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Tom King: the Severn Barrage deserves Government support, not fracking

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As Peter Hain describes the Severn Barrage project as ‘dead in the water’, Tom King considers where the Government’s energy priorities should really be.

Peter Hain, who quit Labour’s frontbench to campaign for the Severn Barrage, has today announced the project is effectively dead in the water so long as the Coalition remains in power. Promises of the “greenest government ever” now seem a distant memory, as the Tories and Lib Dems pursue an unsustainable obsession with non-renewable energy sources.

As countries like Germany turn their back on nuclear and face a green future, Britain is ploughing ahead with a new era of nuclear power with little scrutiny of the plans and uncertainty over just where radioactive waste will be stored in future. Meanwhile, shale gas is heralded as the panacea to spiralling energy bills, with complete disregard for the environmental consequences of burning more fossil fuels and of the potential for earth tremors and contaminated water sources that are associated with fracking.

In contrast, the Severn Barrage provides a source of cheap, clean and sustainable energy with a lifespan double that of a nuclear plant, standing at 120 years. Once completed the Barrage would be one of the largest power stations in the world and would meet 5% of the UK’s energy needs. It is equivalent to three or four nuclear reactors or 3,000 wind turbines and would offset 7.1 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

Britain is already far behind when it comes to harnessing tidal power. France has been reaping the benefits for nearly 50 years, with the La Rance Barrage providing the country’s cheapest energy and delivering a sustained economic boost to Brittany. A Barrage across the Severn could do the same for Britain. A £25bn investment, all from private sector sources, would generate 50,000 jobs in the South West of England and South Wales and produce the cheapest energy in the UK for at least 90 years.

With such a strong case in favour, its difficult to see why the Government lacks the long term vision to back the Barrage. The project will not cost the Treasury a penny and could in fact generate savings for the public purse as well as increasing tax receipts by getting people into work. The determination with which fracking is being promoted seems all the more bizarre when a Severn Barrage would produce energy at a quarter of the cost of nuclear, coal and gas whilst being truly renewable and fossil-fuel free. As tides can be accurately predicted for centuries to come, a Barrage will offer energy as secure as it is sustainable.

For an island like Britain to import 30% of its energy, whilst ignoring the potential power of the waters that surround us, makes very little sense. Labour’s plan to cut energy bills, create green jobs and deliver a sustainable and secure way to keep Britain’s lights on must include a clear commitment to the Severn Barrage that far exceeds the Tories’ determined pursuit of out-dated and dirty energy.

tomkingTom King is a student and Labour Party activist. He is Secretary of Student CND. He tweets at @tomilo.

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