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.

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.

Selling The Severn Dream

Peter Hain stepped down from Labour’s backbench last May, but he’s very much on the front foot in campaigning for the Severn barrage to be built. Mathew Beech finds out why

Peter Hain cannot escape the Severn barrage, even if he wanted to.

“When I’m at the gym, I’m always having people come up to me in the shower asking me why it hasn’t happened yet,” says the Labour MP, who is becoming synonymous with the project.

Hain also gets questions on the progress of the barrage in his south Wales constituency of Neath, and on the train up to Westminster, where he is taking up the fight to get the barrage plans moving.

The Kenyan-born MP, who came to the UK after spending his youth in South Africa, has history when it comes to campaigning. In the 1970s he was a staunch anti-apartheid campaigner, and was the recipient of a letter bomb that failed to detonate in 1972.

Having stepped down as the shadow Welsh secretary in May last year, Hain was keen to make the most of his backbench freedom and pick up another challenge – the Severn barrage.

“I wanted to have the freedom to do my own thing and concentrate on where I really felt I could make a difference,” he says. “I thought that in this period up until the next election, the most important thing I can do is take forward the Severn barrage project – there is nothing to compare with it.” He is keen to highlight that the project would have significant economic ­benefits as well as generating renewable electricity.

The latest set of plans envisage an 18km barrage running from Weston-super-Mare across to Cardiff. However, there have been many proposals to build a barrage across the Severn Estuary – dating back as far as the 1920s – and all have failed.

This time, Hain insists, things will be different.

The key departure with the proposals put forward by the Hafren Power consortium, Hain says, is that the developers are not asking for any government funding.

“The rock on which the barrage has floundered in recent times was that the developers wanted government money, and that is not possible in the current climate,” he informs me.

With his sales pitch in full flow, Hain adds: “It is a private power station, so why would you expect government money? Hafren was clear it could do it without that.”

The Neath MP runs over what has become a well-rehearsed narrative, of how the barrage would help regenerate the south Wales economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs (many in his constituency), and also of the potential for massive regeneration for Port Talbot and Bristol Port.

He also knows how to tackle the thorny issue of the significant environmental impact a barrage would have on the Severn Estuary.

At the centre of the case for the defence is the design for a new, bi-directional turbine. The claim that these would be “fish-mincers” is “overblown rhetoric” because the turbines are designed to turn at a third of the speed of existing turbines, and on both the ebb and flow tides.

Hain acknowledges that the multi-billion pound scheme would affect the surrounding area, but he points out that the estuary environment is changing now, regardless.

“The thing that frustrates me the most is a dialogue with the deaf, with critics saying there is a choice between some kind of present paradise and a completely changed future – whereas the present is being changed all the time.

“For example, the Dunlin wading bird – the iconic wading bird of the Severn Estuary – has been in catastrophic decline over the past ten years because of global warming,” says the MP.

What Hafren Power has done to mitigate the impact any barrage would have is a proposed partnership with the RSPB and the Angling Trust to work out the best way to spend the £1 billion the consortium has set aside for habitat compensation.

With the financial and environmental side of the Severn barrage puzzle discussed, there remains one significant issue – political backing.

The battle-hardened – or should that be battle-weary – Hain is convinced he can get this government to support the project, especially, he adds with a wry smile, as “not a penny of Treasury money is required”.

“The government needs to support it in principle and it needs to take a hybrid bill through Parliament, which I’ve offered to help with, but they need to make time to do that,” says Hain, obviously making a nod toward the last Queen’s Speech, which critics labelled an “empty legislative programme”.

“There’s got to be significant movement this year,” says Hain, whose main concern is the project’s opponents will try to “kick it into the long grass” and wait for the funding to dry up. If Hain is to be believed, this won’t happen.

The prime minister, chancellor, energy secretary, and Welsh secretary are all said to be interested in the scheme, but Hain says they “should be welcoming it with open arms” because it is a “bigger investment than anything on the horizon” and will provide tens of thousands of jobs.

Even energy and climate change minister Greg Barker, who lambasted the lack of detail in Hafren Power’s five-page executive summary for the project, “still thinks the project very positive”, says Hain. So why did Barker mock the documents at the select committee, and why were the plans lacking in detail?

“Frankly, he was very mischievous on that,” says Hain, once again aggressively defending the barrage.

He says the document submitted was 130 pages long, its written evidence is “quite extensive”, and that there is “masses of information out there”. In addition, Hain insists there is further, commercially sensitive information available that could be provided once the government gives the scheme conditional approval.

Hain admits he has taken flak for championing the barrage but virulently denies he stands to benefit financially from promoting it.

As for his image, he also denies he is using the scheme to boost his political profile.

“I don’t need that. I’ve been in politics for over 40 years, I have one of the highest profiles of any politician, why would I need to increase that?” he says.

In a reminiscent tone, he adds: “Throughout my time in politics I’ve fought for the anti-apartheid cause, and various other causes.

“In my experience, all good causes attract criticism and then people look back and think, actually there was merit in that case after all.

“When the Severn barrage is built, people will turn around and say why on earth wasn’t this done generations ago,” he adds.

As for what is needed to get the project going, Hain is clear: political will.

“If you look at the two big things that have been done in recent times – the huge construction projects of the Channel Tunnel and the Olympics – they were both heavily criticised but they were right.

“Nobody criticises them now.

“There are too many pygmies in politics and public administration that would have been put to shame by the Victorians and the great construction giants of the past.

“We need some big decisions by big ministers for a Britain that thinks big, not parochial and petty. It’s time we thought big.”

This article first appeared in Utility Week’s print edition of 7th June 2013.

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Severn Barrage

Following the publication of the House of Commons Select Committee report into the Severn Barrage Peter Hain MP said,

“The ball is now firmly in the government’s court. The plans are in place, the £25 billion from private investors is on standby but won’t be around forever.

“The truth is this incredibly important project – promising 50,000 jobs to build the biggest ever clean green energy supply – can only succeed if the government want it to. They can’t sit on the fence any longer. Ed Davey needs to take the lead and work with Hafren Power to satisfy the select committee’s concerns. Unless he does so soon, this project is going nowhere. I have spent the past year trying to persuade the Government to make a decision. It’s high time they did so.”

Peter Hain Issues Warning To South Africa’s ANC Party: ‘Renew or Face Losing Office’

South Africa’s ANC must renew itself from “top to bottom” or it will be ousted from power, former Welsh Secretary and anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain has warned.

The South African-raised Neath MP who first came to prominence as a lead campaigner against apartheid-era cricket and rugby tours has returned with a film crew to a country in which Nelson Mandela’s party is now dogged with accusations of cronyism and corruption.

The impetus for the BBC film, which will be shown next week on April 24, was a massacre last August in which 34 miners were shot dead. Police and miners clashed during protests outside a mine in Marikana, just outside Johannesburg.

Mr Hain said: “As somebody who represents a mining constituency I found the whole situation of the mining massacre very dramatic.”

In the hour-long documentary Mr Hain speaks to the families of some of the dead men, President Jacob Zuma, the chief executive of the mining company, and leading ANC veterans.

According to the BBC, he “uncovers a day of shocking brutality with many disturbing allegations”.

Mr Hain is emphatic the discontent rocking the country today is more than an emotional backlash in response to the euphoria which greeted the fall of the apartheid regime in 1994.

“No government ever satisfies is expectations… It’s just a law of politics,” he said.

In South Africa he found causes for deeper concern with a party which once fought for a vision of a multiracial South Africa now mired in corruption allegations.

He said: “There is a lot of criticism of the leadership at national and local level about corruption and delivery problems… There’s a lot of disagreement and grassroots disaffection.”

Despite the ANC’s electoral dominance, Mr Hain maintains that it is in danger of losing office unless it can “renew itself from top to bottom”.

He said: “What really hurts anti-apartheid activists like me and ANC members and followers is the widespread corruption there is locally and nationally and that has to be dealt with.”

Insisting that he had not interviewed people with an instinctive axe to grind against the ANC, he said: “The critics are overwhelmingly ANC members. I haven’t gone to old, sour or disaffected whites.”

Mr Hain also met with Julius Malema, the expelled former president of the ANC Youth League who made headlines with his visits to Zimbabwe and his singing of the apartheid-era song Shoot the Boer.

Mr Hain said: “He’s a powerful voice for the disaffected and the angry and a dangerous voice of populism.”

However, he is hopeful that South Africa will not follow its neighbour towards a Zimbabwe-style collapse.

He said: “South Africa is such a critical country for the whole of the continent. It still has a majestic constitution – probably the best constitution in the world.

“There are lots of things that are good about it…

“Mugabe’s tyranny has been such a terrible stain on Africa. South Africa is much better protected to resist any slide to anything that would threaten its democratic fundamentals but the ANC needs to be vigilant.”

Describing his meeting with President Zuma, he said: “On a personal level I get on with him fine. He has to renew his party.”

Mr Hain said he found the process of making the film “exhilarating”.

He said: “It as very enjoyable being on the other side of the camera, asking the questions rather than having to answer them.”

Mr Hain stepped down from the Labour shadow cabinet last May to support efforts to build a barrage across the Severn estuary which he claims could be “the biggest single source of renewable energy in Europe.”

Last month Mr Hain became a non-executive director at Amara Mining, formerly known as Cluff Gold, which has interests in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

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