Response to Phillip Inman’s Report in the Guardian (22 July 2013) regarding the Severn Barrage

Phillip Inman makes the important point that energy companies are misleading the public and the government on the price of renewable energy for fear of damaging their share prices. In doing so, these companies are conning households and endangering progress. Few can argue that securing reliable green energy isn’t one of the most pressing challenges facing us today. It is therefore disappointing that more attention has not been given to the very real cost-effectiveness of tidal-range power, and in particular Hafren Power’s plans for a Severn barrage. As the article explains, much of the added cost of renewables comes from the smaller scale of projects, in contrast with traditional power stations which benefit from economies of scale.

As a major infrastructure project, with the projected capability of producing 5% of the UK’s electricity needs, the barrage benefits from those economies of scale and, as a result, would keep prices down to make it one of the only truly cost-competitive renewable technologies. The strike price would be lower than offshore winds and close to nuclears. After the price-support period, it will generate virtually free electricity at around £20/MWh – less than half the cost of today’s dirtiest fuel sources. Norway invested in hydroelectricity a few decades ago. Now, 98% of their domestic electricity comes from hydro and their consumer electricity prices are 65% lower than ours. The minimum lifespan of a barrage is 120 years, but engineers think 250 years more likely. Compare that to the 60-year lifespan of a nuclear plant or 15 years for an offshore wind farm. That means that for at least 100 years, the barrage will be generating the cheapest electricity in the UK. There is zero chance of nuclear generating at £20/MWh by then. There is also zero chance of offshore wind generating at £20/MWh. The UK needs to think long term. This is not an oversight that bill payers or climate change campaigners can afford to make.