U.K. launches study of 8,640-MW Severn Barrage tidal project

Secretary of State for Business John Hutton announced September 25 that a feasibility study will begin immediately of developing an 8,640-MW Severn Barrage tidal power project on Severn Estuary between England and Wales.

In 2003, a report by engineering firm Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd. said the scheme — which was shelved 16 years earlier as uneconomic — should be reassessed as it would help the United Kingdom meet its targets of cutting emissions of carbon dioxide that many scientists say contribute to global warming.

�This is a truly visionary project, unparalleled in scale, potentially generating 5 percent of the U.K.’s electricity from renewable sources,� Hutton said. �As we undertake this work, we must understand the true environmental, social, and economic impacts of such a project. They are potentially considerable. But so, too, is the challenge of climate change.�

The funnel-shaped estuary has the second highest tidal range in the world at more than 14 meters. Using conventional hydroelectric equipment, the project would generate an estimated 17 terawatt-hours per year.

In addition to examining project effects, the government said the study would cover the potential for other tidal power sites in the United Kingdom.

“The building of such a barrage would be a huge engineering feat, comparable with some of the world’s biggest construction projects,” a government statement said.

Carbon-free power is essential to help Britain meet its goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. However, some conservationists say the local damage caused to birds and fish by such a barrage would outweigh the wider benefits.

“There could be much better ways of harnessing the Severn’s power, and the feasibility study should examine tidal lagoon and tidal stream schemes which could cost less, do less damage, and generate more energy,” said Conservation Director Mark Avery of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

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