Discussion about the Severn Barrage seems to be gathering pace. This week, on Tues. the Welsh Affairs Committee took evidence from Hafren Power (the developer), Bristol Dock Board reps and environmental group reps. The Energy and Climate Change Committee took evidence from a similar range of witnesses plus Peter Hain on Wed. And it was main issue on ITV Wales' Sharp End on Thursday - where I was a guest alongside Dafydd Trystan and Eluned Parrott.
Adrian Masters seemed keen to know whether we support the scheme or not. Was tempted to say "How do you expect us to know. Truth is we know next to nothing about what's involved yet. All we know is that a new company named Hafren Power (backed up by some big names and big money) want to construct a barrage across the Severn Estuary from Lavernock Point in Sounth Wales to Brean Down in England. There would be no road or rail passage over the barrage, contrary to what many people think. The company claim there will be no need for any public capital investment whatsoever - but that there will have to be a 'strike price' agreed with the Government under the 'contracts for difference' procedures which will be guaranteed for 30 yrs. I suspect this will be quite high. The case for this is that since the life span of the Barrage would be at least 120 yrs - for 90 yrs there would be no public cost at all.
Peter Hain tells us this is an amazingly good deal for Wales. The Unite union in Wales seems to be backing him, though the Unite boss at Bristol Docks is vehemently against. We are told the Barrage will prevent any tsunami going up river and flooding the Severn Valley - but not where the stopped water will go instead. We're told it would create tens of thousands of jobs, including building the thousand plus turbines (Rolls Royce are involved). We are told by others that it would cost tens of thousands of jobs. Its clear that most environmental interest groups are also very much opposed. We're also told that it would be illegal under current EU environmental legislation.
At present I have no idea whether I support the scheme or not. But the potential contribution to the UK's energy needs are such that I feel we need to travel further down the road before coming to a decision - so I'm joining Peter Hain's group of MPs working on this project in the House of Commons. I feel the same about shale gas. We need to know more about potential benefits and costs before final decisions can be made. The Severn Estuary has the most enormous renewable energy potential because of the massive tide in the estuary - but we do not yet know the best way in which to harness it. Better be prepared for a lot more discussion over the next few months.