A few years ago, while on a walk along the South Coast of England, I came across a place just outside Newhaven called Tide Mills. Unfortunately there is not an awful lot left to see because the British Army used it for target practice with artillery shells and they were a little too accurate.
It might not have the architectural significance of some ancient monuments currently being blown to smithereens by religious fanatics but it still seems to me that it was a bit of short-sighted vandalism. Nevertheless from what is left and the on-site information boards you can work out what had been there and it is very impressive. The idea was to harness the power of the tide to run, what was then, the largest grain mill in England. It was way ahead of its time in terms of harnessing green energy. If you look at the various options for generating carbon free electricity, the tide is by far the most reliable. You get two tides a day and each tide gives you two generating cycles. By building a large lagoon you can store up enough water to run the turbines almost continuously.
There is, of course a considerable capital cost, in building a tidal lagoon and installing turbines but once it is up and running it has a life expectancy of over a hundred years. Solar farms, wind turbines and nuclear power plants fall way short of that. The Swansea Tidal Lagoon is an imaginative and brilliant scheme that has so many benefits for us and future generations that it should be a no-brainer. It now has planning permission and the teams of engineers are ready and willing to build it. The intention was always for it to be funded privately but that could only happen when investors knew what return they could expect. The Government dragged its feet over this and only recently arrived at a figure. It is almost as though they wanted the project to wither on the vine.
If all we leave future generations is the waste from our nuclear adventures and spent fossil fuels we will rightly be condemned by history
Historically South Wales was the powerhouse of the UK providing coal and steel in exchange for a pittance. It was a scandalous bit of exploitation. There was no long-lasting benefit to the local communities and it is now an economically depressed area. With the Port Talbot Steel Works teetering on the brink the area badly needs the jobs that a project such as the Swansea Tidal Lagoon will bring. This pilot project will also give the UK valuable experience in tidal projects and provide a springboard for our nation to undertake similar projects all over the world. Any country with a coastline is a potential customer. Faced with such a proposition I am certain that the Victorians, who built that tide mill down near Newhaven, would have been fighting each other off for the chance to invest. By contrast our government has been mean-spirited in its response. It seems we are all too willing to plunder all the resources this planet has to give but we are way too reluctant to embark on projects that will benefit, not only us but future generations. If all we leave them is the waste from our nuclear adventures and spent fossil fuels we will rightly be condemned by history.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”