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By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 31, 2013

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THE Hafren Power scheme for a barrage across the Severn Estuary might be a "no-brainer" for Peter Hain, but for the RSPB and other wildlife conservation bodies it constitutes a nagging headache.

This is because previous such proposals, notably in 2006 from the former Severn Tidal Power Group, would have trashed the estuary's mix of intertidal and salt marsh habitats upon which internationally important numbers of bird species depend — and for which the estuary has legal protections. Moreover, migratory fish would have been mashed in the barrage turbines.

The overall numbers of birds in the estuary has risen in the past decade, demonstrating that the estuary continues to be a healthy environment for birds. Mr Hain has chosen to cite the one species — dunlin — to show a significant fall in its numbers.

Let us be clear. Electricity from Severn tidal energy can one day make a valuable contribution to meeting UK carbon reduction targets, but barrage technology is not the way to do it.

Environmentally less harmful tidal energy technologies have been under development, and should be given time to demonstrate their worth, including capacity similar to the barrage.

We need to harness tidal energy as a contribution to curbing carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. However, global warming is happening now, and current climate science suggests it could run out of control if a programme of effective carbon reduction measures is not in place by as early as the middle of this decade.

However, a Severn barrage cannot be fully operational before 2025, and thus will contribute nothing to the immediate problem. Ironically, therefore, there is no need to hurry with it, leaving time for alternative tidal energy technologies to mature.

Instead, we should get ahead with measures that can cut emissions now, including a major Government programme of community and household-based micro-technologies, such as solar panels.

Such a programme could create thousands of permanent jobs, involving long-term installation and maintenance.

The barrage would create temporary jobs during construction, but with an uncertain longer-term impact.

To cap it all, and to add to our headache, Hafren Power has not been willing to let us and others see the details of its project design.

The claims Mr Hain makes concerning benevolent impacts on birds and fish, therefore, cannot be tested.

Perhaps he would be willing to join us in demanding that the details be made available for public scrutiny? It is difficult to debate a project that we are not permitted to see!

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