Swansea Bay tidal project in Wales potentially affected by “Brexit”

“Brexit,” Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, could negatively impact the US$1.6 billion 320-MW Swansea Bay tidal project in Wales.

The project, planned for Swansea Bay in Wales, includes a 6-mile-long sea wall that would generate power using rising and falling tides via 16 underwater turbines dotting its length, enough power for 155,000 homes.

According to a July 10 article in the Financial Times, a report that could possibly recommend approval of the marine hydrokinetic (MHK) facility was expected to be released towards the end of 2016. But, advocates for the project think Brexit will see the project shelved indefinitely.

In the FT report, Keith Clarke, chairman of developer Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay PLC (TLSB), said, “Any political decision at the moment has a degree of uncertainty, if only on timing, because we do not know who is going to be prime minister. My concern is that people are too distracted to get on with the business of government.”

Even though data indicate the cost of commercially produced MHK electricity from this project has the potential to be competitive with other renewable energy sources, its development has more than potential political issues impeding progress.

HydroWorld.com reported that last month TLSB had selected China Harbour Engineering (CHEC) as the preferred bidder for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project. The company tendered a $458 million contract for the construction of the project’s bund wall and coffer dam, sourcing and transporting rock, and managing all landside and marine crews.

TLSB has since withdrawn the contract because, according to sources, CHEC was unable to demonstrate that its plans offered value for TLSB’s money. The Welsh development group has announced the retendering process.

On June 9, 2015, Amber Rudd, UK secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change, granted planning permission for the Swansea scheme, but agreement is still needed on the level of government subsidy for its electricity before financing and construction can begin.

Measured over its expected 120-year lifespan, the support mechanisms required to make the Swansea scheme viable would cost consumers about $35 per MWh of electricity — the same as for new nuclear plants. Commercial operation is scheduled for 2019.

Tidal Lagoon Power has plans for five larger schemes in Wales, Somerset and Cumbria that when combined could meet up to 8% of UK electricity demand.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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