Energy Bill

Mr Peter Hain MP (Neath): In achieving the Bill’s aim to deliver secure, affordable and low-carbon energy, there is no bolder delivery vehicle for a greener Britain than Hafren Power’s Severn barrage. The Severn estuary has the second largest tidal range in the world and the Cardiff-Weston barrage would generate fully 5% of the UK’s electricity need—16.5 TWh a year of low-carbon, predictable and therefore baseload energy.

The barrage will power the UK for more than 120 years, cleanly, securely and sustainably generating as much electricity as three to four nuclear reactors or more than 3,000 wind turbines. It injects more than £25 billion of private investment into the UK economy; no Treasury funding is needed at all. With the multiplier impact on the economy, that is a stimulus of about £70 billion.

The barrage will be a massive boost to the economies of south Wales and the south-west of England, with 80% of the investment being spent in the UK; other forms of renewable energy have to date imported up to 80% of their equipment and services from abroad. Some 50,000 jobs will be created during the nine-year build, also leaving a legacy of industrial, tourism and leisure jobs.

Some 1,026 turbines will be installed in the barrage—new, slow-spin turbine technology capable of being exported from Britain to the rest of the world. Gigantic caissons will be built and assembled and then floated out from its deep-water casting yard at Port Talbot, which will be transformative for south-west Wales. The other benefit is a legacy in Port Talbot of the largest deep-water port in north-west Europe, which would be ideal for the new generation of container ships—ultra-large container ships, or ULCs, which otherwise would have to find a port on the other side of Britain.

However, the barrage will not affect existing shipping to other ports, because special locks would enable ships to pass through without charge. Additionally, because of the more benign sea environment in the giant 570 sq km sea lake behind the barrage, there will be enormous new opportunities for marine leisure and commercial activity currently rendered impossible by the Severn’s fearsome current, bringing extra work to ports in both the south-west and south Wales.

Contrary to what critics have alleged, Bristol port will also benefit in other ways from the barrage. During construction over nine years, millions of tonnes of aggregate will be shipped out from Bristol and other ports including Newport, Cardiff and Barry. Compared with previous barrage projects, this one dramatically reduces the impact on fish and birds by using the latest turbine technology and generating on both the ebb and the flood tides, simulating the natural flow of the Severn estuary. There is already a great deal of engagement with wildlife groups to try to configure the barrage in a way that is as friendly as possible to fish and bird life.

The barrage will produce electricity 50% to 75% cheaper than coal, gas, wind or nuclear beyond the initial consumer support phase that all renewable technology attracts. For more than 90 years, it will be the cheapest electricity source in Britain. The barrage has the lowest levelised cost of any electricity generating source—lower than nuclear, lower than wind, lower than gas.

Hafren Power supports the new contract for difference price support mechanism outlined in the Energy Bill. That enables consumers to share in the upside as wholesale electricity prices rise. The barrage will also offset 7.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year; over its life, that has a value of £2 billion in today’s money. It will defend 90,000 properties and 500 sq km of floodplains from rising sea levels, saving the nation billions in flood damage and defence costs. It will protect Bristol, Cardiff, Newport and Weston from storm surges. A storm surge narrowly missed the Severn estuary in 2010; when it hit France, it caused $1.3 billion in damages. Those flood savings can be netted out against the cost of price support. Construction is 100% privately financed, so the barrage will cost the nation very little indeed.

The barrage is the biggest green energy project by far, enabling us to meet our renewable energy targets, as the Bill seeks. It will create jobs and investment; all in all, it should be a no-brainer for the Government. I ask the Secretary of State and the Government to make a decision in the context of the Bill, supporting the barrage in the first half of next year.