Diolch yn fawr am y gwahoddiad. Thanks for the invitation and thanks to Leanne and Chris for arranging this meeting. I hope that many people here will be encouraged to respond to the government’s Phase 1 consultation on this extremely important issue which comes to an end in a few weeks time.
I am strongly in favour of using the energy of the Severn.
Historically Plaid Cymru has always opposed a Severn barrage for reasons of environmental damage, size and cost. The Welsh Assembly government has supported the barrage in principle but has expressed concerns about the environmental impact. Proceed with caution.
I think there are a number of points that should be addressed.
Firstly, there is no doubt that urgent action is needed to combat climate change - much more urgent than the action we see from governments today. We have to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels and invest in energy conservation and efficiency as well as renewable energy. Despite all the talk about the need to do that, there is still much more investment in Europe in fossil fuels and nuclear than renewable energy sources. I voted last week in the European Parliament to earmark half of the €4 billion allocated to energy projects as part of the economic recovery plan, to small scale “smart cities” projects. This would include schemes like house insulation being carried out which would create thousands of jobs and would have an immediate impact on reducing energy use and costs. We lost the vote, and instead we will see the whole of the 4 billion going to massive projects like carbon capture and storage which won’t be working for twenty years or more – if they ever do.
So we in Plaid Cymru have grave concerns about governments looking for a “quick fix” – massive prestige schemes which they claim will solve all our problems at a stroke. The proposed Severn Barrage is such a project. The government claims it could produce 5% of the UK’s total electricity needs. The barrage is being looked at by the UK government not the One Wales government – this is not a Welsh power generation scheme as such, although it affects us hugely. If we were just looking at Wales’s energy needs, it would provide half. But, the new Prenergy Power’s biomass plant being built in Port Talbot – the biggest wood burning power station in the world – also has the capacity to power half the homes in Wales. It’ll produce about 70% of the Assembly’s 2010 renewables target. The UK government wants a new nuclear power station in Wales – probably Wylfa B, which is not renewable. So why is Wales planning to produce so much more electricity than it needs?
Well the reason is, of course, that it’s for UK needs and not only Wales’s needs. This is not a problem as long as Wales is not being exploited again as it has been so many times.
The danger is that the major projects take too long, are massively expansive and are not necessarily the most efficient. And it is at the expense of more effective and cheaper locally based schemes to combat climate change.
But the question of control is also important. Who will make the decision on whether the Severn Barrage or other schemes go ahead? The UK government – not Wales. And while we all as taxpayers will be paying towards the subsidy the barrage (not the other schemes) would receive for the first 35 years of its 120 year lifetime, where will the income go after that? Wales should have its fair share.
I don’t think we have to wait for the results of the feasibility study next year to conclude that the £20 billion Cardiff to Weston Barrage is not acceptable on many grounds. So we should be making that point very strongly to the government.
There are currently five projects shortlisted (although that does not necessarily exclude others from coming forward if the projects are developed – like the tidal fence and tidal reef). Out of those, most support seems to be given to the Shoots Barrage which could be built in four years and could carry a railway line – and would be far less damaging environmentally. Tidal lagoons could be developed as well as this barrage, which is why we want a tidal lagoons demonstration project as soon as possible in Wales.
Finally, any tidal proposal will have to comply with the European Habitats Directive. Tha aim of this is to conserve natural habitats and wild flora and fauna. The Severn Estuary is a protected site under the EU Habitats and Birds Directive. It has a SAC status - SACs are strictly protected sites designated under the EC Habitats Directive.
It is also designated as a Ramsar Site and SSSI (sites of special scientific interest) and Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Habitats.
The Severn estuary is a hugely important site for its intertidal habitats, which are designated under EU Birds Directive, as key feeding and roosting habitats for a wide variety of bird species. The Sustainable Development Commission report predicts the barrage would cause the loss of 14,000 hectares of habitat by changing currents. So the only way that this project could go ahead is if the government could show that it met the grounds for imperative reason of overriding public interest (IPORI).
I think it’s in our public interest to say no to the barrage now and keep working for a solution which meets our energy needs without destroying our natural environment.