Independent commission to look again at tidal energy in Severn Estuary

Michael Gove addresses Western Gateway conference

A new independent commission is being set up to relook at whether the time is right to use the Severn Estuary to create clean sustainable energy.

The commission was announced at the south Wales and western England’s first powerhouse conference, Green Growth in the Western Gateway.

The commission will have an open remit to explore a range of options including looking at what energy technology exists, which areas would be appropriate, and how environmental impacts can be minimised.

The news was welcomed by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, who addressed by conference by video link.

“The launch of an independent commission on tidal energy in the Severn is very welcome news,” he told delegates.

And against the backdrop of spiralling oil prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he heralded “collaborative research between the universities of Bath, Bristol and Swansea spurring exciting developments in the use of hydrogen as an alternative energy source” and the Gateway’s “strong bid to host the STEP nuclear fusion prototype plant at Oldbury and Berkeley.”

“It is a partnership that’s also at the forefront of our low-carbon ambitions, with the area poised to become a global beacon for energy,” he said.

The minister was keen to highlight the opportunities presented by a “pan-regional partnership between south Wales and western England” which stretches from Swansea in the West to Swindon in the east.

“Over 140,000 people now cross the Severn Bridge every day,” he noted, reminding delegates that his government had scrapped the tolls on the Severn Crossings in December 2018 – a year after the bridges were handed over by Severn River Crossing plc to public ownership.

He said the Western Gateway could become “one of the fastest-growing economies in the UK and a science superpower in its own right.”

“The Western Gateway provides a unique opportunity to level up communities on both sides of the Severn. Already a powerhouse for cyber and tech, research, engineering and the creative industries, the area has huge potential to create sustainable growth and help power the UK’s ambition to reach net zero,” he said.

The conference brought together leaders from across the area to explore how the area can level up communities at risk of being left behind, become the UK’s first green energy super cluster and capitalise on investment in green innovation.

On the establishment of an independent commission to look at the Severn Estuary as a source of clean sustainable energy, Katherine Bennett CBE, chair of the Western Gateway Partnership, said: “We’ve known for some time that the Severn has huge potential for creating clean renewable energy.

“With the second largest tidal range in the world, it has been estimated that this could create up to seven per cent of the UK’s total energy needs.”

The idea of a Severn Barrage creating electricity has been knocking around since the early 1980s.

The last time a Severn barrage was seriously considered was in 2008, when the government published its Severn Tidal Power Feasibility Study. But the Hafren Power plan collapsed in 2014 after it was rejected by three independent committees of MPs.