricity). A proposal by Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP) requested a price of £89.90 per megawatt hour, guaranteed for 90 years. By comparison, the price agreed for the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C in Somerset was £92.50 per megawatt hour for 35 years.
Although the subsidy vs nuclear is similar, it looks like ministers are questioning the wisdom of locking themselves into a 90-year commitment for tidal power when the cost of solar energy, offshore and onshore wind power is falling so quickly and dramatically.
However, we should remember offshore wind didn’t become cheap by chance: it took many years, many projects and billions in subsidy. But it worked and we’re glad of it. Tidal maybe behind in the race but we should now approach it with confidence, especially as we know the technology works. Hendry has already told us that the pilot project in Swansea adds just 18 pence to bills per household per annum (those early wind farms added almost £20 and Hinkley C new nuclear will add at least £12).
But the project should be viewed as more than a simple subsidy calculation. We are talking about the opportunity of building a whole new industry. TLP are British, and they plan to use British materials and British workers to build the majority of the Lagoon (84p out of every £1 spent on the Swansea Tidal Lagoon will stay in the UK, benefiting local workers and local economies).
Furthermore, they plan a long-term majority-British supply chain, meaning all sorts of components and materials will be made by British companies for years to come.
Moreover, once Swansea Bay is proven to be successful, they plan more British projects, all around the coastline, creating more direct and indirect jobs up and down the country, transforming some of our most run-down areas and regenerating parts of the country and providing new opportunities where people are “just getting by”. They have identified six possible locations, potentially generating eight per cent of all the UK’s energy needs and creating 71,000 jobs.
If we give Swansea Bay the go ahead, it will be the first tidal lagoon energy project anywhere in the world, meaning a British company and British workers will have the skills and experience to export this new, proven technology to the rest of the world. The UK could become the home of tidal power, a post-Brexit success story.
Wind power was once expensive and unproven. It was only because governments around the world backed the research and development of wind power that technology was developed, experience gained and prices fell eventually making it viable.
If the economic and political reasons don’t convince you that the project should go ahead, look at the environmental reasons. Swansea Lagoon will provide 120 years of clean, reliable, year-round power. A nuclear power plant will last 60 years at best. We can send a message to the whole world that the UK is serious about clean, green energy.
Climate leadership is one way the UK can retain its status on the world stage after Brexit. Britain has a very good reputation in this regard and the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy underlines our continued commitment. Nurturing a new low-carbon option and then sending British tidal experts to France and India, to help them in their efforts to wean off nuclear and coal respectively, is a great way to sustain leadership on a matter of global importance.
As Hendry put it: “We can either stand back and watch other countries take the lead (or watch a resource left permanently unused) or we can decide that we should do what the UK has done so well in the past – by spotting an opportunity, by developing the technology and by creating an industry. As Britain moves into a post-Brexit world, we need to ask if we want to be leaders or followers”.
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is conducting reviews to clarify how we move our industry forwards. An island nation using its natural, untapped tidal resources to revive its manufacturing industries and to source cheap, reliable, and utterly predictable power is the very embodiment of industrial strategy.
Swansea Tidal Lagoon should be viewed for its overall contribution to this broader vision, rather than a stand-alone “power output vs subsidy” calculation. We should subsidise tidal power and support a new industry in the UK.