The future of the 320 MW, £1.3 billion Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project is at serious risk, according to a report in the London Times. The situation has been brought about by the continued refusal of the UK’s business, energy and industrial secretary, Greg Clark, to back the project, combined with restructuring at GE, a major supplier to the project.
A year ago a government-commissioned report from Charles Hendry, the former Conservative energy minister, supported Swansea Bay, but Greg Clark, the business, energy and industrial secretary, has declined so far to endorse the project or even say when he might make a ruling. Department officials have said that they believe the cost of the electricity produced by the tidal lagoon is too high. Initial output at Swansea Bay has been priced at £120/MWh, more even than the £92.50 envisaged for the prospective Hinkley Point nuclear power station. It is argued by proponents that the cost would fall to £60 as the technology develops and if new projects elsewhere in the UK come on stream.
The Times reports that a thousand high-value manufacturing jobs could be lost in the UK mainly at two of GE’s British plants, Rugby and at Stafford, which had been designated to construct the underwater turbines and to provide the electrical power systems needed for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and similar marine energy projects that could follow.
GE, which has been named as a main contractor on Swansea Bay with Laing O’Rourke, the construction company, is restructuring, with plans to shed 18 000 jobs worldwide. It is consulting on cutting jobs in Britain and without new work from a potential boom in tidal energy, it is likely that Rugby and Stafford would bear the brunt of the cuts. GE declined to comment, but pointed to its previous strong support for the plan. There are fears too that if the UK government did belatedly back Swansea Bay, GE could fulfil its contracts via its French plants.
The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would be the first marine energy project in the world of its kind, using a breakwater with multiple seven metre diameter turbines to harness the power of Atlantic tides. If the technology proved to be successful, it could be replicated in larger projects around Britain’s west coast.