Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Current local energy issues

I learnt today, even though it was my first lesson on the new module, that to do well and understand the Energy Issues topic you need to be up to date with current issues – especially those that are local ones. It also seems vital that you are able to form your own opinions on issues like nuclear power stations and wind turbines for example. I don’t know how my fellow students felt but personally I don’t think that I know enough to form educated opinions or really know enough detail about local energy issues. So I am going to try and summarise some of the key facts about local energy issues that are likely to affect us……..
Perhaps one of the most controversial cuts, in terms of renewable energy sources, is the government’s decision to scrap the Severn Barrage. The plan was to build a 10 mile long barrage stretching from Cardiff to Weston Super-Mare. In terms of generating tidal energy at competitive prices the Severn is a perfect location as it has a tidal range of 13 metres which is considered to be the second highest in the world. Without going into too much detail, the Severn Barrage was designed to trap high tides by shutting the sluice gates at these times. The barrage was designed to have 214 turbines across its length. When the tide turned the water would be pressured out via these turbines and cause them to rotate. This would then generate the amount of electricity equivalent to 5% of the electricity we consume which is also equivalent to that produced by two nuclear power stations or eight large coal-fired power stations. As well as having the obvious environmental benefits the scheme was predicted to create around 40,000 jobs for the local people. A similar project was successfully built in France in the 1960’s. The La Rance tidal barrage is 330 metres long and produces 4% of the electricity used in Brittany. The Severn barrage would produce more energy as the tidal range of La Rance is nearly 6 metres less than that of the Severn Estuary.  However there were some disadvantages of the proposed project…….

Many people were against the Severn barrage as it is believed that it would have had negative environmental impacts that outweighed the positives. The Severn Estuary is a designated conservation area which around 85,000 birds use to migrate to. Many environmentalists believed that the building of the barrage would lead to the destruction of the mud flats which many of the migratory birds rely on. Also many felt that the barrage would impact on marine life migration patterns as some fish would not be able to return to spawn. Another environmental issue was the impact that the barrage could have on flooding as the pressure built up by the barrage during high tides could increase erosion and so some areas could experience more flooding whilst a build-up of sediment could occur in others. Flooding around the Severn Estuary is already an issue and I found this article today which discusses the views on preventing tidal flooding http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-12267955  There is also the issue of cost as the building of the Severn barrage was estimated to cost around £30 billion and many saw this as a too costly project. These are only some of the arguments that were used to try and stop this proposal going ahead. This audio clip includes all of these and some more in a bit more detail http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8645000/8645834.stm
The government decided not to support the Severn barrage in the end as they said it was not “financially viable” and instead decided to focus funding on nuclear power plants. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-11568220  I can understand why many people were against this proposal but finding new sources of renewable energy is going to be hard and the Severn Estuary has the potential to supply us with a lot of ‘green’ energy. Although it would be a costly project it would also help the local economy by providing many much need jobs. In terms of the environment, I too believe that it is important to make sure that projects are environmentally sustainable and so I believe that other alternatives should have been investigated before scrapping the idea all together. However there is still a glimmer of hope for the development of tidal energy in the Severn Estuary as the government have not written off a smaller project. Unfortunately though many believe that the scrapping of the Severn barrage could have knock on effects on tidal energy in the UK as a whole and some believe that development of this energy source may not occur until 2030’s or not at all. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11564949
Instead of pursuing tidal energy the government has decided to invest in nuclear power plants. The nearest one to us is at Hinkley Point. Hinkley A has already been decommissioned and the same will happen to Hinkley B in 2016. EDF energy, who owns the power plant, has plans to open a Hinkley C which will be bigger than the last two and will have the ability to produce 6% of the energy we consume as a country. EDF claim that the project will bring £100 million to Somerset each year during its construction and create just under 6000 jobs. After it has been constructed EDF say that it will bring in annual revenue of £40 million to the region. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/somerset/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8797000/8797655.stm  This link is to the EDF energy website for Hinkley Point and the website contains some more information on the proposal and the site itself http://hinkleypoint.edfenergyconsultation.info/home

There is lots of opposition for this proposal; particularly in Williton, Cannington and Bridgewater as people were worried about an increase in infrastructure due to the need for accommodation for workers. Also many are worried that an increase in traffic will cause problems with congestion. The extra housing is now going to be built on brown field sites in Bridgewater instead of Williton but plans for the controversial bypass are still going ahead. Many people are simply against the idea of any nuclear energy power stations due to the risks associated with radioactive materials and the problems with disposing of the nuclear waste. Also the sustainability of nuclear energy is questionable as it relies on the use of uranium which is a critical resource. It is estimated that uranium reserves may only last for the next 30 – 60 years depending on the demand for nuclear energy and so many think that if other energy sources, especially more sustainable and renewable ones, can be exploited then they should instead of using nuclear energy.  Another problem is connecting Hinkley C to the National Grid and there is a video discussing this on the National Grid website http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/MajorProjects/HinkleyConnection/Documents/ (connecting Hinkley Point C – An overview)
On the other hand, some believe that the benefits of using nuclear energy outweigh the disadvantages. Talking specifically about Hinkley Point EDF energy believe that Somerset, as a region, will benefit from Hinkley C. This link is to a section of their websites which outlines what they think are the benefits of this proposal. http://hinkleypoint.edfenergyconsultation.info/key-benefits   This is a link to a very recent development surrounding the Hinkley C project as EDF energy has recently placed a lot of investment into an energy skills training scheme at Bridgewater College and this is one of the many things that EDF energy are doing to try and ensure that any development in nuclear energy at Hinkley Point will benefit the local people http://hinkleypoint.edfenergyconsultation.info/newsroom-faqs/press-releases/959
Personally I think that it would be more sustainable to invest more funding into developing our ability to capture renewable energy sources like wave, tidal and wind power. The seas surrounding us have the potential to supply us with a lot of energy and so I think that we, as a nation, should start to utilise this more. However, I realise that we can’t just switch from using coal-fired power stations and other fossil fuels overnight and so in the meantime it is important to make sure we use a mix of both renewable and non-renewable energy sources. I would be really interested to here other peoples opinions on this issue....... do you think it would  have been better if the government invested money in the Severn barrage instead of the Hinkley Point power plant?

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