Saturday, 18 September 2010

Barrage scheme for the Wyre back on energy agenda?

The site of a proposed barrage on the River Wyre, which is a site of Special Scientific Interest.
Photographer: Peter Wakely
for Natural England
While the expansion of nuclear energy continues to dominate the headlines when it comes to new power generation in the UK, the Coalition Government continues to investigate alternative energy sources - and proposals for small tidal barrage schemes on rivers such as the Wyre might be put back on the agenda.

Speaking in a debate about renewable energies this week, Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw challenged government minister Christopher Huhne on the future of the Severn barrage scheme - which may now be dropped - and asked if it might it be time to consider smaller tidal barrage schemes such as the one on the River Wyre, which has been on the table for 20 years.

TH Technology conducted a £200,000 study into the feasibility of a tidal energy barrage over the Wyre estuary in the early 1990s, commissioned by Lancashire County Council and the Department of Energy, which contributed a grant of £133,000 towards the investigation.

Construction News reported that the objective of the nine-month study was to establish the cost and design of the tidal energy barrage as well as its possible effects on the surrounding environment.

In 2007 Garstang Today reported that TH Technology's preliminary - and only report into the barrage study, which would be built on a Special Scientific Interest site - prompted huge controversy when it was published, with many farmers on both sides of the River Wyre fearing it would upset the tidal flow of the river and lead to flood fields on the low lying farm land.

The newspaper also reported that since the initial report suggesting a barrage was published in 1992 there have been major changes in Fleetwood's dockland which could mean a re-think for the exact location of the barrage on both sides of the river.

The study estimated that the cost of the barrage, which it was estimated would have  a generating capacity of 63.6MW, would be £90 million -- at 1991 prices. It included the construction of a nine metre wide promenade across the barrage, and considered the use of the barrage as a road crossing.

Parliamnet's official journal, Hansard noted that consideration of the protection of any barrage turbines from large objects would need to form part of a more detailed design study but it was felt that a "trash" screen would provide sufficient protection. Two fish passes were included in the outline design  to provide passage for migrating fish but the report also stated further work was required to more fully assess the impact of a barrage on migrating fish.

A report by the Lancaster University Renewable Energy Group last year (PDF link) suggested such a barrage had a potential output of 90MW and was economically viable.

Responding to Eric Ollerenshaw in the Commons, Christopher Huhne said he believed that there will be an important role for tidal energy in Britain's future energy provision. "It is too early for us to make a statement about the Severn barrage," he commented, "but we will do so when we have given full consideration to the findings of the study."

Despite the comprehensive Government Spending Review, which will be published on 20th October, some renewable energy projects are continuing, including four 'clean coal' schemes, which have escaped cancellation as they were funded directly by a levy passed by the House of Commons.

While modern plans for a barrage across the Wyre seem to have again re-surfaced, they are in fact, nothing new. An early proposal for such a scheme came from Captain John May Jameson in 1872, an civil engineer to Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood and later to a baronet’s son.

Catherine Rothwell, author of Fleetwood: A Pictorial History notes in a letter to the press in 2007 that he proposed “an iron way between both sides of the River Wyre, at the same time providing for the passage up-river of shipping”.

Her book includes a chapter on the Jameson family based on the actual correspondence of the founder of Fleetwood and upon the Fleetwood Estate papers, now at the Lancashire Record Office which she classified and catalogued while librarian at Fleetwood Library before her retirement.

Tidal Power in the UK - Case Studies
Report on the Sustainable Development Commission web site 

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