Stephen Kinnock MP, Carolyn Harris MP, Stephen Crabb MP & Nick Clegg MP urge ministers to green light the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project as it ‘speaks fluently to the Government’s Industrial Strategy’.
SpaceX plans to fly two tourists around the moon next year, the first humans to do so in almost half a century.
After an even longer wait, 2018 should also celebrate lift-off for the UK’s very own lunar mission: construction of the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant at Swansea Bay, a project promising reliable moon power to the next five generations.
In the context of a national Industrial Strategy for an independent United Kingdom, this pathfinder project really does matter.
It challenges incumbency, it thinks long-term, it promotes self-sufficiency and a rebalanced economy, it protects and creates jobs in all corners of the UK, it addresses regional disparities in national productivity.
In short, here is a project that’s ripe for a Government decision and speaks fluently to the Government’s Industrial Strategy green paper.
Crucially it delivers, in spades, against the two areas of energy policy nominated by the green paper as being ‘higher priority’: securing affordable energy and industrial opportunity through innovation.
We know this because former Energy Minister Charles Hendry conducted a six month independent review for government. The Hendry Review finds that tidal lagoons can play a ‘valuable and cost competitive role’ in the energy system, and there are ‘few other energy sectors where the UK can realistically aspire to have such a significant supply chain’.
It concludes that a decision to back a pathfinder tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay is a ‘no regrets policy’ and should be seized upon swiftly.
Delivering so comprehensively against the tenor and pillars of the Industrial Strategy, and with the categorical assurance of the Hendry Review, one can only conclude that this project presents an acid test of the direction of UK industrial policy.
There is no shortage of Parliamentarians calling for action. Over one hundred MP’s, from across eight political parties, representing the major parties in every part of the United Kingdom (including over fifty Conservative MPs) have written to encourage Secretary of State Greg Clark to enact the recommendations of the Hendry Review.
Consensus is also on show at the National Assembly for Wales and across British and international industry.
The breadth of advocacy is significant. From Pembrokeshire’s port and docks facilities, to Sheffield’s steel forges and foundries, a world-beating British tidal power sector promises a vital new market opportunity for traditional businesses across Wales and the rest of the UK. Charles Hendry describes it as a ‘lifeline’ for some.
In Swansea Bay itself, there is much hope for the confirmation of an ambitious £1.3bn City Deal in the Chancellor’s Budget. It would be nonsensical not to ‘double the deal’ by enabling £1.3bn of private capital investment in a tidal lagoon project that is both incredibly popular and ready to go.
Indeed, the Treasury should be attracted by the multi-billion pound programme of UK-wide private capital investment unlocked by a fleet of tidal lagoons. As demonstrated at Swansea Bay, this infrastructure can fulfil a variety of roles in the local and national economy and deliver a positive Net Present Value.
In terms of energy policy, a major attraction for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy must surely be the relative certainty of delivery offered by a UK tidal lagoon programme.
It is clear that the roll-out of new nuclear power stations will not be without its set-backs. With costs coming down and UK content going up, bill payer support for offshore wind is starting to pay dividends. But a secure system is a diverse system.
With tidal lagoons, we already know that the technology works. We know where the future cost savings will come from, and projects can be taken from sod to spark in 4-7 years. The Tidal Lagoon is a market response to a set of complex national challenges, helping us decarbonise the economy, replace ageing power stations and revive regional economies and traditional industries.
This project is far too important for us to see it disappear down a bureaucratic black hole, and by approving the pathfinder Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon the government would be placing real meat on the bones of its emerging industrial policy.
Given the strong support both within Parliament and among local communities, on top of Hendry’s recommendations, there is little reason for delay. And so the government should, if not within the budget itself then at least before Article 50 returns to the Commons and sucks up the political oxygen, give the tidal lagoon pathfinder the go-ahead.
Stephen Kinnock is the MP for Aberavon; Carolyn Harris is the MP for Swansea East; Rt Hon Nick Clegg is the MP for Sheffield Hallam & Rt Hon Stephen Crabb is the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire.