Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Barrage isn't only possibility

I'm uneasy with the idea that an MP should be able to set aside other responsibilities in order to become an advocate for a private company proposing a specific development project, even if it's true, as Hain claims, that he’s not being paid (although denials of any potential post-Parliamentary paid office haven't been so conspicuous to date).  I can imagine what the reaction of senior Labour figures would be if a Tory MP were to behave in a similar fashion.
And given Hain's previous invective against the baby-eating Tories, and against anyone who dares so much as to give said evil ones the time of day, the rather chummy way in which is seeking to enlist Cameron to the cause has a certain irony to it.
There is a danger, naturally, that those who have seen Hain's occasional rather nasty side will instinctively oppose anything with which he is associated – and there’d be a certain poetic justice about that.  The scheme does, however, deserve to be considered on its merits, although personally I remain sceptical. 
I don't doubt the claim that it could produce up to around 5% of the U.K.'s electricity needs.  That has to be subject, however, to the same caveat that opponents of wind farms invariably raise – the electricity produced will not necessarily be available to coincide with peak demand, depending on the times of the tides.
Certainly the proposal to generate on both the flow and the ebb tides is a step forward from the previous proposal to generate only on the ebb.  It's still subject to periods of low or zero generation, however.  That's why I'm still inclined to support the alternative of a series of tidal lagoons or tidal flow turbines around the coast, making use of the different times of high tide to generate a smaller total – but more consistently available – amount of power.
It's claimed that the latest proposal will do less damage to the ecology of the upstream Severn than the previous proposal.  Perhaps; but the detail behind this assertion is notable by its absence to date.
My third reservation concerns the costs.  The claim currently is that the barrage could and would be funded entirely from private sources, provided that the price of the electricity produced is guaranteed.  That sounds plausible for the electricity generating barrage itself (although it's worth noting that providing similar price guarantees to wind has been used as a reason for opposing wind turbines), but is it the whole truth?
All of the illustrations that I've seen show a barrage with a road link, rail link, or both running across the top.  There's a logic to doing that, but it significantly increases both the height and the cost of any barrage.  I somehow doubt that those costs have been factored in to the claim that the barrage will be privately financed, which would mean that we're only getting a partial truth.
Hain has a certain ability to generate PR and hype, but his assertion that the barrage “should be backed by all those serious about tackling climate change” is in line with his usual approach to politics, which is to make bald assertions and then attack the motives and integrity of anyone who disagrees with him.  It will take more than that to convince doubters such as myself.


Chris Paul said...

Completely agree with your lagoon proposals which will see much less local opposition- but regards private ownership- presumably the developers can see a profit- and if so why should we allow our resources to be exploited in this way and the remittance flow to private investors? Same applies for wind- State owned German enterprises are making profits on welsh wind- surely there are grounds for establishing arms length state enterprise(build4wales whatever you want to call it) to invest, profit, and reinvest, in the development of green tech in Wales, and elsewhere.

John Dixon said...


The developers say that they'll make a profit, from the electricity-generating barrage at least. There are some caveats to that, though, not all of them openly stated.

The first is that the project depends on rigging the electricity price in a way which guarantees a certain level of income. I don't object to that per se, I just think that we should all be upfront and clear about it.

The second is the point to which I alluded - namely my suspicion that they are expecting a large public contribution for the 'added' road/rail links, which could turn out to be a back-door subsidy.

The third is that I don't think that we should simply dismiss the possibility that they are holding in the back of their minds the thought that, once the project starts, it is too big to fail - and that the state will ultimately feel obliged to provide a safety net. Capitalism has its limitations when it comes to such large projects, and they usually fall on the rest of us.

I don't have any problem with the idea of state-owned enterprises building and running energy projects (although I really don't think that Build4Wales had anything to do with such a model). And I've consistently argued for the state to take a much larger rôle in energy policy (and not just devolving planning controls, which seems to be the limit of aspiration for some). Energy policy, with its implications for emissions control, is too important to be left to 'the market'.

Peter D Cox said...

Surely we have reached the point that any such infrastructure venture must be in social ownership: in Wales we have the example of Dwr Cymru cooperatively using investment.
Sadly, concur that Hain leadership is a cause for concern.

Ioan said...

I agree with all you have said, as you might expect from my previous comment on wind power..! It's a shame that Hain has to use Global Warming as his trump card - it's as if he is allowed to lose all the economic arguments you state, but we have no choice but to build the barrage. Now where have I seen that argument before :-; ?