THE FUTURE’S BRIGHT, THE FUTURE’S GREEN…OR IS IT?

3 Jul

I’ve handed over my blog this month to Rod Sturdy, who has very kindly written this article below about our Tidal Lagoon campaign.  The views expressed are his own, but clearly in support of the work that the Angling Trust and Fish Legal do.

Rod began fishing in his local park lake at the age of twelve, and from there he graduated to chub and roach from the river Tees in North Yorkshire. He now lives in Surrey within striking distance of the river Mole, as well as the Medway and the Eden in Kent and does a lot of surface carp fishing on small waters in the area. Latterly he has enjoyed winter fishing on the Test in Hampshire. He has contributed numerous articles on various angling subjects and personalities to ‘Waterlog’ magazine, as well as many posts on environmental and political subjects in support of the work of the Angling Trust on the ‘Fishing Magic’ website (www.fishingmagic.com).  He remains a passionate angler as well as a member and promoter of the Angling Trust.  

If you would like to support our campaign, please send a donation payable to Fish Legal to Eastwood House, Rainbow St., Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 8DQ.  

Rod Sturdy with a fine chub

Rod Sturdy with a fine chub

Rod Sturdy writes:

The proposed, and now officially approved, tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay has been the subject of some concern and intense scrutiny on the part of environmental and wildlife interests, not least angling representatives and Fish Legal.

The scheme will involve building 6 miles of ‘sea wall’ in order to harness the power, via turbines, of 4 tidal flows per day, at a cost of £750-850 m. The company behind the project, Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP), has a number of such schemes lined up at a total cost of £126 bn. The claimed output for this first one is 400 GWh, enough to power 120,000 homes.

The Swansea tidal lagoon, with its 6 miles of sea wall, is fairly huge. The next one on the list, Cardiff, is no less than seven times as large, with a claimed capacity enough to power 1.5 million homes.

Furthermore, TLP claim that, within ten years, tidal lagoons could be supplying 8% of the UK’s electricity needs. For comparison, this is roughly equivalent to the contribution of one of the UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations, Drax in North Yorkshire, to UK electricity needs.

From a conservationist, and specifically an angling perspective, this scheme leaves too many unanswered questions. A number of interested parties, including of course anglers, quite rightly remain very concerned about the possible impact on marine and freshwater fish migration routes and habitats. Essentially the scheme uses hitherto untested technology. Fish Legal has drawn attention to important shortcomings in modelling of impacts on the environment.

TLP has, as developers tend to do, claimed that impacts will be minimal, and that their scheme will actually benefit the local marine habitat.

Effective monitoring of the impacts of this scheme, which is due to start in 2016, still has to be agreed. It is all proceeding far too quickly for comfort.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, after pressure from Fish Legal, has insisted on an ‘Adaptive Environmental Management Plan’ being in place. This, it is claimed will allow modification of the way the installation is run if it proves that it is having an adverse impact. The problem with this is of course that it will involve efforts to correct something after the event, and then possibly too late in the day.

It really would be a crying shame if this project permanently disrupted salmon migration routes, not only to and from the Severn, Usk and Wye, but also with them a number of noted rivers in Wales such as the Neath, Afan and Tawe. The possibility cannot be ruled out, and the geographical area of potential impact is very large.

So let me say it now: I urge you to support the work of Fish Legal in its ongoing monitoring of, and challenge to, this potentially very damaging scheme. And when I say ‘support’ I mean cash donations to enable Fish Legal to carry on the campaign. And joining the Angling Trust & Fish Legal if you are not already an individual member.

We will be in for a prolonged battle, given the government’s clear determination to be seen to be supporting ‘green’ projects.

Greenness – or in political terms the drive to be seen to be greener than green – is now an established part of the political scene: for some years we have been susceptible to overtures from mainstream politicians when they assure us that their particular policies are the greenest ever.

The green factor is also highly significant in the marketing of many products: cars, washing machines and the rest bought by consumers who like the idea that the appliances they use do minimal damage to the environment.

But all that appears to be green is not necessarily blameless. Highly green-sounding ‘bio fuels’ are a case in point. Hailed a few years ago as the ‘sustainable’ replacement for fossil fuels, they are now largely discredited. The chief reason is that it takes vast areas of land to grow biofuel crops in sufficient quantities, which has resulted in rainforest being cleared on a big scale. Not to mention diverting large quantities of grain from food to fuel production, thereby raising food prices, disadvantaging the poor even more.

Old-fashioned ‘Greens’ used to lecture us about re-engaging with the landscape, the ‘good earth’. They told us that we should grow our own vegetables and produce our own power to cover our – necessarily modest – needs. Self-sufficiency on a small scale was the watchword.

But most of all the Greens told us to turn our backs on ‘finite’ fossil fuels, used to power the evil motor car and to power huge lorries transporting building materials for new roads, which were unnecessary because we should all give up private transport. Oh, and of course these same heavy goods vehicles were also used to distribute cheap, mass-produced supermarket food, which of course we should ideally have been producing in our own back gardens.

All so very last century now. And totally unworkable.

So the green emphasis has now understandably moved to ‘renewable’ energy sources. The real trouble with these is that, due to their relatively low individual output, they necessarily have an enormous footprint: unsightly, inefficient wind turbines by the score covering huge chunks of the landscape, acres upon acres of solar panels (although admittedly this particular technology is improving), not to mention hydropower installations everywhere.

And with this footprint goes an enormous potential for environmental damage.

Interestingly, a further downside to the Swansea scheme and similar future ones is that whilst they can without a doubt supply electricity, it is at a very high price. TLP is asking for a guaranteed price of £168/MWh, something which is set to push up domestic energy prices to new heights. And of course this factor would make the UK supremely unattractive to potential industrial electricity users.

It really does seem that many such ‘renewable/sustainable’ schemes are only considered in the first place because governments, obsessed with the bogeyman of global warming, are caught up in a desperate scramble to ‘go green’ and phase out fossil fuels. Because when examined carefully, the technologies governments go for are not really viable. Just consider: five tidal lagoon projects covering an enormous total area, costing £126 bn, causing who knows what environmental havoc…is it really worth the disruption for a small fraction of the UK’s electricity needs?

In addition, it would be the supreme irony if this type of ‘green’ installation were to turn out to be a significant nail in the coffin of an already threatened species, the Atlantic salmon.

Will our regulators protect salmon from tidal lagoons?

Will our regulators protect salmon from tidal lagoons?

A TLP promotional film naturally pushes out the ‘green’ PR message: the project is a great example of ‘eco-regeneration’, with the lagoon wall providing an artificial reef for the promotion of marine life. TLP also suggests that future lagoons could be used to enhance sea defences, given the prospect of rising sea levels.

It would be interesting to know the cost to the environment of tidal power and hydropower schemes in terms of construction emissions. TLP claim that the Swansea Bay scheme has a design life of 50 years. So how long before the huge fossil fuel input needed to build it is wiped out by the ‘green factor’, with all its claimed benefits for the environment? Some considerable time, I suspect, and perhaps a fair chunk of that 50 year life.

As things stand, I personally would favour nuclear power as a tried and tested, efficient as well as emission-free option for domestic and industrial energy. With modern know-how, and provided reactors are sited inland out of reach of potential tsunamis, they cover our electricity needs in a highly efficient and safe manner.

And as for fossil fuels, I think we have to accept that we will realistically not be free of them for some time to come. That’s not to say that I won’t be one of the first in the queue when the first really efficient, reasonably-priced electric cars come along…

But I digress, Let’s for the moment worry about tidal lagoons! Once more, I ask you to support the work of Fish Legal and the Angling Trust.

Rod Sturdy, Guest Blogger, 3 July 2015

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