Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon gets planning go-ahead from UK government

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

Progress on the 320-MW Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon hydroelectric project in Wales took a significant step forward yesterday with developer Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay PLC receiving planning consent from the United Kingdom's Department of Energy & Climate Change.

The massive project, planned for Swansea Bay in Wales, would include a 6-mile-long sea wall that would generate power using rising and falling tides via turbines dotting its length.

Swansea Bay has been developing momentum over the past year, with the project accepted for consideration by the UK's Planning Inspectorate last March when it qualified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) under the UK's Planning Act of 2008.

"We need more clean and home-grown sources of energy, which will help to reduce our reliance on foreign fossil fuels," said Lord Bourne, Energy & Climate Change and Wales Office Minister. "Low-carbon energy projects like the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay could bring investment, support local jobs and help contribute to the Welsh economy and Swansea areas."

Though the UK's planning consent is indeed a positive step for the project, Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay (TLSB) must still clear a number of remaining hurdles before construction begins.

Chief amongst TLSB's challenges is securing a government subsidy for energy generated by the project, due in large part to estimated costs of the lagoon plant ballooning to more than US$1.5 billion.

The project is also still subject to Contract for Difference (CfD) negotiations, which would establish its "strict value for money considerations and affordability," per the Department of Energy & Climate Change.

Additionally, TLSB will need to demonstrate to the government that the technology associated with the project is viable, and address environmental concerns before receiving a marine license.

Still, the most recent approval is seen as a victory by TLSB chief executive Mark Shorrock, who envisions similar lagoon projects beyond Wales.

"We see it as a game-changer -- a scalable blueprint, paving the way for a fleet of lagoons that can work in harmony with nature to help secure the nation's electricity for generations to come," Shorrock said. "The tidal lagoons that follow -- at Cardiff, at Newport, elsewhere in the UK and overseas -- must each make their own compelling social, environmental and economic case to proceed. But they have a pilot project to guide them and a blossoming technical and industrial network to support them."

It is this burgeoning industrial growth that might ultimately make Swansea Bay most appealing, with TLSB committing in February to giving British manufacturing centers primary consideration. The project is one specifically recognized in a recent report published by Marine Energy Pembrokeshire as having a strong impact on the Welsh economy.

"Wales led the way providing the fuel for the industrial revolution," Shorrock said. "We are now entering the era of the climate change revolution. Wales can now lead this next revolution."

This announcement follows one made by TLSB last week, when the developer named China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. as its preferred bidder.

TLSB also selected Atkins Global as client's engineer for the project in August. The developer announced financial services firm Prudential had agreed to become a "cornerstone investor" in the project in October.

Pending other preliminary approvals and licensing, TLSB said it expects commercial operation of the plant to begin in 2019.

For more marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) news, visit here.

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