Benefits To South Wales Of Severn Barrage

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential benefits to south Wales of the Severn barrage.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): We have made it clear that we remain open to considering any well developed and privately funded proposals that come forward for harnessing the tidal range resource in the Severn estuary. The right hon. Gentleman’s tenacity on this and a great number of other subjects will of course be greatly missed when he leaves this place. I look forward to meeting him next week to talk further about the Severn barrage project.

Mr Hain: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. Is he aware that the company now taking forward the Severn barrage—exclusively for any form of renewable energy—requires no consumer subsidy through a contract for difference? That could be a game changer for the Government.

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I thank my Welsh Labour colleagues for their comradeship, especially during my two years as a Welsh Minister and seven years as Secretary of State for Wales? We can be proud that we established a Welsh Assembly, and it has been a privilege to serve.

Stephen Crabb: I thank the former Secretary of State for his question. As I said, I look forward to talking to him in more detail about the project, and to understanding how the proposal might have changed since he and his associates last presented the ideas to various Committees. Let me add that I am proud to be part of a Government who believe in major infrastructure investment, and who are delivering strategic infrastructure investment in Wales the likes of which we have never seen before.

Energy Prices – Severn Barrage

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his revelation that The Sun is now the house journal of the Liberal Democrats. It does him and the Government no credit that their attitude to Labour’s price freeze has veered wildly, initially denouncing it as Marxist, which was a revelation to all Marxist disciples, and now misrepresenting it with a patronising approach that belies the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and the leader of the Labour party have been proved right all along on this policy, as they will be proved right in the future.

One of the best vehicles for keeping energy prices low is the Severn barrage. This huge infrastructure investment boost makes the Severn barrage a no brainer, not least because it requires no Treasury funding. The £25 billion construction cost will be financed entirely privately, mainly from sovereign wealth funds and other large-scale institutional investors, because they would have a guaranteed revenue stream over a period of 120 years or more. The project will create 20,000 jobs during its nine-year build, and with multiplier effects another 30,000 jobs, making a total of 50,000 jobs and a £70 billion boost to the economy. Many of the jobs will be located in communities in south Wales and the south-west of England, which are crying out for such a boost of investment and high-skilled jobs. Some 80% of the spend will be in the United Kingdom, unlike wind power where 80% is spent abroad because countries such as Germany and Norway have stolen the lead on wind turbine manufacture.

The scheme would harness one of the world’s largest potential sources of renewable energy: the huge tidal range of the Severn estuary—the second highest in the world. Building an 18-kilometre barrage between Brean in England and Lavernock Point in Wales would be one of the world’s largest privately funded global engineering projects.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. I must reluctantly intervene on the right hon. Gentleman. This debate is about energy prices, not energy generation from things like the barrage. He needs to relate his comments to the impact on energy prices and passing on reductions to the consumer.

Mr Hain: I was about to do that, but I need—obviously with your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker—to describe the project in order to do so.

Most importantly, the barrage would produce the cheapest electricity in the United Kingdom—half the cost of alternative sources such as gas, nuclear and coal, as well as other renewables. Previous consortia interested in the project have looked to a period of consumer subsidy lasting less than 25% of its life—very small compared with other renewables. After that initial subsidy period, promoted by previous consortia backing the barrage, it would generate electricity at £20 per MWh for at least a century, less than half the wholesale market price that the economy has been used to.

The latest project backer does not want the consumer subsidy of contracts for difference, a point which I hope the Secretary of State will note. In meetings with him, I have discussed support for the barrage, which he has not been able to give. The barrage has attracted widespread criticism from wildlife groups, but it has considerable other benefits, including low electricity prices over its entire life if the current project is taken forward in this way. In addition, it would have other important effects on the economy. The 1,026 turbines required, each the weight of a jumbo jet, would be built at two factories in the region, most probably at Port Talbot and Bristol. The planned caisson-casting yard at Port Talbot deep-water docks could afterwards be converted into a port for ultra-large container ships. It would also enable us not just to keep prices low, but to export the technology and expertise in tidal barrage construction around the world. So it would keep prices low, which consumers desperately need, and it would support flood protection. Some 90,000 properties and 500 square kilometres of Wales and the south-west, including the Somerset levels, would be supported, and it would act as a barrier against storm surges. Therefore, prices would be kept low and there would be many other benefits from the project.

In conclusion, this is the biggest single investment project coming from the private sector, needing no consumer subsidy at all in contracts for difference, according to the latest backer of the project, which I hope the Government will meet. I hope that people will see this as something that should have been backed already, and that now all parties will back it as a—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

UK Nuclear Energy Programme

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Even accepting the case for Hinkley, why is the Secretary of State not giving in-principle support to the Severn barrage, which would deliver clean green energy at half the price, at a similar strike price, over three to four times the lifespan of Hinkley and with three times the number of jobs? I just do not understand it.

Mr Davey: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s persistence in this issue. He knows that I have met him. I have looked at the figures that have been produced by those who want to see a Severn barrage created. It would not be at half the price; it would probably be at double the price; it is extremely expensive. No one would be more delighted than I if we could see tidal power coming in the Severn. I believe it will come, but the price will have to come down because we must protect the consumer.

Energy Demand

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that the Severn barrage will contribute 5% of Britain’s electricity needs? In deciding on the Government’s response to the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s report, will he support the project in principle and treat it exactly the same as other major power station projects, such as Hinkley, round 3 offshore wind and so on, allowing Hafren Power to raise the risk finance for the necessary work on habitats, environmental impact assessment planning, the strike price and other issues? Otherwise, he might as well kill off the project now.

Mr Davey: Obviously, I shall not prejudge our response to the Select Committee, which, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, was not very positive about the Severn barrage scheme, not least because of the costs involved, but if he studies our announcements on draft strike prices for contracts for difference for renewables, he will see in there strike prices for tidal projects as well. It is absolutely clear that we will proceed only if we get value for money for the economy, the consumer and business.

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.