THE man behind plans to build a Swansea Bay tidal lagoon said he will probably leave the UK if he can’t start work on the project next summer.
Mark Shorrock, of Tidal Power plc, wants to start building a new road into Swansea docks by the end of June 2020 in order to prevent planning permission for the £1.3bn project expiring for good.
He has many planning conditions to discharge before then, and is seeking further backing from investors to help get this work done.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today (10 Dec), Mr Shorrock said seven years of developing and promoting the Swansea lagoon concept will have been worth it if the Swansea docks road got under way in time.
Asked what he would do if the project floundered, he replied: “Probably leave the country and focus on developing renewable energy projects internationally, because ultimately our business exists to halt climate change.”
According to Mr Shorrock, some large organisations in Wales – such as Cardiff Airport – want to enter long-term contracts with Tidal Power to buy the electricity generated by the lagoon and also a proposed solar farm within it. He claimed this would enable Tidal Power to access bank loans to build the lagoon.
Mr Shorrock said the company would need “to build and build” a book of clients who would each buy a small chunk of electricity.
Also speaking to BBC Radio 4 was former UK energy secretary Charles Hendry, who carried out an independent review of tidal lagoon energy and concluded that the Swansea project should go ahead.
His recommendation was not taken up by the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark, who declined to give the Swansea lagoon the financial backing to make it commercially viable. He said it was too expensive.
Mr Hendry said he was disappointed with Mr Clark’s announcement in June 2018. “My conclusion was that it was a good technology, that we had the second highest tidal resurces in the world, so if we can’t make tidal technology happen here, then we question who else could,” said Mr Hendry. “It’s not just energy, clean energy – it’s about the economic benefit as well.
If we want the jobs that go with that, then we should be looking at how we can lead in technologies.”
Another contributor to the programme said the challenge for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon was that costs had fallen dramatically for some other forms of renewable energy, and that it was hard to see how the Swansea project could keep pace with innovations in other technologies.
Labour and Plaid Cymru have pledged to deliver the Swansea lagoon in their General Election manifestos, while the Liberal Democrats and Green Party of England and Wales support new tidal power investment.
Tidal Power, which has raised some £37m from investors to date, would still need to obtain a marine licence from Natural Resources Wales to start any work in the sea off Swansea.
The Welsh Government said it provided one of Mr Shorrock’s companies, Tidal Lagoon plc, a £1.25m loan in March 2018 which it described as “still active”.
Angling groups object to the Swansea lagoon proposal because they are worried about its impact on migrating salmon and sea trout.
Nathaniel James, of Pontardawe and Swansea Angling Society, which manages fishing on the lower part of the River Tawe, said sea trout numbers had declined over the past six years. He added: “With salmon it’s been really bad in the last few years.”
Separately, a Swansea Bay City Region lagoon task force has been examining ways of making the tidal lagoon concept more cost-effective and more of an investable proposition.