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Swansea Tidal Lagoon: Hendry Review

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are their plans, if any, for the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, following the Hendry Review published in January 2017.

My Lords, work associated with the Hendry review and the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon continues. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy remains focused on it. Any decision will have to represent value for money for the United Kingdom taxpayer as well as the consumer.

I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer. Given that the Hendry report said that the Swansea pathfinder would cost households less than the cost of a pint of milk per year, that no country in the world is better placed to be a hub for the development and export of tidal power technology, and that the tidal barrier could be a significant user of steel from the nearby Port Talbot steelworks, does my noble friend agree that it is now time to do what the late great Lord Crickhowell did with the Cardiff Bay regeneration project—cut through the procrastinating and just get on with it?

I am grateful to my noble friend for paying tribute to our late friend Lord Crickhowell, who we all miss, and for setting out a number of arguments in favour of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Obviously, there are a number of matters to consider, not just those that she mentioned but the costs and environmental concerns. We will take all of those into consideration, and, along with the Welsh Government, make an announcement when it is appropriate.

The review of this project, which is very close to my home, was completed well over a year ago and was positive. What further evidence do the Government need?

My Lords, it is not a question of needing further evidence but of considering the evidence that is before us such as that relating to costs—obviously, it would be a very expensive operation—environmental considerations and all other matters. My right honourable friend the Energy Minister has spoken about this, as the noble Lord will be aware, to colleagues in the Welsh Government. All matters should be taken into consideration and an answer will be given at the appropriate time.

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that, in the economic analysis that lies behind the project, he considers the tremendous benefits in terms of recreation, much longer life and above all its use as a prototype? This could and should lead to the Cardiff lagoon, which would be highly competitive with other sources of energy, and could and should lead to tremendous exports. Countries around the world are following this very closely. If he needs any help with the economic analysis, as a professor at the LSE and former chief economist to the World Bank, I am happy to oblige.

I am more than happy to take up the noble Lord’s offer but he has also raised other matters that must be considered.

My Lords, what on earth is taking so long with this decision? Is it not an appalling example for business and everybody else that the Government are so slow on this matter? Yes, the cost must be taken into consideration, but it is a matter of taking a decision based on the information. Surely we should be getting on with it.

My Lords, it is reported that the Drax power station is supported financially by the Government with an ongoing subsidy to the tune of about £1 billion a year. To aid the consideration by this House and others of the merits of the Swansea scheme, will the Minister table the facts about Drax?

I am more than happy to lay before the House any amount of information about the Drax power station and, if the noble Lord’s figures are correct, confirm them. Obviously, those matters can also be taken into account.

My Lords, I support the interests of the noble Baroness, Lady Finn. Because of the delay of this project and the delay in electrification, is there not an impression that, in the words of President Obama, south-west Wales is at the bottom of the queue?

My Lords, south-west Wales—and the whole of Wales—is not at the bottom of the queue. As my right honourable friend the Minister for Energy made clear in another place this afternoon, she has been engaged in discussions with colleagues in the Welsh Government. A decision will be taken at the appropriate time but we do not want to be rushed into it.

My Lords, this iconic project would be a world first. It would power 120,000 homes, develop exportable technology and create a major tourist attraction for Swansea. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the subsidy—I acknowledge that a large one would be required to prove this pioneering form of energy generation—does the Minister agree that this decision has been in the long grass for long enough?

My Lords, I note what my noble friend says and the feelings of the House. As I said, the Government should not be rushed into an answer but I will make sure that my right honourable friend is fully aware of the concerns that have been raised.

Have the Government compared the risk to the public health of the type of lagoon and pilot project as has been proposed with the long-term risk of a nuclear power plant and all the potential dangers from it? In terms of value for money and the environment, the public health risk must also be assessed.

I do not think that I can take this much further but I note what the noble Baroness has to say.

Let me try the question the other way round. Is this project still open? Is it possible that we might get a positive response to all these requests? I draw the Minister’s attention to a letter sent to Mr Carwyn Jones by the Secretary of State in January, which described the tidal lagoon as,

“an untried technology with high capital costs and significant uncertainties”.

Is that not just the end?

I think that the noble Lord is trying to put the wrong interpretation on that. As my right honourable friend made clear in responses earlier today in another place, she is still open on this matter, no decisions have been made and she still wants to continue those cordial relations with colleagues in the Welsh Government. I have not got a transcript of what she said but no doubt the noble Lord can look at Hansard tomorrow.

My Lords, the Minister could take this matter forward by telling us when the decision will be taken.

My Lords, I remind the Minister and the House that the Bristol Channel is the route of the second largest rise and fall of tide in the world. It is more than 40 feet every day. We have tried since 2012, if my memory serves me correctly, to harness the power awaiting us. Please will the Minister realise what is happening here, because we cannot go on? Whether it is Cardiff, the Bristol barrage, the Swansea lagoon or anything, we should take a decision to back renewable energy.

My Lords, the noble Lord will find that the Government do back renewable energy. I can give him an assurance that I was aware of the figures he gave about the tidal variations in the Bristol Channel, but I cannot take him any further on when the decision will be made.