Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I have put down this Question for debate because I believe that, in our uncertain world, it is imperative that the UK plays to its strengths, and in energy one of its real strengths is the range of its tides. Whereas at somewhere such as Gibraltar the tidal range is only about one metre, it can be eight metres in the Solway Firth or higher than 15 metres in the Bristol Channel. We also have tidal races around our shores and between our islands which flow at great speeds and with considerable power.
Of course, tidal power output is classed as intermittent, but it is a guaranteed and predictable supply. We know now how much power we can produce from a given site between the hours of, say, 6 am and 8 pm on today’s date in 2121. I say 2121 because, if we build a tidal lagoon now, we know that it will still be producing electricity, almost for free, in over 100 years’ time. We will be like the Norwegians, who get their current electricity for almost nothing because they harnessed their natural hydropower advantage many years ago.
Tidal power is our natural advantage, and we must harness it as soon as we can. Our territorial waters include around half of the European tidal resource. We have tidal races in the Solway Firth and the Severn Bore, with speeds of six and 15 miles per hour respectively. We have 11 out of 60 of the world’s top tidal bores and we must harness them. We also have tidal races between our islands, such as in the Pentland Firth or the infamous Gulf of Corryvreckan. Research in Shetland and Orkney has shown that anchored floating barges with large turbines underneath are an effective way of tapping into these races, albeit with each barge providing only up to five megawatts. But together, and from the north to the south of the country, they could create an attractive and constant supply, as could the Deep Green slow-current kite system being trialled by Minesto off north Wales.
There are also possibilities for barrages, especially where they provide other services such as transport links that enhance their cost-benefit analysis. Morecambe Bay is a very good example here, giving access and a much-needed economic boost from the M6 to Barrow-in-Furness in west Cumbria.
To me, the most compelling solution for harnessing our tidal power are large offshore tidal lagoons. Any site with a depth of between five and 10 metres and a tidal range in excess of five metres can produce guaranteed power. They are better than a barrage across a bay, because you can have turbines all round and not just on one side. This means they are almost half the price per output of power. They are different from the Swansea Bay barrage and other shore-to-shore barrages. They can be any shape—oblong, square, round or rectangular —and curve in any direction to follow exactly the required underwater contours for producing maximum return on investment. For instance, a 16 square kilometre lagoon planned for the Solway Firth would produce 350 megawatts.
There are about 20 ideal sites around the UK coastline. I invite your Lordships to imagine a wall of water in the Severn estuary that is about the height of this Chamber and several miles long. That is the sort of power that the Severn can produce four times a day. One lagoon in Bridgwater Bay alone, right next door to Hinkley Point, could produce 1,900 megawatts.
The advantages of these lagoons are many. First, unlike coal-fired, gas or nuclear power stations, they do not have to be shut down for repairs. If a turbine needs servicing, it is only one of 20 or 30. It is lifted out for maintenance and the effect on output is minimal as the rest just keep turning. Secondly, they do not upset shipping traffic in any serious way, because they sit at the side of any shipping channel in waters normally too shallow for large ships. Thirdly, their environmental effect makes only peripheral difference to the course of the tide, migratory fish, wading birds and so on. They have the support of the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the WWF and other environmental NGOs.
There are numerous sites for these lagoons in the UK, from north to south. With a seven-hour tidal difference between Bristol and Solway, and with the tides being used on both the flood and the ebb, that gives an almost consistent baseload power for England, even before we tap into the Scottish tidal ranges. Tidal lagoons could provide three times the capacity of Hinkley Point.
However, the UK supply chain desperately needs government engagement now. What the industry is seeking from the Government is enough support to allow for an initial project currently planned for the Solway Firth at a contract for difference strike price of £82 per megawatt hour for 25 years. The latest wind auction costs were at £57 per megawatt hour, to which one has to add £20 to deliver predictable power, so £77 for wind compared to £82 for a first-of-its-kind tidal power project compares very favourably, and is certainly much better than nuclear. Just remember the huge costs of the early wind farm contracts before its industry costs began to fall. The same rapid drop in costs would almost certainly happen to tidal power as the skills develop. Think, too, of the export potential of those skills; Canada, Alaska, Argentina, Chile and France all have suitable estuaries.
It is thought that, after this pilot project, subsequent tidal lagoons could have a strike price of £60 per megawatt hour, or even less, which brings the technology well into line with offshore wind schemes, and clearly well below the latest nuclear strike price. However—and this is important—even with the pilot project in Solway, if you take the mid-case forecast for wholesale electricity prices, it is likely that for the final decade of the support contract, the Treasury would actually make money from the Solway project. Then, after the first 25 years, for the following 100 years, the cost of the electricity would be minimal. Think of the benefit of that to UK industry, particularly in comparison with the relative short-termism of the more expensive nuclear options.
Above all, what we need from today’s debate is a clear signal from the Government that they would in principle support a value-for-money tidal lagoon proposition, or at least negotiate seriously with the main players. This would allow the businesses concerned to move forward and begin to create this exciting new industry here in the UK. As I said, we have the tidal strength in the UK—more than any other country in the world—and we must play to our strengths and harness our tidal power now.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Giddins, listed on the speakers’ list was unable to get here this evening, so I, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, am here in his stead. I say that only for the integrity of Hansard. I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on securing this debate and introducing it so accurately and passionately. I certainly endorse that passion and his combative position.
A huge struggle is going on around climate change, and ecological issues more generally, across the world today. The battle lines look utterly different from the situation in which the Paris Agreement was forged only a short while ago. On the one hand, the leaders of some of the world’s largest states, such as the US and Brazil, treat the goal of reducing carbon emissions with some scorn and are busy translating their rhetoric into action.
Far out on the other side, we find the climate emergency movement, which, as every noble Lord knows, has rapidly achieved global scope. The IPCC’s recent special report has lent impetus to its cause. It suggests that global warming beyond 1.5 degrees centigrade would pose serious threats to the continuity of human life on this earth. I am on the climate emergency side of this debate. We are nowhere near achieving the goals that would maintain the level proposed by the IPCC. Anyone who wants to see what lies on the other side should look at David Wallace-Wells’s book The Uninhabitable Earth. There are dystopias waiting.
All this might seem miles away from our local disputes over the Hendry report on the Swansea tidal lagoon project, but it is not. This country rightly aspires to be a leader in curbing carbon emissions and has a good claim to being such. Successive Administrations, to their credit, have kept and further developed the framework set out by the Blair and Brown Governments. However, acceptance of the implications of the IPCC’s findings changes the relationship between investment, both public and private, and risk. There is a new urgency to the transfer to renewable energy. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on this huge change in the renewable energy landscape. I hope he will agree that current initiatives must be combined with longer-term thinking about what a fully sustainable economy would look like.
The grounds given for rejecting the Hendry report proved contentious. Some have questioned the figures given by the Minister in the other place at the time, especially the comparisons with nuclear energy. Perhaps the Minister might want to comment on that. However, it is good to see that the demise of the Hendry proposals has prompted further initiatives. The plans for Dragon Energy Island in Swansea Bay have a different guise and essentially take the form of a public/private partnership. Thousands of homes would be built on floating platforms, receiving their energy from tidal power. Contracts would be set up by the local council and other public bodies to purchase electricity over specified periods. The project is designed to be long-term, and clients will be encouraged to take out long-term contracts based on buying electricity at a set price.
It is claimed that there is huge support among the wider public for this scheme and it will be good to hear the Minister’s views on how the project might be taken forward. Perhaps, if he is willing, my noble friend Lord Grantchester could comment on reports that Mr Corbyn has given a commitment to push ahead with the tidal lagoon project should Labour come to power. Has any thought been given to the sources of such funding, or is it just a vague promise?
The Government often talk about the UK being a leader in this and that. Is tidal energy not exactly one area where the rhetoric can be translated into reality, with the appropriate mix of government seedbed investment and private sector involvement? We have to look internationally. Does the Minister think there are lessons to be learned from the Sihwa Lake tidal power station in South Korea, perhaps currently the world’s leader? The electricity generated by that plant every year is the equivalent of 862,000 barrels of oil—a saving of over 315,000 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions of 100,000 cars.
China is planning huge investment in tidal energy schemes. How far are the Government actively tracking these? In harnessing tidal power, China is likely to move as fast as it has in other areas of renewable energy. After all, China became by far the world’s largest producer of solar panels and wind turbines in less than two decades from start to finish. China’s tidal energy project on Xiushan Island, installed in 2016 with amazing rapidity, as always happens in China, has claimed a world record, having generated over 800 megawatt hours of power since that time, all supplied continuously to the grid. We are relying, very controversially, on Chinese as well as French expertise in building Hinkley Point. Do we want the same to happen with tidal power? I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that point.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, on securing this debate. I feel somewhat intimidated by the two previous speakers, who have a lot of expertise in the area we are discussing, but this is a very important and timely debate about technology that we hope will reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and therefore contribute towards the sustainability of our globe.
As has already been said, around half of Europe’s potential wave and tidal resource is thought to be in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that this resource could generate up to 20% of the UK’s current electricity demands. Yet no large-scale tidal lagoons or wave technology projects have been developed here in the UK, and over the years, UK Governments have been very timid in their support of this source of sustainable energy. They have also missed a great opportunity to support cutting-edge tidal energy projects. This is despite the fact that the UK is in a very advantageous position to establish a natural lead market for marine energy technologies, both wave and tidal. There are favourable natural conditions here in the UK. Globally, the UK is leading on planned power projects and there are a number of major industrial players in this sector. In addition, the United Kingdom has several world-class testing facilities and a variety of public funding mechanisms —the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was talking about how we could use those to promote lagoons.
Despite this, the Government have continued to reject various projects. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has already talked about the scheme in Swansea: as early as 2013, a government department rejected that scheme as “not cost effective”. Again, as the noble Lord pointed out, the Government did not listen to the Charles Hendry report of 2017 either, despite the fact that the report said that this was,
“an … opportunity where the UK can … aspire to be the global leader”.
The Government concluded that the scheme was not value for money. As the noble Lord also pointed out, there are some queries about the costs. We also heard clearly from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, that the costs are actually fairly comparable and that nuclear is not cheaper than what was proposed. However, if we consider that easy-to-reach oil and gas will start to run out, that global energy demand is rising and that the commitment to tackle climate change gets stronger and stronger, surely the case for wave and tidal power also becomes stronger and stronger.
I found the Library briefing for this debate extremely helpful. One thing stood out for me from it, which was the title of one of the links:
“UK missing opportunity as it swims against tidal energy”.
It invited me into reading the article from Professional Engineering of February this year, which turned out to be very interesting. It highlighted the recent success of a single floating turbine off the coast of Orkney and said that in 12 months, it,
“generated over 3GWh—more than the whole Scottish wave and tidal sector managed in the 12 years up to 2016. It supplied energy for the equivalent of 830 households, weathering the worst winter storms … in the process”.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned that there was also positive news about tidal turbines in the Pentland Firth between Orkney and the mainland, indicating a generation of 8 gigawatts. Yet the Government seem determined to miss the chance to help the UK take the lead in the tidal and wave energy sector. This parallels the stance taken on onshore wind in the 1970s, where it is now quite clear that we missed the chance to take the lead. Denmark and Germany stole a march on us—we also heard about China from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—and in 1981, the first large-scale wind turbine in Orkney came from Denmark. We ended up being a net importer of onshore wind technology.
Given this situation, it is not surprising that my Liberal Democrat colleague in another place, Alistair Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland, questioned the Energy Minister, Claire Perry, in March this year about the importance of financial support for the sector. He asked for assurance that financial support for marine renewable energy would be fully recognised in the forthcoming White Paper. Her response was not totally negative but there was no commitment. I was also interested in another exchange in the Commons in April this year when Dr Alan Whitehead, the Labour MP for Southampton, Test, whom I have worked with over a number of years on these issues, questioned Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Universities, Research and Innovation. He asked the Minister to acknowledge that marine and tidal power had been almost strangled at birth by government indifference and even active hostility. Having prepared for this debate and followed energy matters over the course of my parliamentary career—more than 25 years in both Houses now—I believe there is a lot of truth in Dr Whitehead’s observation.
With climate change at the top of the agenda for not only politicians but the general public, as we have seen over recent weeks, along with our commitment in the Paris Agreement to decarbonise and the need to support cutting-edge British technology—whether we are in or out of Europe—the Government need to seriously re-examine their record on a lack of support for marine and renewable energy. It is 10 years since the Climate Change Act became law and on 2 May this year, the Committee on Climate Change stated that now is the time to set a more ambitious goal for reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions. It recommended ending our contribution to global warming within 30 years and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, in line with the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement. Surely the time has come for the UK Government to embrace the role of wave and tidal renewable energy, to enable us to contribute to this zero target by 2050.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for initiating this important debate. It is important because it has to be worth exploring any form of power generation that harnesses natural resources to provide baseload power, so long as any potential harm to the environment can be mitigated. I was particularly interested to hear more about offshore tidal lagoons: £82 per megawatt hour for 25 years is more than competitive for a nascent technology. The trick has always been to develop a technology that is scalable and commercially viable.
Tidal power has been of particular interest to me because for 40 years, I have lived in the hope that Wales will be the first country to discover how to harness the power of the sea to generate our power. After all, we have the largest tidal range in the world bar one: the Bay of Fundy in Canada—I have always wanted that to be a Trivial Pursuit question. We have been talking about this for so long without coming to a resolution. Maybe that is just the way of the modern world; in the 1950s, it took less than five years to move from a few lightbulbs powered by nascent nuclear fission technology to the first output from a commercial-scale nuclear power facility.
In 1978, I wrote a dissertation as part of my IB at Atlantic College on the costs and benefits of generating power in the Severn estuary. Sadly, my younger self threw it out, not realising its future potential as a resource, but I remember concluding even then that the environmental impact of the proposed barrage did not seem to justify either the amount of power that it would generate or the cost of its construction. In time, the latter might have been mitigated if turbines had been integrated within the structure of the Second Severn Crossing, or the Prince of Wales Bridge as it is now called. We were also in an era when North Sea gas reserves were lulling us all into a false sense of energy security.
In common with many, I was disappointed that the Government did not follow the recommendations of the Hendry review. I was disappointed for Swansea given the regeneration that a large infrastructure project of this nature would inspire, as well as jobs in the supply chain, tourism and scientific innovation. However, even I recognised that the required subsidy of £305 per megawatt hour meant that it probably did not make a lot of commercial sense initially. But it could have provided proof of concept. As the Hendry report indicated, promising innovations and technological advances could have been made as part of a tidal lagoon programme that might have helped drive costs down. As it is, it joins the long list of potential investments that have been described as Wales’ artists’ impressions.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned, exciting new technology which can operate in slow-current water is being trialled by Minesto off the coast of Holyhead in north Wales. This “deep green” system operates a tethered kite-shaped turbine, its 12-metre wing carrying a turbine, generator and control system attached to a concrete cable between 80 and 120 metres long, and flies on the hydrodynamic lift provided by slow tidal currents.
The company believes that, in time, the power generated from this site alone could power more than 60,000 households. It is quick to install. The company began installation in May 2018 and, in October, successfully generated electricity. All this was achieved with private capital and only €13 million of investment from the European regional investment fund through the Welsh European Funding Office. It is an encouraging development. In comparison, in 2003, with the support of the then DTI, The Engineering Business Ltd designed, built and installed the world’s first full-scale tidal stream generator, a 150-kilowatt Stingray generator, in Yell Sound in the Shetlands. It had no significant environmental impact, but the power it produced was surprisingly intermittent, the cost of the technology was high, and installation and maintenance difficult. It was also generating power in an area where demand was low and the cost of transmitting it to the grid high. The project was terminated. Technology has indeed moved on.
How do we encourage the private sector to invest in renewable energy? It is estimated that the UK has reached the point where huge new investment in power generation is needed, up to £350 billion by 2030, to keep the power system in a fit state—not just in terms of low-carbon technologies.
The problem is one of trust and timescale. In most commodity markets, scarcity of supply drives up prices, which in turn attracts capital investment to generate increased profits. This has not happened either here or in the rest of Europe, where power stocks are one of the worst-performing sectors. Distrust between the political and industrial communities has not encouraged investment in a field where the period between the emergence of a new technology and its commercial exploitation can be measured in decades. Set against a political cycle of four to five years, this is not surprising.
The Energy Act 2013 introduced CfDs, the long-term guaranteed price for output that was designed to find a strike price sufficiently attractive to potential investors to finance low-carbon new build but low enough to be acceptable to government and consumers. In the case of new nuclear and tidal, this has manifestly not been enough.
The Government need to take that leap of faith by supporting the new schemes that have followed on from Swansea, which promise greater efficiencies and lower costs than the original. The same will be true of battery technology, small modular nuclear reactors and even an Iceland interconnector. To do that, we need strong leadership from government, common sense from the Green movement and confidence among the scientific community that they be allowed to operate in a healthy, supportive environment. While we cannot take the politics out of energy, the current buzzword is compromise. Without that, we shall never produce the mix of technologies that is necessary to meet our energy needs.
My Lords, this debate has already become something of a no-brainer. Quite a lot of what I wanted to say has been said, so there is no point in repeating it, but I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for asking the Question which has generated the debate.
The context is one in which we see a climate emergency, an increasing number of councils across the country responding to it and the other place in Parliament recognising that. Whatever we think of Extinction Rebellion, it has raised the public profile and urgency of the climate change debate and the environmental awareness of what is required of us as legislators. It cannot be business as usual. We need new thinking and new ways of doing things to meet the challenge of being carbon neutral or carbon zero by 2050 or sooner.
For obvious reasons, this country is a great maritime nation. We have been reminded of this today, with the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings in which many of our fathers would have taken part. Earlier today, I was at the annual service for Trinity House. It was founded in the early 16th century as a guild of mariners to bring good order where there were inexperienced and unregulated seamen endangering life and cargo. It was probably also a good move for defence and profitability.
Sometimes, people behave badly and need good governance. It is increasingly clear that our continuing dependence on fossil fuels is people behaving badly. Good law and good governance also encourage good behaviour, and in this case we need to encourage new thinking and a change in behaviour. We know the rich resources that are around the UK; they have already been rehearsed. The task for government is to create a stable and predictable framework for investment, and to move from experimental to developmental to commercial, so that the UK can make the most of its innovative marine technologies and grow opportunity and business in a global market.
Christiana Figueres, who chaired the Paris climate change talks, said at the conference in San Francisco in September that we are moving faster than we could have predicted, and what is making the difference is climate leadership, market forces and digital technology. However, this is not just a technical problem, whether scientific, economic or political. We need to make space and opportunity for the best minds, the biggest hearts and the greatest souls to exercise leadership. That is partly about vision and spirit, but also about regulation and investment. There is growing concern about our slipping back and accepting a rather modest pace of change in relation to renewable energy. It is an area that needs investment—private and public partnership—which will pay dividends in jobs and the economy, and realise the potential of energy that will be renewable and is sustainable.
The question for Her Majesty’s Government, asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is a no-brainer. The response needs to be substantial, determined and transformative.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on securing this debate, because the subject has always been of great interest to me. It must have been nearly 50 years ago, when I was a young engineer, that I worked on the Severn barrage project. It was in the days when big projects were great fun. We built the Thames barrier—I did not build it, but others did—big airports in the middle of the countryside and the Severn barrage. I remember people at the time saying, “We might need 500 million tonnes of rock, but we can knock down a few Welsh hillsides and put them in the sea; that will be all right”. Somehow, we have to build a piece of concrete, presumably, that will take all the turbines that the noble Lord mentioned—he is quite right—get them out there and sink them as a big caissons, a bit like the D-day ones 20 or 30 years on. We will have a nice road and railway across the middle and that will be fine.
As the noble Lord said, the benefit of tidal power is that you can predict when the tides will flow. We looked at Morecambe Bay and the Severn and found that, because there was a difference of three hours between the tides—there is always a difference of three hours, I am told—we could get a consistent output of power, presumably with suitable connections between the two. We are a long way from that but you can predict it, which makes it very different from wind turbines, which have a really good place in our energy mix now but you cannot predict them as well. So I am a great believer in tidal generation. Where I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is that I think the technology, as many noble Lords have said, has moved forward to underwater turbines, either fixed to the seabed or on pontoons. The Devon and Cornwall local enterprise partnership is looking at pontoons for putting a windmill in the air and turbines underneath, moored offshore. That seems the best of both worlds and a technology we should be looking at to harness the tides. We must harness them.
Many noble Lords have talked about good locations and there are many of them. I am sure it can be done. My worry about barrages goes back to my time spent looking at this project. We ended up getting worried about quite a few things. In the Severn, birds are obviously very important—not just at Slimbridge but in quite a few other places. They are in other places, too. Silting would be a serious problem in the Severn, not just if there were a barrage across the middle, but even if it were something like that at Swansea Bay. You can never tell, without doing a great deal of work, how much the silting will change. Will it get better or worse, and how much maintenance dredging would you have to do if you wanted to keep shipping? Of course, the Port of Bristol has always been very much against the Severn barrage, as noble Lords will understand, for very good reasons.
There was also a proposal, I think, as part of Boris Johnson’s idea of building an airport in the Thames estuary, to put a bridge or a dam across the Thames, not only to be able to get across by road or rail but also to generate electricity. The tidal range is much less on the Thames than on the Severn, but the silting problem would have been just as bad, and it is bad enough there anyway. What not everybody seems to appreciate is that you have to find all the rock—it is mostly rock, I think—to build such barrages. To take the example of Swansea Bay that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned briefly, one proposal was to get the rock from the east side of the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, where I live, from an old quarry. All the rock would have gone out by sea, quite a few jobs would have been created locally and there would have been very little extra traffic. The environmental fuss that was made, rightly or wrongly, about taking a comparatively small amount of rock to build this, compared with going all the way across the Severn, was quite surprising to me.
We have to recognise that, in the state we are in now, when we are all very good at protesting at things and opposing things—I am quite good at that myself sometimes—we have to think about the best way of avoiding too much disruption. I suspect that with something like the Severn barrage or Morecambe Bay, you would end up getting the rock from somewhere like Sweden or Norway, or perhaps the Outer Hebrides, with lots of rock to ship. We may have moved on and I hope we can therefore direct more attention to the new technologies, as I call them, of underwater turbines, than we do at the moment. I know that the La Rance barrage in France works well, but that was built a long time ago. It may be therefore that the technology of barrages is being overtaken by the technology of underwater turbines, such as those on board barges or on the seabed.
The noble Lord said that once one is built, there is no maintenance. I slightly disagree with him there. Turbines, whether in barrages or on the seabed, need maintenance. The sea is a pretty hostile environment and there is not much you can do about that. You have to find a way of maintaining them easily, whether off a barge, a roadway or whatever. The way that the offshore industry—not just oil but windmills as well—has taken the technology forward will mean that that will get easier and therefore cheaper in the future. But it still needs doing.
The addition from the barrage point of view was mainly the cost of dredging. If you are trying to keep a shipping lane open or dealing with the changes that happen when the tide comes in and out or goes around, it will need dredging. We have all read about the River Nile and the Aswan Dam, which is completely different because it brings silt down from the middle of Africa. It may have seemed a wonderful scheme 50 years ago, but now it is almost full of silt. The same could happen in the Bristol Channel and in many other rivers. There is a great deal of silt in there and one never knows quite what will happen to the silt and how it will affect it.
I support the need to get much more energy for our country out of tidal movement. There are many places where we could do it; we should be encouraging the research and development of things that sit on the seabed, on barges or wherever they may be. I have a friend who has been dealing with the trials on the Pentland Firth. Amazingly, he has only a 15-minute window during which he can drop things on the seabed before the tide starts rushing in the other direction. They are doing it, so it works—it just needs a bit more development. I would therefore argue against any more lagoons of any size, which will cause more problems in the future. Together, I hope we can get the sum total of a great deal more tidal energy than we have at the moment.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, on his forensic and deep analysis in opening the debate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who gave us that very exact background on the subject.
I have an interest in that I live in Cornwall—in fact, the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Berkeley, do as well. If the Minister is down our way some time and goes to the north coast, where the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, lives—I live nearer the south coast—and visits Newquay or any of the other beaches along there he will see surfers at all times of year. I think the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is actually an accomplished surfer. I see him shaking his head—the rest of my speech will be true, rather than fake news. The Minister will see through the surfers the power of wave. I know this debate is more about tidal energy than wave, but we see it in practical action.
The background that many noble Lords have mentioned is the need to decarbonise our economy, as is laid out in the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, with which I am sure the Minister is totally au fait. I was particularly struck when the Committee on Climate Change presented its report at the beginning of last month on meeting the zero-carbon target in the UK by 2050. What struck me in the presentation by Chris Stark, its chief executive, was his point that, for the UK to meet that target—we hope the Government will accept that recommendation, although I know that the Minister will not be able to do so today—we have to do everything concurrently. In the past, even I have thought of going down the power sector route first, transport second, heating third and land use and agriculture fourth. We have to do that all together, as I have said in the House before.
Even I think on occasion that we have solved the power sector, so we need to get on with the rest of it—particularly heating, which is difficult. But the fact is that we have not yet solved the power sector. Last year, I think that only 49.6% of our electricity was generated by low-carbon, non-fossil fuel sources, which includes nuclear. We still have the real challenge of getting past that first base in decarbonising our economy. Even in that area, we have a big issue with nuclear at the moment, which is one of the low-carbon technologies. Nuclear power is fundamental to the Government’s clean growth strategy; we have Hinkley C, which I visited about a year ago to see how it was developing. However, we now know that further projects there, whether they are supposed to be delivered by Hitachi or Toshiba, are not going to happen. I cannot see a way that they will happen. Indeed, even if those companies were able to deliver, through finance or public support, we know that the National Infrastructure Commission has now said that there should be no more than one nuclear power station in connection with that programme. We therefore have a challenge: how do we reach decarbonisation just of the power and energy sector in time for us to meet those decarbonisation targets?
I welcome the Government’s continued emphasis on offshore wind—I wish they would get on with onshore wind as well, which is even cheaper, but they are not doing that. We have to look at other sources as well. As many speakers have said, our marine energy resource is larger off our shores than almost anywhere else in the world. The question therefore comes back to exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is asking: how do we get that to happen?
There are other benefits to some of these schemes. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about some of the issues with barrages. I certainly have never advocated, and never will, the full Severn barrage, which would be ecologically and commercially the wrong thing to do. However, we have much more subtle and sensitive ways to achieve this now, such as through other forms of tidal lagoon and tidal stream. Even on tidal lagoons, we have potential benefits such as flood control and leisure, and maybe other smaller benefits. We know from other renewable technologies that we have to get them going, and test and adjust them to make sure that ecologically they are right—we need to be sensitive about that to make sure that they are right as regards water movement, silting, and so on. However, we know that, on the whole, those factors can be overcome, and that as time goes on those cost curves come down. We have proved that in other renewable technologies—not so much in low-carbon nuclear, where the cost curve has tended to go the other way—but there must be that potential with regard to the shores of the United Kingdom and tidal and wave energy.
I say that costs can come down, which is why it is so important for the Government to enable this country to get to first base to start to see how these technologies work. We on these Benches are as concerned about value to the taxpayer as anybody else, but we know that we can achieve lower prices if we roll these out.
My question for the Minister is exactly the same as that asked by almost every other Member of the House so far. We have a fantastic resource, which we know in our hearts can be successful in the future and provide us with the leadership that my noble friend pointed out we did not get on wind turbines. How do we make it happen?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for bringing forward this debate on tidal power as we approach the anniversary of the Government’s disappointing response to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon proposals that would have developed this new renewable technology. The Government are due to produce their energy White Paper this summer, and this debate has been a good opportunity to remind them of the potential of tidal ranges and to seek their constructive response.
The Statement a year ago repeated the message of the Government’s dismal record on renewable energy. As on previous occasions, the Government left tidal technologies on standstill for two years without dialogue or communication, while other technologies were developing, only to issue the announcement to reject the scheme. At the time, there was widespread criticism of the Government’s interpretation of the scheme. This was a pathfinder project, where value for money needs appreciation beyond a strict cost-benefit analysis of the specific scheme. As the debate has highlighted, there is now a new potential renewable technology to add to the mix of future energy sources, a first and only in class, where the UK has unique features of leadership. It could have enhanced the development of energy storage from the quasi storage feature of many tidal lagoon schemes, as well as having implications for flood management. Tidal lagoon technologies come somewhere between tidal stream and tidal range alternatives, and this location in the Severn Estuary could have been the catalyst for a developing industry, with many leading skills in the area.
What thoughts are there now concerning overlapping benefits for the steelworks nearby at Port Talbot and the wider Welsh economy? How would the planned joint venture with the German thyssenkrupp have looked if this venture had gone ahead? The Welsh Government had been prepared to put funding into the project, with the prospect of creating 2,000 new jobs, providing power to 155,000 properties, which equates to around 11% of Welsh domestic electricity consumption.
Further long-term damage to the investment community may result from the effect of the Government’s handling. Once again, the Government’s disdain for renewables will lead investors to opportunities overseas, towards projects such as the Sihwa Lake tidal power plant in South Korea. Marine renewables could go abroad, taking jobs and investment elsewhere.
With last year’s announcement, are the Government cutting the tidal range sector out of the UK’s energy future? What are the Government’s views on other projects? I was grateful to receive other engineering plans for the Severn Estuary, such as the Abberton-Minehead barrage, and last month, a glimmer of hope appeared with the alternative plans for Dragon Energy Island, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Giddens, featuring a floating island in impounded water off the coast of Swansea, with plans for modular commercial and residential buildings used primarily to generate tidal energy. It may be too soon for the Minister to be aware of the detail of this important proposal. However, the scheme could capitalise on the work and skills already present at Swansea Bay to retrieve the position following the Government’s disappointing decision last year. If the Minister has any assessment yet, it would be helpful if he could come forward with it today.
There are at least other promising signs, such as the tidal project on Merseyside. It was encouraging to see the launch of the next phase of plans to harness the tidal power of the River Mersey and Liverpool Bay earlier this month. The project could ultimately generate one gigawatt of electricity: up to four times the energy of all the wind turbines in Liverpool Bay. This would generate power for up to 1 million homes, equivalent to 500 football stadiums—a good measure of achievement on Merseyside. From designers, architects and technicians to marine contractors and construction workers, the project will create much-needed skilled jobs for the region. In leading the proposals, the city region’s mayor, Steve Rotheram, has demonstrated the exact transformational potential that devolution can produce, and the Government should provide leadership as the scheme makes further progress.
With another scheme still in its infancy, the Government must also show direction for the tidal power gateway across Morecambe Bay. The plan, similar to those already mentioned, but built as part of a road link, could create thousands of new jobs and generate energy for 2 million homes, meeting up to 7% of the north-west’s power requirement. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned other examples, and I was interested to learn more from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield.
While issuing those challenges to the Minister, I recognise that, as is the case with any new energy source, there are issues to be faced with tidal power. Any construction of tidal projects must minimise the impact on wildlife and the natural environment. Of particular significance will be the effect on distinct local estuary ecology, with impacts on migrating fish and birds that the creation of a new habitat could not mitigate. My noble friend Lord Berkeley mentioned the dangers of silting.
Of course, attention must be given to the effect on the public purse, which must be used wisely to generate maximum and widespread benefit. In the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Government set a moratorium on new low-carbon subsidies regulated by the discredited levy control framework, with the new control for low-carbon levies. This has raised concern that projects such as this and other new low-carbon energy developments could all be set at a standstill until they can proceed without any government support. Can the Minister clarify what the new control for low-carbon levies will mean for such projects, whether tidal or wave, or even other technologies such as geothermal? Will the new control persist at least until after the already committed expenditure on future CfD auctions has been made? Does the new control set the framework for the Government’s answer to the challenge of today’s debate?
This debate has laid out clear strategic benefits for the UK to develop tidal power. Within the renewables stable of technologies, it has clear advantages of regular, reliable consistency, even with the varying intermittencies as tides rise and fall. Only the Government can lead by providing support to nascent technologies and the necessary funds to fill the gaps. The UK has geographical advantages to exploit this resource, so that tidal power can contribute to and play an important role in the UK’s future energy mix—with the potential for global exports, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, noted.
The Government can address that today and, in the forthcoming energy White Paper, set out clearly their intentions by introducing new policy support mechanisms for wave and tidal stream technologies and embrace the new thinking proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, set out the challenge of meeting the new IPCC parameters and the decarbonisation targets. Against the background of the challenges to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, accelerating climate change, the challenge to meet zero net carbon emissions by 2050 and diminishing biodiversity, the Government are clearly missing the target.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for introducing this debate and emphasising that what we in this country should be doing is playing to our strengths. He mentioned that, unlike a lot of other countries, we have an awful lot of tides, just as we have an awful lot of wind, and that we should certainly make use of them. I hope that I will be able to set out what we are doing, what we feel we can support and what the constraints will be in the short time available to me.
I was very pleased that, in the main, everyone—excluding the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—took a relatively positive line on what we were doing. I think that we have a pretty good story to tell in this country. Over the past 30 or 40 years, under a variety of different Governments, we have reduced our emissions. My colleagues and I have said on many occasions that we have reduced them by more than 40% while seeing the economy grow. We want to continue that process.
I make clear in the presence of my noble friend Lord Deben that we will be responding to his committee’s report, with its challenging targets, in due course. My noble friend and other noble Lords would not expect me to presume on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by responding at this stage. We have been set challenging targets. We will want to make progress towards them. We will want to continue to provide leadership for the world, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, who talked about the failings of Brazil and America to acknowledge that there is any problem at all. Again, I remind the House that we are anxious that we should get the opportunity to host COP26 next year, and support from all sides of the House would create a very positive approach.
Living where we do, we obviously want a diverse electricity system that provides homes and businesses with secure, affordable and clean power. However—we keep coming back to this—we want that power at a cost that is both acceptable and supports continued growth. On many occasions, noble Lords have talked about the fact that costs come down. We have seen that with wind, solar and tidal; I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his comments there.
There is some doubt about whether one will see costs come down in quite the same way for a technology that is not exactly new and, as the noble Lord reminded us, is largely about pumping a lot of concrete and rock into the ground; after all, concrete is not the most carbon-friendly material. One cannot see technology reducing costs there in the same way as it has done for wind and solar. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, we must play to our strengths; we will do so for wind because we are a very windy spot. To do that, we obviously need to continue to bring down the costs of all forms of low-carbon generation; I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for mentioning how many there are. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, we have not seen the same cost reduction in areas such as nuclear as we are seeing with solar and wind.
I have some criticism of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for taking a rather negative approach to what the Government are and have been doing. We are investing a great deal of public funds—some £900 million—in innovation, including a further £177 million to reduce further the cost of renewables and up to £100 million in leading-edge carbon capture and storage and industrial innovation. That is to drive down the costs there and, as I said, we have seen remarkable cost reductions over the year. We have seen low-carbon generation rise from 54% in the third quarter of 2017 to a record high of 56% in the third quarter of 2018, due to that increased renewables generation.
It has been a record-breaking year. I will give noble Lords some figures, although I will probably be able to give even better ones in a few weeks’ time. We have gone a whole fortnight without any coal-fired generation, which we aim to get rid of. This is in a country where, some 70 years ago, a Labour politician said:
“This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish”.
Anyway, we are getting rid of the use of coal to generate electricity; as I said, we have just gone another fortnight without using any. Last year, there were nearly 1,800 coal-free hours over 10 weeks in total—so we are making progress.
I will deal with one or two individual issues. Since all noble Lords mentioned Swansea Bay, it is right that I address both that and the programme for six tidal lagoons proposed by Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd. I repeated the Statement made by my right honourable friend in another place on costs. We made it quite clear that the costs of that particular programme did not meet our requirements for value for money. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, had some queries about that, as did other noble Lords, but we published a summary of our value for money analysis. The figures were clear; even the developer himself conceded that the project required a CFD strike price three times that of onshore wind.
Further, that issue was looked at by both the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and the BEIS Select Committee, which published details of the additional requests from the Swansea Bay developers over and above a 35-year CFD at £92.50 per megawatt hour. It was expensive. That fact was echoed by the National Infrastructure Commission in its national infrastructure assessment, published last July, which stated that,
“tidal lagoon power will remain an expensive technology in the future. The extra benefits which arise from its predictability are not enough to offset its higher capital costs. And it will never be a large-scale solution: an entire fleet of tidal lagoons would only meet up to 10 per cent of current electricity demand in the UK”.
I appreciate that other tidal projects are being looked at. For example, the Mersey and the Solway—in my part of the world—were mentioned. Officials and Ministers in the department have had several meetings with those promoting such things. We will continue to hold meetings and talk to developers. For example, the Solway Firth tidal lagoon project is at much too early a stage of development: to date, the engineering details have not been finalised and the developers have not yet applied for the consents and licences that would be required to develop the site. Obviously, we will continue to look at that project, take an interest and make a decision in due course on whether the project is good.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned, it is important to take environmental considerations into account, but there has been no detailed monitoring at this stage. For example, no seabed surveys have been undertaken on the sites; I am thinking in particular of the one in the Solway. So at this stage we must proceed carefully before going further.
Other noble Lords, of which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was the first, mentioned the possibility of tidal stream energy. Again, that should be looked at. The Government have provided long-standing and targeted support for the development of both wave and tidal stream energy. Since 2003, we have provided £175 million of innovation funding in the wave and tidal sectors; we have provided almost £80 million of that since 2010.
That has supported many firsts, including the wold’s first megawatt-scale tidal stream turbine, SeaGen, which was deployed in Strangford Lough in 2008. There has been much mention of Orkney, including by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. I visited Orkney last year and met her colleague, Alistair Carmichael, and saw some projects that are being tried out there, with government money going into them. The world’s first pre-commercial array, the 6 megawatt MeyGen project off Caithness, received £10 million from BEIS innovation funding and is supported under the renewables scheme.
There have been some successful small-scale tidal stream tests over recent years. They are still at an early stage of development but they might be at the point where, as with wind, the price could come down—although I suspect that, for some of the bigger tidal barrages, the prospects are possibly less good. However, it must still be viewed in the context of the falling costs of other forms of low-carbon generation such as offshore wind. At the moment, their costs are five times that of offshore wind. I assure noble Lords that officials, Ministers and my right honourable friend Claire Perry will continue to engage with the sector to better understand its cost-reduction potential.
Finally, I reiterate that we will publish the energy White Paper in the summer, which will build on my right honourable friend’s strategy address in November of last year, setting out four guiding principles for electricity policy and addressing the challenges arising from the radical transformation of the energy system over the coming decades. It will take a long-term view of the energy system, out to 2050, and show just how we can deliver our climate change goals and the aims of the industrial strategy. At that point, or sooner, I hope that my right honourable friend will be able to respond to my noble friend Lord Deben and his climate change committee report.
I appreciate that my time is up. I hope that I have given a partially positive view of what the Government can do. There will be more we can do and further developments in all forms of renewable energy. Tidal may be part of that, and all forms of tidal—whether by barrage or otherwise—will be looked at.