3 Dec 2019

There is a Tide?

By David Slater –

It’s time we humans came to our senses – David Attenborough in the New Scientist (9 July 2019).

One senses that there is a growing realisation now, that we really do have to do something to stop this Gadarene stampede to extinction (no – not Brexit – Climate change). The politicians keep telling us that it is all too difficult – but all the difficulties, like the causes are manmade and hence can be man unmade – but we need to get on with it. The inertia and bureaucracy is stifling, but the goal is sustainability and survival – worth fighting for?

I feel personally feel that I have been fighting for nearly 50 years. In the 1970’s in an inaugural address to the Society of Chemical Industry’s Environment Group (as it then was!), I was asked what pollutant caused me most concern. My response – CO2, was obviously the wrong answer, it should have been lead, mercury, or CFC’s, because everyone knew that CO2 was not a pollutant. This was re- emphasised to me in the 90’s when I found I was not able to regulate CO2 emissions from industrial sources as there were no limits specified, or even envisaged (efficiency would take care of it). Luckily the coal fired sources were “dirty” enough so that we had some control of the acid rain: and when the Large Combustion Plant Directive was enacted, I was able to negotiate a phasing out of coal fired Power Stations by the year 2000. Unfortunately a change of Government and a subsequent reorganisation and emasculation of Pollution Regulation, meant that we have had to wait some 20 years longer to see coal fired power stations become redundant. (This illustrates well the power of vested interests). But this still leaves gas as a CO2 emissions problem.

To address this by providing an alternative reliable, renewable baseload energy source, in 2010 we in Wales, (The Waterloo Foundation) proposed to tap the power of the tides; of which the UK has some of the world’s largest potential sources. In 2015, we obtained planning permission to build the pilot project in Swansea Bay. DEFRA (Sir Ed Davey), the Treasury (George Osborne) and the Prime Minister (David Cameron) were all very much in favour and we were almost in the water when a little local difficulty (The 2016 Brexit Referendum) sent the whole Whitehall apparatus into stasis. (Where it seems to have been stuck ever since).

Into this vacuum, the vested interests and potential competitors- (established Generators, established renewables and speculative property developers) were able to pay the piper to kick it into the long grass. But even the classic tactic of commissioning an independent Review, backfired spectacularly when the excellent Hendry Report fully endorsed the project as a no brainer. So despite the acceptance by investors (who have invested some £55m to date) and communities of the soundness of the proposition, the timing did not suit the politics. But like the tides, time changes and now, the logic is immutable.

Nevertheless, through the foresight of the Welsh Government, the project has refused to fall over as required and there is increasing interest and attention being focussed on ways to circumvent the processes in Whitehall – perhaps a new Prime Minister can make a difference.

The tide is starting to turn. We are seeing it more and more in the realisation of the implications of more frequent extreme weather, David Attenborough’s programs, speeches and articles, the Extinction Rebellion, and the UK’s commitment to belatedly (although admittedly in advance of many other nations) addressing the issue. So the attraction of a program that can provide the carbon free baseload to balance the inherently intermittent, instability of the increasing penetration of renewables like wind and solar, is becoming more evident to everybody; despite the negative lobbying. Put this together with the challenges of the closure of legacy industries like the Bridgend Ford engine plant, and the threats to traditional UK supply chain outlets and the case is overwhelming.

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In a nutshell

·       We can start to regenerate the South Wales industrial base and build a world first renewables industry with a UK supply chain to launch the fleet of lagoons

·       This would allow us to provide the dependable and flexible, phased baseload Grid energy needed to completely replace the current gas fired power stations and help the UK have completely carbon free, green power – (coal is now gone, gas will follow quickly)

·       Britain can be a self-sufficient renewable energy island! (Instead of buying fuel, power and technology from overseas – France, Japan, Norway, middle East etc.)

·       All this will be needed all the more if BREXIT happens (which is why it could appeal politically as a useful backstop?!)

·       Finally the efforts of the Welsh Government to date to keep the project alive should be recognised – they deserve the undoubted political kudos from backing a Welsh Flagship regeneration, green generation, legacy project for Wales and the UK.

So everything is there – “oven ready” – we just need some realism and commitment from everybody to get this over the line and start to go carbon free this year, not in 2050).

They killed the project once perhaps because it did not fit the politics of that time. But this is now an obvious solution to an urgent pressing global problem; and now we can and should move forward with confidence… “once more into the breach dear friends!”  It is a battle, but it is worth it for future generations. Personally, I shall persist and hope to prevail – and – “I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, ‘til we have built (a sustainable energy system) for Britain’s (at the moment?) green and pleasant land”.

David Slater was previously Chief Inspector of HMIP, a Director of the Environment Agency and founded the Risk Consultancy Technica (now part of DnV). As an Honorary Professor in the School of Engineering, Cardiff, he is involved in projects such as Marine renewables, Systems Risk and Cyber security.



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