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Tidal lagoon project 'could start new global industry'

Developing a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay could start a "new global industry" for the price of a pint of milk per household per year, the author of a Government-commissioned report has said.

Former energy minister Charles Hendry said lagoons that use the power of the tides to generate electricity could play a "cost-effective" role in the energy mix, help with security of supply, cut carbon emissions and bring opportunities for the UK supply chain.

He called for the Government to move ahead with a smaller "pathfinder" lagoon project, to build on work already done for a scheme in Swansea Bay whose bid for subsidies prompted the review.

He said the pathfinder project needed to be operational before a move to larger schemes, to address issues such as environmental impacts.

The £1.3 billion Swansea project could deliver more than 2,000 jobs during construction and operation.

Larger schemes in other parts of Wales and western England could generate five or six times as many jobs, along with wider economic benefits such as supporting the UK's steel industry and even helping flood prevention.

The "iconic piece of infrastructure" in Swansea Bay could become a huge tourist attraction and help regenerate the area, he said.

Mr Hendry said: "The UK has a world class tidal resource which people have looked at for generations and wondered how best we could make use of it.

"We have an opportunity now for the United Kingdom to use its formidable skills to a start a new global industry, to do so in a way that enhances our energy security of supply and helps meet our decarbonisation commitments, and at a cost for the pathfinder which is around the cost of a pint of milk each year per household."

The initial scheme, which would be supported by subsidies paid through consumer bills, would cost around 30p per household per year for the first 30 years, and backing it would be a "no-regrets" option, he said.

A large-scale tidal lagoon would be less expensive than offshore wind and significantly less expensive than nuclear over the first 60 years of its 120-year life.

Calculated over the full length of operation - which could be even longer than 120 years - its costs would be even lower.

The review's backing for tidal lagoon power was welcomed by MPs from South Wales, including Newport West's Paul Flynn, who said "tidal power is Wales's North Sea oil".

He suggested later projects could be linked to pumped storage schemes in the South Wales valleys, using electricity generated at times of low demand to pump water uphill from where it could be released to generate power when needed.

Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Power, the company developing the lagoon in Swansea Bay, said home-grown power from the tides is backed by communities, investors, environmentalists and politicians across the board.

"Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is a vision of how Great Britain can replace part of our ageing power station fleet with low cost, reliable power that also revitalises our industrial heartlands and coastal communities.

"When we pay our electricity bills, we are mostly supporting other countries' energy industries and other countries' workers. It doesn't have to be that way. Tidal lagoons will generate electrons that work for Britain and bring down bills."

Environmentalists welcomed the backing for clean power from the review, but some conservation groups raised concerns about the impact developing lagoons could have on nature in the wildlife-rich Severn Estuary.

The Swansea scheme could be operational by 2022, with larger lagoons generating power by the late 2020s.

The review makes a series of recommendations for the Government to develop a long-term strategy for the UK, including a competitive bidding process for companies to build the larger lagoons.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said the Government would consider the report and determine what decision was in the best interests of the UK's energy in the long term.

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