The government has re-opened speculation on development of the Severn Estuary with a view to installing renewable marine energy, enough to provide 5% of the nation’s electricity needs according to estimates from a previously rejected proposal several years ago. In terms of the UK’s domestic electricity consumption in 2011 this project alone would have the potential to provide just over 14% of the electricity required to ‘keep the lights on’ in people’s houses.

According to media sources, the Prime Minister himself has asked cabinet ministers to
re-examine this proposal in the wake of the former Shadow Welsh Minister, Peter Hain,
stepping down from his post in order to concentrate his campaigning efforts on this project. After previously deciding, under Chris Huhne, that this project did not provide sufficient strategic benefit for the long-term, this latest development would appear significant and offer up benefits including, of course, employment, both in the local area and spread around the UK.

Whilst reportedly costing around £34bn, the project, which would be financed by the private consortium Corlan Hafren, is estimated to have the potential to provide up to 35, 000 jobs in the UK with half of this number in Wales alone. These figures, stated on Peter Hain’s Severn Barrage constituency webpages, have been followed up by promises that the scheme would provide at least 10,000 permanent jobs around the estuary itself.

The figures make impressive reading and if this number of green jobs could be created
for the long-term, could projects such as this provide a much-needed boost to a low-carbon economy? The UK’s renewables industry is in sore need of a ‘skilling up’ of young people to fill future ‘skills gaps’ as evidenced by reports such as UnionLearn’s 2011 Government Response on Low-Carbon Skills. This emphasised the fact that ‘green jobs’ training for young apprentices and skilled workers is lacking in the UK. Government-backed schemes such as the Green Deal alone will need 250, 000 skilled trades-people by 2030, so won’t schemes still in consultation, like a tidal barrage, need long-term jobs planning now?

The answer might seem, perhaps obviously, to be a resounding YES!. Marine tidal projects such as this require skilled-jobs, as does every form of energy generation but particularly renewable energy sources. A key definition of a Green Job as put forward by the UKYCC, among others, is that it should be a skilled job which lasts, and provides opportunity for  self-improvement over the long-term. It is of course important to remember local environmental concerns when weighing up the case for a Severn Tidal Barrage, with worries about the impact upon marine wildlife of such a project being voiced in several quarters. Here I refer to another core aspect of UKYCC’s Green Job definition having “stewardship over the environment at its core”, illustrating the fact that Green Jobs should not only reduce carbon emissions, but must truly adhere to sustainability in every way: safeguarding resources for the future. In this regard the Marine Conservation Society’s comment that “fish and eel migratory routes will be severely inhibited” by such a barrage should be taken seriously by planners.

This being true it’s hard to ignore the opportunity that projects such as this provide for tackling youth unemployment, hardwiring in long-term thinking for a decarbonised economy and securing a resilient energy future in the UK. This is  just one energy project, ironically now ‘gathering steam’, which crystallises so much of the debate around Green Jobs and the UK’s low-carbon economy.

Are you interested in what a Green Job could look like for you and how you might go about getting hold of one? The UKYCC’s Youth For Green Jobs campaign site has got loads of information on what a Green Job is and news of upcoming events and current news on getting more Green Jobs to young people across the UK!

Surfers enjoy the tidal power of the River Severn

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  • Matt Williams

    Geoff – while you do mention the environmental impact, I think you might be underplaying the environmental damage created by this one project. 70,000 birds winter on the estuary, making it one of the UK’s single most important pieces of (estuarine) habitat, and nigh on impossible to recreate elsewhere (a requirement under European law if the habitat is lost or damaged). While we need to shift to a clean energy system as soon as possible, we can’t possibly think that a scorched earth approach to the natural environment is acceptable?

    If we’re going to tackle environmental problems, let’s tackle all of them together.

    • UKYCC

       mattadamw Indeed