Future of Tidal Lagoons in Doubt as Delays Stack up
Angling and wildlife conservation interests are hopeful that the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon – and others which have been mooted for Cardiff, Newport and Bridgwater – will not now go ahead as planned after a number of setbacks, including:
• the recent announcement by the Government of a six month review of the economic case for lagoons and whether or not they offer value for money for tax and billpayers;
• refusal by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) of the developer’s proposed ‘strike price’ (price subsidy) for the Swansea project;
• delays and difficulties in the discharge of conditions attached to the Development Consent Order issued in June 2015;
• a successful judicial review brought by a community campaign group which will block existing plans to mine and transport the rock required to build the lagoons;
• news that the Marine Licence needed from Natural Resources Wales has run into difficulties following a belated recognition of fisheries concerns and possible incompatibility of the proposed project with the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), as highlighted by Fish Legal and the Angling Trust over the past year.
The CEO of Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay (TLSB) Mark Shorrock was reported on 10th February as saying that he had warned the UK Government it must decide if it is going to back the £1 billion project “in the next four to six weeks” or the project would run into real problems. However, later that day, when the review was announced which would delay the project by 8 or 9 months, he said that he took “the UK Government's unexpected announcement of a review into tidal lagoon energy as an endorsement of the far-advanced plans for the Swansea scheme” and that he had "a letter from Energy Secretary Amber Rudd” which he said “showed the UK government was prepared to look at long term funding for the project”; and "I have got absolute confidence that we are now on the glide path to pulling this off”.
Fish Legal and the Angling Trust have established via a Freedom of Information request, however, that the letter from Amber Rudd actually said:
“I have discussed these matters with my cabinet colleagues and we have concluded that your strike price offer is not in the best interest of consumers” and that whilst “DECC and the Treasury are ready to continue working with you and your partners to ensure that we fully understand the detail of your key offer”, TLSB's “key alternative offer” was “a significant deviation” from the basis upon which DECC had commenced discussions with the company; and that: “in particular we need to fully evaluate the implications of transferring additional risks to the consumer”.
Meanwhile, although TLSB secured a Development Consent Order (DCO) in June 2015, it has been unable to make significant progress with the discharge of conditions ("Requirements") attached to the DCO, because the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot local authorities don't have the necessary jurisdiction to deal with offshore matters. Their jurisdiction currently ends at the low water mark and extending that is a complicated process which is likely to take some time.
TLSB also needs a number of consents – in particular the Marine Licence – from the regulator Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which has a legal duty to protect fisheries and to ensure that no water bodies deteriorate under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).
Fisheries interests have been arguing from the outset that:
• TLSB's modelling of fisheries effects has been flawed and based on unrealistic assumptions;
• TLSB’s predictions of the likely impacts on fisheries, particularly salmon and sea trout, and on the WFD ecological status of waterbodies in the Swansea Bay rivers (Tawe, Neath and Afan) have been seriously understated;
• Proposals for monitoring the impacts and countering them are wholly inadequate.
Internal NRW briefings seen by Fish Legal and the Angling Trust indicate that NRW experts agree with this analysis. The documents show that the process for determining the consents is now likely to take many more months and that refusal of the required Marine Licence is being contemplated, which would prevent the lagoon being built.
Swansea Bay was intended to be the first of a ‘necklace’ of lagoons around the Severn Estuary and in other parts of the country. TLSB has tried to justify the high strike price it has been demanding from government on the basis that Swansea would be a prototype for the larger lagoons elsewhere, which because of their larger size would be able to generate power more cheaply. Angling and wildlife conservation groups have argued that, without the other lagoons, Swansea doesn't make energy sense.
However, approvals for the others, particularly Cardiff, Newport and Bridgwater Bay, would be much more difficult to obtain because of their much greater environmental impacts and the protective designations which those areas enjoy (including Special Area of Conservation status under the EU Habitats Directive). Anglers and conservationists also argue that, if the economic case is being made on the basis that there will be multiple lagoons, the environmental impact should be considered on the same ‘cumulative’ basis, rather than looking at Swansea in isolation.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: “In light of all these difficulties, it seems likely that construction is going to be significantly delayed once again. Indeed, it seems that the whole project may be in doubt because of its environmental impact on fish and other wildlife and the cost to the taxpayer. We will keep pressing the regulator to take a firm line in protecting already threatened marine and migratory fish species that are a vitally important part of the delicate ecosystem of the Severn Estuary and of the local and regional economy. We welcome the government review and urge Ministers to consider carefully how tidal energy can be exploited in more sustainable ways that do not threaten fisheries or the natural environment.”
The NRW briefing and the letter from Amber Rudd to Mark Shorrock, both of which were secured via a Freedom of Information request, are available for download below.
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