Not at these prices!
I occasionally get e-mails from UKIP members saying “OK, I know why we oppose wind and solar. But we can’t afford to be against all renewables. Why don’t we take a strong stand in favour of tidal power? After all, it’s free”.
To be honest, I’d always regarded tidal power as a bit marginal, and hadn’t done a lot of work on it. Some years ago I spent some time looking at Rolls Royce’s underwater tidal turbine project, which seemed interesting, but the nearest I could get to the economics was a vague assurance that “with enough development, it could get to be competitive with off-shore wind”. Since we oppose offshore wind inter alia because of its massive cost, this didn’t seem very promising, and I’ve heard little more of it.
But my interest was piqued by the announcement of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project, so I thought it was time to have a look, and I got our energy guru Ben Pile to do me a briefing. The figures are startling – and explain why I don’t think tidal power should be a key plank of UKIP’s energy policy. The system is proposed to have a net installed capacity of 240MW, but because of the vagaries of the tide will deliver only a fraction of that – about 47MW average. This of course is intermittent. Better than wind and solar, because the tides are at least predictable, but intermittent and requiring back-up, nonetheless. Moreover the tides precess around the clock. One week the system will be producing during day-time peak demand. A couple of weeks later it’ll be producing in the dead of night when demand is low.
At these numbers, the cost comes out at £16 to £18,000 per KW. How does this compare?
New gas fired: £500 to 900
New coal: £1300 to 2800
On-shore wind: £3300 to 7400
Off-shore wind: £3500 to 14,200
Tidal: £16,000 to 18,000
I think that’s what’s called “prohibitive”. The whole project is estimated at £800 million (and these cost estimates usually over-run – call it a billion). But even at £800 million, we’d be paying £750 million or so over the odds compared to gas. And it’s still intermittent. All that extra cost comes ultimately from you, either as a consumer or a tax-payer. We drive up energy costs for households and industry to eye-watering levels, with all the damage to our economy, and our quality of life, that I so often write about.
Someone will point out that with gas you have to pay for the fuel, whereas with tidal you don’t. But with the lagoon, there’ll be high costs for maintenance and probably dredging, whereas with gas, we’ll have shale gas soon, and that will be, if not cheap, at least a whole lot cheaper than imported Russian gas.
I’m happy to keep a watching brief on tidal, but I couldn’t support it at these prices. So is UKIP implacably opposed to renewables? Not at all. There’s a strong case for hydro (despite the huge numbers of deaths historically in the industry). There’s a case for geothermal (although it is likely to cause more seismic incidents than fracking). But broadly speaking, the Swansea Bay numbers confirm UKIP’s policy: Coal, gas and nuclear.