Bristol Channel Has Massive Renewable Energy Potential, Report Finds

Tue, 27 November 2012

New concepts such as tidal lagoons and tidal fences, deployed in conjunction with tidal stream technology, wave and wind power would provide a better balance between the urgent need to generate low carbon energy and the environment.

Ultimately this lower risk strategy could provide up to 14 GW of low carbon energy capacity, which is more than the capacity of the latest Severn barrage proposal, being promoted by former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.

The multi-project approach would also enhance the UK’s position as a hotbed for new technology development, says the Report, Bristol Channel Energy: A Balanced Technology Approach.

With a tidal range of up to 14 m, one of the largest in the world, the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel have been identified by the Crown Estate as being among the best potential locations in the UK for developing marine and tidal energy.

However, there is fierce opposition to the proposed £34bn Hafren Power Severn Barrage from local authorities, the newly-elected Bristol Mayor, and the West of England local enterprise partnership.

There are fears the 18 km-long Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare project would not only have a devastating impact on investment in Bristol’s port and jeopardise a £600m deep-sea container port in Avonmouth, but harm wildlife as well.

Today’s report by renewable energy experts Regen SW and consultancy firm Marine Energy Matters proposes a new strategy to harness the massive energy potential of the Bristol Channel in a way which balances the imperative to generate low carbon energy with the protection of the environment and communities on both the Welsh and English sides of the channel.

It says the Bristol Channel is a complex hydrodynamic system that supports a wide range of marine habitats and marine communities as well as providing a major sea transport route into the heartland of the UK’s manufacturing base.

“The future strategy for harnessing offshore energy in the Bristol Channel is therefore about much more than just the resource and technology. The cost impacts of each technology upon one-another, their potential environmental impact and their contribution to economic development all need to be taken into account.”

The report authors highlight that the key advantage of the multi-technology approach is to enable the incremental roll out of a series of large-scale energy schemes as technologies are proven and their environmental impacts can be properly managed.

The balanced technology approach, which has strong backing from industry groups including the Bristol Tidal Energy Forum, West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and South West Marine Energy Park, builds on the strength of the marine energy technology sector in the UK, and could provide a more sustainable route to economic growth and job creation.

Johnny Gowdy, programme director at Regen SW, says “Any large scale energy scheme in the Bristol Channel will need to build consensus and support from communities on both Welsh and English sides of the channel, we hope this report will help move the debate forward and enable the industry to engage with government and stakeholders on the basis that projects might actually be built.

“We need to get away from a divisive argument between proponents of renewable energy and the environment. Large scale, low carbon energy projects are absolutely essential to tackle the issue of climate change and ocean acidification and to move us away from destructive fossil fuel extraction industries. However, these must be designed to protect valuable ecosystems and biodiversity which are equally important for our sustainable future.”

Environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and the RSPB have also welcomed the new approach.

Mike Birkin, South West campaigner for Friends of the Earth says – “We very much welcome this approach. We have a huge potential clean energy resource around the Bristol Channel coast and it’s essential we find ways to harness it to tackle the problem of climate change.

“Our recent report from Plymouth University showed that this can be done in ways that don’t just minimise the harm to nature, they can bring about positive benefits.

“We’d like to see businesses and environmental organisations working together to secure both clean energy and a thriving environment for the Severn and the Bristol Channel”

Mark Robins, senior policy officer for RSPB in the south west said; “The RSPB welcomes this discussion document and we believe its publication marks a good starting point for a more conscious strategy for building up renewable energy outputs that build in the high nature value of the Bristol Channel and Severn estuary.”

As well as helping to address environmental concerns the Balanced Technology approach also questions whether a big barrage option is the best way to generate sustainable jobs and economic growth. While the barrage would certainly create jobs during the construction phase previous analysis commissioned by DECC suggests that the new jobs created would largely be offset by the job losses due to the impact on Bristol Port and other marine users, including the manufacturing and distribution companies which depend on the port to support global trade.”

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