Moves to open the gateway to tidal energy

Report is first stage in achieving green light for
proposed major Tidal Gateways projects at Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary

By Frank Simpson

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Once the green light is given in terms of final funding sign off for the Northern Tidal Power Gateways Project (NTPGP), phase one will focus on the Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuaries.  At that time, the project team will start negotiating the minefield that comes in the form of environmental issues that accompany all major infrastructure projects today.

They must grapple with headline grabbing issues such as disturbances to the habitats of bats, crested newts, wading birds and other species around which lobbies have grown. There is even an association of Cockle Pickers, who Alan Torevell of NTPGP has met and found constructive.

Key members of the team coordinating activities in this complex area are Paul Martin, managing director of Ainscough Strategic Land, who has been principal adviser in the entire planning process and Katie Williams who has ensured the smooth running of the overall project in her role as PA to Alan Torevell.

In readiness for this, a preliminary report has been prepared by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC) whose expertise covers terrestrial, marine, freshwater and atmospheric domains to address key environmental concerns of the proposed construction of the Tidal Gateways.

This will subsequently move on to a scoping report by NERC experts to answer not only existing questions but also “more difficult ones that may arise in the future.” As such, the project will cover the issues relating to the environment, from the physical aspects (the dynamics of sediment movement) through ecological (species and habitat sensitivities) to the socio-economic (estimating what different stakeholder groups’ value and their strength of feeling).

Angus Garbutt is an expert on on salt marshes and mud flats and the author of the preliminary report
Angus Garbutt is an expert on on salt marshes and mud flats and the author of the preliminary report

The team involved will include marine scientists, coastal habitat experts, sedimentologists, spatial analysts, pollution investigators, social scientists and environmental economists.  Angus Garbutt, an expert on salt marshes and mudflats, is the author of the scene setting document.

Whereas the initial report clearly points out that it has long been recognised that tide ranges can provide “extensive, reliable and predictable source of energy”, it adds there are relatively few large scale projects world wide exploiting the technology and none in the UK.

The NERC paper agrees: “the North West has several estuaries with a large tidal range that together are capable of providing a significant proportion of the UK’s current electricity demand and that the Government is keen to develop a clean, more secure, sustainable energy system.”

And it goes on to suggest that both Hinkley Point and Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoons which are both on the government radar “are looking expensive.”  So it suggests that now is the right time for “a well found proposal” but adds that “the window of opportunity may be small.”

In terms of the North West Tidal Gateways Project proposal however, the report suggests that while the energy source, engineering and social issues and costs/benefits “appear to be in place”, it is the environmental implications that “remain a stumbling block”.

What is now needed, the author insists, “is a holistic review of the ecosystems likely to be impacted, an assessment of the potential impacts and their value, guidance on the necessary legal approval and constraints, and suggested measures for mitigation accompanied with estimates”.

Top environmental team

Waiting in the wings to smooth the way for the North West Tidal Gateway project, the team of experts include:

❚ Dr David Howard, the Director of Lancaster Environment Centre’s Centre for Sustainable Energy

❚ Prof Mel Austen who directs the Sea and Society area of science.

❚ Dr Tara Hooper, an environmental economist with a background in marine ecology,

❚ Prof Judith Wolf, a Principal Scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, UK

❚ Dr Andrew Barkwith, a Senior Scientist at the British Geological Survey, Nottingham, UK

❚ Dr Christopher Vane, a specialist in Organic Geochemistry, an expert in environmental pollution.

It goes on to state that the first phase of research will be to scope the environmental issues, detail all current legislative constraints to development, identify key players and groups and establish working relationships with them, catalogue and cost different models for scenario testing, propose an integrated monitoring strategy, present potential impacts through the framework of ecosystem services and identify significant gaps in our knowledge and possible solutions.  Quite a list.

Biodiversity changes to the environment will also be high on the research menu.  This will include natural or manmade drivers such as rising sea levels or land use which will impact on marine, coastal and freshwater habitats and species (migratory fish or birds).  This is further complicated as they are subject to multiple international and local designation (eg RAMSCAR, SAC, SSSI, NNR, AONB, RSPB reserves) which are protected by European law.

Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary present their own specific problems, according to the report.  They are designated for a wide variety of habitats and species including: tidal flats, estuarine waters, salt marshes, marine beds (sea grass beds), sand/ shingle shores (including sand dunes), bird species (over-wintering and breeding, globally, nationally and regionally significant populations), mammals (seals, dolphins), marine/freshwater and migratory fish, marine and terrestrial invertebrates and commercially there is the potential for the impact on human health, The report points out the dangers due to pathogens build up (Campylobacter) should be considered.

“We will review the existing biodiversity information of Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary and possible impacts due to the construction of the tidal gateway,” writes Garbutt.” We will provide a review of current stock of habitats and species and their distribution, designation status and relevant designating authorities, and provide a review of the potential impacts of a Tidal Gateway.”

However, the scoping process doesn’t end there.  It additionally takes in socioeconomic implications, the impact of the construction process itself, commercial and recreational navigation, commercial fishing and the interaction between people and ecology.

As the area has wide historical and archaeological importance, including Stone Age and Anglo-Viking sites at Heysham Head as well as shipwrecks, this will also be built into the research equation.  As will the impact on shellfish operations, particularly cockle harvesting.  Duddon also has a classified harvesting area for mussels and Morecambe Bay has such sites for both mussels and Pacific oysters.  These fisheries may be impacted by changes to sedimentation, water depth, water quality or wider ecology, as well as by changes to access.

Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary are designated for a wide variety of habitats and species
Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary are designated for a wide variety of habitats and species

The construction process, the subsequent flow of traffic and to a slight extent the turbines will create a noise disturbance across the estuary.  This should be compared to the noise, reduced air quality and general disturbance to the environment of the existing route, along unsuitable roads, through congested towns and villages and two and a half times the distance.

There are also recreational interactions between people and the ecology of the estuaries, for which there could be negative consequences if populations of important species decline.  The Special Protection Area (SPA) designations emphasise the importance of the area for bird life, which attracts recreational birdwatchers.

Recreational angling for salmon and sea trout takes place in the Kent and Duddon, with sea anglers also fishing in the estuaries.  Careful organisation after discussion can help protected areas and can improve the environment for birds, bird watchers, fish and fishermen.

Add in issues such as medieval fish traps, swimming, kayaking, the impact not just on the water but the subwater and the areas of research list is endless.

“Once this is completed, this will be the most exhaustive study ever undertaken and one which will guide us through the obstacles that lie ahead to ensure the Northern Tidal Power Gateways Project sees the light of day,” says Alan Torevell of NTPGP.  “The list may seem daunting but these are the hurdles that every major infrastructure project must overcome every time.”

Government warned of energy target shortfall

The Energy and Climate Change Committee has warned the government that unless the current situation changes the UK will fail to meet it energy targets to provide 15% of its renewable energy needs by 2020. However, the overall objective is broken down into three categories – 30% in electricity, 12% in heat and 10% in transport.

Currently, the UK is three-quarters of the way toward its 30% electricity sub-target, but it is not yet half way toward 12% in heat and the proportion of renewable energy used in transport actually fell last year.

MPs have also said that leaving the EU renders the status of the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets uncertain.

However, they believe that if the UK misses or reneges on these commitments, it will undermine confidence in the government’s commitment to its legally binding 2050 carbon targets. “The message from this is quite clear,” insists Alan Torevell of the North West Tidal Gateways Project.

“Our renewable technology and plan, once supported and implemented, will contribute to significant reductions in all three categories.

“Tidal is as yet not a serious part of the equation when it should be in that it has the potential to compete with any of the renewables.”