Is the tide turning for Swansea

Swansea Bay could be the site of the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant. Expected to cost £1.3bn and act as a catalyst for wider regeneration, the vast energy project is primed for construction. There is, however, an ‘if’ hanging over its future.

Tidal Lagoon Power, the company behind the project, secured a development consent order in 2015, having gained the support of 86% of local people at consultation as well as support from the Welsh government and other authorities. It has financial backing from a number of investors and, subject to a marine licence from Natural Resources Wales for which it submitted its final application in July, it is ready to proceed.

But there is one more hurdle. The government has yet to make a decision on the viability of what is an unprecedented renewable energy scheme. An independent report into the strategic role of tidal lagoons in the UK, commissioned by business secretary Greg Clark, concluded that tidal lagoons could play a cost-effective role in the UK’s energy mix and that the “opportunity to move this technology forward” should be seized “now”.

However, the government has yet to comment on the findings or signal its support, leaving Tidal Lagoon Power development director Ioan Jenkins “frustrated”.

To him, the case is clear. The lagoon (pictured) would be designed to generate power for 155,000 homes for the next 120 years and help to transform what has been a long-neglected part of Wales.

“I went to Swansea often for weekend breaks when I was young,” says Jenkins. “When I went back a few years ago, I was surprised by what I saw. It had fallen back considerably. Even the more affluent areas were looking ragged. The lagoon would help to regenerate the area and establish it as the centre of a new hydro industry.”

Jenkins says 50% of the capex for the project would be spent in Wales. The company is coming to the end of a tender process to choose a local company to develop a £20m to £25m plant where the 16 turbines needed to generate power would be built, and there are predictions that up to 5,000 jobs could be created directly and throughout the supply chain.

Tourism potential

The hope is that Swansea Bay would also encourage more visitors. The lagoon would be created by a six-mile breakwater wall that would be open to the public - people would be able to walk around it or fish from it and also swim, sail and scuba-dive in the water. There would be an affiliated education centre with a café or restaurant, for which Tidal Lagoon Power is consulting with local stakeholders.

“There is tourism potential there,” says Jenkins. “The most conservative estimate is that it would bring in 70,000 to 100,000 people a year but we’ve got nothing to benchmark it against. It could be comparable to Cardiff Bay, which attracts more than one million visitors a year.”

Despite the delay from Westminster, Jenkins is optimistic the project will be given the green light: “The Welsh government firmly backs it. We’ve got cross-party support and there are few dissenters. We just need [central] government to enable us to progress.”

With plans to start in Swansea and then build a much larger lagoon in Cardiff followed by four more in the UK and others abroad, Jenkins hopes the issue will be resolved sooner rather than later - enabling Swansea to play a vital role in the changing tide of the renewable energy sector - and put itself back on the map.

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