My attention was drawn yesterday to a piece in the Sunday Telegraph, by Emily Gosden the Energy Editor, about the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. (Read it here.) The ST piece itself did little more than quote from a report, ‘Response to call for evidence on Swansea Bay tidal lagoon proposals’ produced by Citizens Advice and submitted to an unnamed agency, presumably a UK government department that had requested submissions, possibly the Planning Inspectorate. (Read it here.) A similar piece, attributed to ‘Rupert Denholm-Hall Business Reporter’, was in this morning’s issue of Llais y Sais, and WalesOnline. (To be found here.)
According to Citizens Advice, the price guaranteed – by the UK government – for electricity generated by the Swansea Bay installation will be higher than other forms of generation and is therefore a bad deal for the consumer. In addition, alleges Citizens Advice, the process for arriving at the agreed price is unduly secretive. All damning stuff from experts in the field. For the alternative interpretation, check out the developers’ – Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay) plc – website here, pay particular attention to the ‘Project benefits’ section. Now I’m going to make a few contributions of my own in response to Citizens Advice.
The Citizens Advice report is very narrow in its vision, and simplistic and superficial in its conclusions. It says, basically, ‘This is big business ripping off Joe Public when there are cheaper ways of generating electricity’. It focuses exclusively on price. So my first response would be that this price is not set in stone, so don’t get your knickers in a twist over something that hasn’t yet happened and can be changed. If this is a ploy to pressurise the UK government into hard bargaining with the developers, then fine, though my worry is that Citizens Advice may be acting in the interest of discredited forms of electricity generation such as wind and solar: expensive, unreliable, and offering none of the benefits of a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. Benefits that the Sunday Telegraph overlooked, but I would have expected to be highlighted by the ‘National Newspaper of Wales’.
So what are these benefits’ of which I speak? Well, to begin with, let’s us look at the alternatives. Oil supplies are finite, as is gas (unless we rely on Mr Putin, and successors who may be even more unfriendly towards the West), many people are unhappy with nuclear energy, there is opposition to fracking, coal is being phased out, wind and solar energy are expensive and unreliable . . . which leaves us with, what? Well, there is a reliable source of energy that can – unlike wind and sunshine – be predicted years in advance and harnessed at countless points around our coasts. Swansea Bay is ideally located because it has the second highest tidal range on earth – so why not harness this power?
Then, the lagoon is going to be a big contract, providing over a thousand jobs during construction, using local suppliers, and putting a lot of money into the local economy. There will even be permanent jobs, on site, when the contract is completed. This is a direct benefit of the kind that is never provided by wind and solar ‘farms’. As this is a relatively new technology Swansea Bay could build up a wealth of expertise, both human and corporate, that could bring considerable economic benefits to an area where they would be most welcome. Benefits that need not be confined to Swansea Bay.
Staying local, the lagoon fits in well with other developments on Swansea’s hitherto neglected East Side and the docklands east of the river Tawe, while further infilling the gap between Swansea and Neath Port Talbot (the most obvious of all council mergers). Not only does it complement the SA1 development (see image) but the lagoon will also reach to the new Swansea University Bay Campus, which actually lies outside the city boundary in Neath Port Talbot.
As the images also show, the lagoon will be rather more than a generating plant. It will be an amenity for local people, where they can go walking, cycling, angling, etc; the lagoon itself would provide a perfect location for water sports. (Obviously the lagoon will have to compete with all the fun-filled leisure opportunities available at power stations, open-cast sites and wind farms, but I think it will manage such competition.) And those amenities will not just be for local people, for I can see the lagoon becoming something of a ‘celebrity’, attracting visitors from a wider area, and from around the world. In fact, the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon could be viewed as a leisure and recreation facility that just happens to generate a lot of electricity as well!
And who’s to say that the lagoon won’t become known to a wider audience who may never even visit the area. For Swansea Bay has a growing reputation as a location for movies and television series. The old Ford plant on Jersey Marine, which would overlook the lagoon, is now being used as a studio, and the steelworks in Port Talbot are an old favourite for ‘inferno’ backdrops and dramatic night skies. Then there’s Gower . . . Yes, Swansea Bay is more than Twin Town, great though that movie was.
Finally, despite what Citizens Advice would have us believe, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is not entirely a conspiracy of big business against the downtrodden masses of energy consumers. The project invited local investors, and I have family and friends back home who have put in thousands of pounds. Obviously most of the funding will come from institutional investors, but don’t overlook the Jack pound. A lot of local people, of modest means, are also backing this project.
For these reasons I tell Citizens Advice to report the whole picture, not focus on one aspect and, by so doing give a very selective and prejudicial view, that risks creating the impression that the project is being slammed in order to promote discredited hippy technology or the Severn Barrage. I’m sick and tired of Wales being ordered by Englandandwales organisations, however worthy and well-intentioned.
And to those running parent company Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd I say, having your corporate headquarters in Gloucester, with subsidiaries such as Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay) plc being no more than parentheses is a big mistake. The project upon which the future of your company hangs is Swansea Bay, so stop acting in a colonialist manner and get your corporate presence down there and recruit local staff!