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Severn Barrage is not the answer
11 April 2006
Environment groups have spoken out following suggestions that Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan is expected to recommend a barrage in the Severn Estuary in a submission to the UK Government's Energy Review.
The unexpected announcement by the First Minister was made at the Welsh Local Government Association conference on Friday (8 April) during which he described the Severn Barrage as "our equivalent to the Three Gorges Dam" in China. Environmentalists have condemned the Three Gorges dam as an environmental and social disaster, set to make an estimated 1.2 million people homeless and a unique species of white dolphin ( `Baiji') extinct.
WWF, RSPB and Friends of the Earth Cymru condemned the First Minister's comments as totally inappropriate on grounds of its scale, cost, transportation, regional effects and environmental damage. The groups point out that there are several technologies which could generate similar levels of power from the Severn Estuary with much less environmental impact.
Julian Rosser, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, commented:
"It is astonishing that, while Rhodri Morgan is happy for the Assembly Government's policies on road transport and aviation to fuel climate change, he is proposing to wreck one of the most important wildlife sites in Europe in a bid to tackle the problem. A massive barrage with a road over the top of it is not the best way to generate electricity from the power of the Severn tides."
"It is most telling that he should have compared the project with the Three Gorges Dam in China, a prime example of human rights violations and disregard for wildlife. This marks the end of a fascinating political journey for Rhodri: from leading opponent of the Cardiff Bay Barrage to aping the grandiose mega-projects of a totalitarian regime," added Rosser.
Morgan Parry, Head of WWF Cymru commented:
"We accept the urgent need for the Welsh Assembly Government to address climate change through developing marine renewables as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions but building the Severn Barrage is not the answer. The environmental damage caused by constructing a 10 mile concrete energy dinosaur will cause irreversible damage to Wales and England's most important estuaries."
Tim Stowe, Director of RSPB Cymru added:
"Risking irreplaceable wildlife sites for the sake of energy generation is not a sustainable option, and would contravene the Welsh Assembly Government's duty to promote sustainable development. We believe that Welsh Assembly could achieve greater savings in carbon dioxide emissions by investing in small scale renewable projects in Wales."
Morgan Parry added:
"We agree with the Assembly that there's huge potential to take advantage of the tidal range in the Severn Estuary for energy generation as it the second highest tidal range in the world. We strongly recommend that more suitable technologies are deployed to capture the energy of the Severn Estuary, such as stand-alone tidal generators, tidal fences and further research into tidal lagoons."
In 2003 the UK Government launched its energy white paper - Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy, which concluded that the Severn Barrage would "raise strong environmental concerns and raised doubts as to whether it would be fruitful to pursue it at this stage." (1)
The Severn Estuary is an environmentally protected area protected by the Special Area for Conservation (SAC) in recognition of the European importance of its ecology. The vast inter-tidal area over 200 square km provides food for over 63,000 migratory and wintering water birds. The Severn and its 10 sub-estuaries represent 7% of the UK's total estuary resource for wildlife especially wild birds.
The most recent barrage proposal would stretch 10 miles from Lavernock Point west Cardiff to near Brean Down Somerset, impounding an area of 185 square miles. The scheme's wall would pass close to and just east of Steep Holm Island and two miles west of Flat Holm Island.
It is disputed whether the saving in carbon dioxide emissions will be fully reaped because of the huge cost in the construction and transportation of materials. If housing, road links, commercial development and a new airport are built as part of the development, CO2 emissions will soar. The timescale of building such a project is vast - even if construction work began next year it would take up to 15 years before the Barrage was operating - this would mean it would not contribute to Wales's 2010 and 2020 carbon dioxide reduction targets.
Construction of the Barrage has been estimated at £10-13 billion which would totally undermine the development of small-scale green energy supplies in Wales. "It was only two weeks ago that the Chancellor announced huge investment for developing small scale renewable projects called microgeneration; the Assembly should be following suit and putting investment into these smaller project which would bring both environmental and economic benefits to Wales," added Mr Parry.
1. The UK Government energy white paper - Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy, which explored the renewable opportunities of the Severn Barrage can be viewed at www.dti.gov.uk/energy/whitepaper/ourenergyfuture.pdf (PDF)
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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust
Last modified: Jun 2008