Fiona Harvey Greens get angry about Severn tidal power scheme

Plans for a tidal power scheme in the Severn estuary came under attack yesterday from green groups claiming the shortlist of projects drawn up by the government was “seriously flawed”.

Green groups have been concerned about the proposed tidal power scheme for some time, since it returned to vogue. A tidal power scheme taking advantage of the Severn’s extraordinary tidal range – one of the biggest in the world – has been mooted since at least the 1920s. As the government has sought to find ways to fulfil its target of generating 35-40 per cent of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the idea has come back into favour.

Earlier this year, the government published a shortlist of five projects and started a consultation process to assess their impacts and feasibility. The first consultation, on a hydroelectric barrage, closed two weeks ago.

Atkins, the engineering company, was commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to draw up a review of the shortlist of projects, which both found lacking.

Tidal energy from the Severn could satisfy as much as 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs. But, depending on how it is implemented, such a scheme could also cause severe damage to wildlife in the area, including birds, shorelife, and fish, and to plants that thrive in the delicate ecosystem.

The Atkins review found that the shortlist was based on out-of-date calculations, some from a study carried out 30 years ago, and criteria that the consultants said was skewed against more innovative and potentially more environmentally friendly projects.

Atkins found the shortlisting process “seriously underestimated” the amount of electricity that could be produced by more innovative and potentially less environmentally harmful projects, and underestimated the cost of some of the bigger schemes on the shortlist, such as a barrage from Cardiff to Weston.

Martin Harper, head of sustainable development at the RSPB, said: “The government doesn’t need to rush to judgement on this. If they do, there is a serious risk they will pick the wrong project. As this review shows, that could mean unnecessary damage to the environment, an oversized bill for the taxpayer and all for less electricity than is possible.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said all of the technically feasible schemes had been included on the shortlist, which it said had been reviewed by a panel of independent experts.

Any less developed technologies, such as tidal reefs and fences of the sort favoured by green groups, had not been ruled out, the government said, as £500,000 was to be devoted to studying them. However, they could not be shortlisted as they might be decades away from commercial deployment.

In a rebuke to the RSPB, the Department added: “It’s not possible to rule out the options on the proposed Severn tidal shortlist, and simultaneously call for serious and urgent action on climate change.”