Gareth Phillips explains why the recent “game changing” feasibility study for tidal lagoon power in the UK still leaves the industry with some major hurdles to overcome.

It’s been a long time coming but for the developers, investors and manufacturers at the heart of the nascent tidal lagoon power industry, the wait is finally over. Last week Charles Hendry unveiled his report and endorsement of the technology that could transform the UK’s energy supply.

A game changer for the Swansea Bay project, the report brings the tidal lagoon pilot project one step closer to becoming a reality, setting the stage for five other larger projects across the UK.

But as we celebrate this momentous success, work behind the scenes must gather pace. Indeed, this support is by no means the end of the story with two crucial hurdles outstanding.

Negotiation of the Welsh marine licence relating to the transmission assets has been protracted despite the development consent order being granted by the Secretary of State in June 2015. Furthermore, Hendry may have supported the project from a cost of energy perspective, but the detail of the CfD must be finalised.

If Hendry’s recommendations are adopted by Government we may still see this delayed as agreements are negotiated on how wider benefits for UK businesses will be realised. Given the need to outline a clear path for supply chain investment and Hendry’s call for a national policy statement for marine-based energy projects before further schemes are brought forward it’s clear that we could see further delays.

As contractors and manufacturers are poised to begin the £1.3bn project are the regulations that underpin the future of such large scale energy developments a stumbling block for this new ground breaking technology?

While Hendry’s review has firmly focused on the cost assessments of the technology, complex habitat constraints remain a significant barrier to long term success as the UK prepares to embark on other large scale tidal lagoon initiatives.

Put simply, consents laid out by the Habitats Directive require developers to show beyond all reasonable scientific doubt that major developments have no significant adverse effect. To say this is challenging for developers is an understatement.

While it’s designed to safeguard against any damage to habitat, the net result is a protracted, costly and unwieldy consenting process which can stop marine projects in their tracks and could halt the progress of transformational power projects.

After the years of hard graft to lay the foundations for Swansea Bay and the potential impact tidal lagoon power could have on our domestic energy supply, assessing this finer detail and finding a way to streamline the process could prompt a radical shift for the future of large scale energy infrastructure.

Changes to the consenting process are underway. The Wales Bill, due to be finalised later this year, will go some way to reducing the administrative leg work endured at a local level with all tidal lagoon projects over 350MW to be subject to central Government approval. Given three of the five slated projects will be inside Welsh borders such a move will be of significant value in the not too distant future.

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