THE developer behind the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon wants to sit down with the council and Government representatives to find a way forward, despite the latter insisting the £1.3 billion project no longer has planning permission.
Richard Ambrose, project director at Tidal Power plc, said it would take tens of millions of pounds to start from scratch again and take forward any new tidal lagoon proposal.
The UK Government has said that Tidal Power’s five-year development consent order (DCO) for its £1.3 billion project lapsed at the end of June – a position shared by Swansea Council.
Tidal Power claims it has extended the DCO in perpetuity by starting land-based works – namely knocking down a wall at Swansea docks – on June 29, a day before the deadline.
Asked how he thought the situation could be resolved, Mr Ambrose said: “The advice we have received from our legal team is that we have ‘deemed’ (activated) the DCO.
“In our mind, it’s for Swansea Council to accept the DCO has been deemed.
“We have offered Swansea Council and Neath Port Talbot Council a collaborative meeting.”
Swansea Council said its legal advice was that the DCO had expired.
Mr Ambrose said: “The Welsh Government wants to see tidal developments going ahead – Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils want to see a tidal project in Swansea Bay.”
A meeting, he said, “would be a logical progression from this point”.
Mr Ambrose said Tidal Power wanted to hand over the delivery of its project to an industry consortium but was aware of the lagoon proposal dubbed Dragon Energy Island which is being explored by a Swansea Bay City Region task force.
He said Tidal Power’s privately-funded project – comprising a six-mile seawall and turbines generating the equivalent electricity used by 155,000 households – was a “vast opportunity” which “needs to happen now”.
He said: “We have got a downturn and are facing vast amounts of redundancies in the UK.”
He added: “If the project was to start from scratch, you’re looking at a delay, all the design and engineering work, regulatory approval – fees in the tens of millions (of pounds).”
A letter from Kwasi Kwarteng, a minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said Tidal Power’s DCO expired on June 30.
Mr Kwarteng said the company had had five years to fulfil its pre-commencement requirements and had not requested a DCO extension.
The letter said his department had asked for further information from Tidal Power on June 29 about its decommissioning programme for the lagoon – one of the key conditions.
“As the programme was submitted so close to the DCO expiry date and, following examination, was not in a suitable state to recommend approval, the DCO expired on 30 June,” said the letter.
It also summarised the UK Government’s refusal in 2018 to offer a subsidy for the electricity generated by the lagoon, saying it would have been more costly than nuclear power and considerably more expensive than offshore wind.
Mr Kwarteng added: “Notwithstanding the above and given the rapidly changing nature of the electricity market, the Government remains open to considering well-developed tidal range energy proposals, including lagoons, barrages and other alternatives.”
Mr Ambrose said a draft decommissioning programme had been submitted to central Government in December 2015, which he said was followed by a long pause as an independent review of tidal lagoon energy was carried out.
“I picked up the decommissioning programme in January this year,” said Mr Ambrose.
“I had a meeting with BEIS in January. Our team worked through a revision of the programme, BEIS did a review and said it was fit for full public consultation.”
He said the public consultation took place in April, prior to a re-drafted decommissioning programme being submitted in early May for approval.
Mr Ambrose claimed that Tidal Power didn’t hear back from BEIS, despite requests for feedback, until an email arrived at 17.01 on June 29 – the day before the DCO expired.
“This is where I’m disappointed with the process,” he said.
Asked why Tidal Power had not requested a DCO extension, Mr Ambrose said it had asked for “consideration for an extension” but had not formally requested one.
Asked if he regretted this, he said: “Personally, no. The point is that we wanted to get on-site and that was what we achieved.”
Asked if the company had funds to do much more, Mr Ambrose said he was not involved in that side of the business.
He said: “My role is delivering the project, not the economics.”
But he said the electricity the lagoon would generate would be cheaper than nuclear.
“This project I firmly believe will go ahead,” he said.
Swansea Council said it continued to take legal advice on the DCO matter.
“We wrote to Tidal Power plc on July 8 to confirm that the development consent order had expired because the company had failed to meet its requirements within the five-year timescale,” said a council spokesman.
“As the DCO has lapsed, no part of the previously authorised development may now proceed in the absence of further order or other consent.
“The council is monitoring the situation on-site and will take appropriate action should that be necessary.”
The Local Democracy Reporter Service contacted BEIS, but it did not respond at the time of going to press.
One key requirement of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon proposal was to acquire a marine licence from Natural Resources Wales (NRW).
Tidal Power plc project director Richard Ambrose said work was continuing with NRW on this issue.
“We are very close to agreeing on certain elements of the (marine) licence,” he said.
NRW said the company’s marine licence application remained “under determination” and that it was a particularly complex application.
The regulator said protecting human health, the environment, and the need to ensure that the proposal did not interfere with legitimate uses of the sea were key considerations.
It is consulting with bodies including the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to provide independent expert advice on the potential impacts the scheme could have on fish, among other information.
The project also needs a licence from The Crown Estate.