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Swansea Bay axe has fallen years too late

Jack Simpson

As MPs voted in parliament last night to move Heathrow’s third runway a step closer, the death knell tolled for another much-delayed UK infrastructure project.

In truth, the government’s announcement not to support the £1.3bn Swansea Bay tidal lagoon was inevitable.

Whispers that the project was on borrowed time have been circulating for weeks.

In a statement to MPs, energy secretary Greg Clark said Tidal Lagoon Power’s proposals did not meet value-for-money requirements.

With a construction value of £1.3bn, the government insisted that the power generated at Swansea Bay would cost £900m more than the same amount from offshore wind.

The capital cost of Swansea per unit of electricity each year would be three times that of Hinkley Point C, it added.

While TLP has questioned the government’s figures, Mr Clark told MPs the “inescapable conclusion” was that costs would be far higher than alternatives.

Yet his apparent confidence in his decision raises serious questions as to why it wasn’t made months or even years earlier.

We have known the capital costs of Hinkley for several years. We are already aware that wind power is cheaper and could drop further. And we have known for some time the high strike price Swansea Bay was proposing.

In January 2016 in a statement similar to Mr Clark’s, the then prime minister David Cameron voiced his government’s reticence in committing to tidal power due to cost fears.

Since then, the government has strung TLP along, not to mention other potential developers and suppliers. 

Many have invested in a tidal pipeline that now looks unlikely to materialise.

The government-commissioned report by Charles Hendry last year, which called for Swansea to be built but was ultimately ignored, gave many false hope. 

Earlier decisive intervention was needed on Swansea Bay and TLP’s proposals.

This would have saved money and freed up time to explore and develop cheaper alternatives, rather than endlessly dawdling over a project the government always looked destined to reject.

On the day Heathrow finally went through parliament following years of delays, it’s clear that government needs to get better not only at approving major infrastructure projects, but at rejecting them too.

Readers' comments (1)

  • As you say, if Swansea was such a non starter why wasn't it rejected years ago. Also the minister's reasoning reminds me of day 1 of a QS training course, that a primary school class could tell you the lowest number in a tender assessment.
    There are two factors which should have been considered and included in the recent announcements:-
    1 Hinckley Point energy security will depend on China.
    2 Heathrow has a 40 year history of BAA and LHR broken promises re expansion (and reinvention of the construction industry), and to cap it all it announced the day after its victory that it is to become a Dutch company because of Brexit.
    As far as renewable energy is concerned:-
    1 - wind power is random, unpredictable and a blot on the landscape.
    2 - solar power is more predictable, but if you think that is good you should see what the moon can do. An astronomer can tell you the potential power which can be generated every hour for the next few hundred years and furthermore it can be precisely controlled by tidal capture. No other 'renewable' source can do that.
    An industry expert said some years ago that 10% of UK's power demand could be provided controllably by tidal capture around our coast. That is unique.
    And I don't remember it being put forward as one of the main advantages of the Thames estuary airport proposal. Maybe it could have mitigated the pollution arising from its associated worst offending industry currently in operation, which nobody wants to restrict, whether at LHR or anywhere else around the world.

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