Severn barrage row escalates

Friends of the Earth has added its voice to calls for government consultants to re-evaluate figures being used in a study to ascertain what technology is appropriate for one of the biggest renewables projects in the UK.

US engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff has submitted a report to the government on what technology should be used to harness the tidal power of the Severn estuary, which could provide up to seven per cent of the electricity consumption of England and Wales.

But campaigners and local groups say the study is biased and the government has already planned to adopt a £14bn tidal barrier.

"Billions of pounds of taxpayers money and the future of a major ecological site is at stake," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Neil Crumpton. "Yet from what we have seen as a member of the Severn tidal study steering group, we are rapidly losing faith in the competence and the fairness of the study."

Friends of the Earth said a more effective solution would be for up to 13 small lagoons to be built on the estuary bed.

The lagoons would fill with water at high tide, and then release the water slowly through turbines to produce energy.

The lobby group claims this approach would result in less damage to the local environment, including ecologically important wetlands, and also prove less disruptive to shipping channels.

However, the Parsons Brinckerhoff study prepared for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), claims this tidal lagoon option would be eight times more expensive than the barrage scheme and would not generate as much power.

Friends of the Earth claimed that the consultants have overestimated the costs of installation by using expensive design models in their estimates, while underestimating the amount of power the lagoons would produce.

Peter Ullman, chief executive of Tidal Electric, which submitted the lagoon option, told The Guardian that Parsons Brinckerhoff "had arrived at it's extraordinarily high numbers by ignoring the technology developer's design parameters and introducing its own design".

Parsons Brinckerhoff countered that the selection process is reviewed by an independent panel of experts appointed by DECC, and that all the options will go out to public consultation.

But Friends of the Earth insisted that the review board is similarly biased in favour of the barrage approach. "We are also concerned about a pro-barrage bias of one or more of the people chosen to serve on the board," said Crampton

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