Wednesday 7 January 2009

Apres Moi, Le Deluge...?

Government consultants have been accused of miscalculating the costs of a project to generate vast amounts of green electricity in the Severn estuary, promoting a 10 mile-long tidal barrier strongly backed by ministers in preference to a scheme that engineers and environmentalists say is far less damaging.
Well, I know I’m shocked…
Sources in Decc say the firm favourite is the 10-mile barrier, which would span the entire estuary and is costed at about £14bn. Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) said the barrier could generate between 5GW and 8.6GW of renewable electricity at a cost of about 3p/kWh, but that it would impede shipping and lead to permanent flooding over more than 100 miles of shoreline.

Ministers have already called the scheme "visionary" and a "trailblazer for clean, green energy".
Ministers who aren’t going to be affected in the slightest by those drawbacks, of course…
But correspondence seen by the Guardian shows that a row erupted between PB and a company promoting a scheme that environmental groups and other engineers claim would be far less damaging, as well as cheaper and more efficient.
No doubt, but is it the right scheme? Will it provide the all-important benefits minsters are looking for?

No, not cheap renewable energy, silly! I’m talking about opportunities for wining and dining at company expense, and sitting on boards or project teams. You know, the things ministers really care about.

And the history of PB’s involvement in large government-funded projects isn’t good....
Tidal Electric wants to generate electricity by using tidal lagoons built on the estuary floor from rock. Up to 13 lagoons would be dotted around the Severn estuary, not across it. These would trap water at high tide and release it later through electricity-generating turbines.

Studies carried out by the engineers AS Atkins, for Tidal Electric, have suggested that the lagoons could generate twice as much power, per square mile impounded, than the barrage, and therefore generate about 25-40% more energy without damaging the shoreline.
Sounds better to me, albeit I’m no engineer. So, how do PB plan to argue their project is better?
However, the plan sent by PB to ministers says the tidal lagoon option would be eight times more expensive than the barrage scheme and would not generate as much power.

But Peter Ullman, chief executive of Tidal Electric, said: "PB has made huge miscalculations. They have submitted [to ministers] cost-numbers on power from tidal lagoons that are roughly 800% higher than all the previous studies of tidal lagoon power conducted by UK engineering giant WS Atkins and corroborated by AEA Technology, Ofgem and Rothschild Bank. They have arrived at their extraordinarily high numbers by ignoring the technology developer's design parameters and introducing their own design."
Or as we in the non-engineering world would call that, by lying

Needless to say, PB don’t have an actual answer for this:
A PB spokesman said: "We are unable to comment on Mr Ullman's complaint, but it is important to stress that during the selection process all options have been technically assessed to a common engineering and cost baseline.

"The same technical and energy yield approach has been applied to all options and the process and outcomes have been subject to peer review. The selection process is reviewed by an independent panel of experts appointed by Decc."
Ahh, Decc, the government department who will be awarding the contract. Well, that’s all right then.

Incidentally, at least they are one government department not spending squillions on flashy websites. At least, I hope not ...

Hmm, loath as I am to agree with a bunch of smelly hippies, something about this doesn’t sound right...

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