The project, which has the potential to provide 5% of total UK electricity demand, will harness the power of the Severn Estuary through the construction of a hydroelectric dam to be filled by the incoming tide.

‘This is a truly visionary project, unparalleled in scale,’ said Hutton. ‘As we undertake this work, we must understand the true environmental, social and economic impacts of such a project. They are potentially considerable.

‘But so too is the challenge of climate change. And we must all have open not closed minds about how we meet the energy needs of tomorrow,’ he added.

Areas of the project the new study will cover include:

* Social and economic aspects, including public acceptability

* Environmental impacts and how these could be mitigated

* Financing, risk and organisation of such a project, including impacts on the energy market

* Technical and engineering aspects

* Regional impacts / infrastructure, including transport implications

* Planning, consents and other regulatory issues

* The potential for other UK tidal power projects

News of the new study was met with concern from a number of environmental groups however, who suggest that a dam across the Severn Estuary will have massive environmental impacts. They are calling on the government to consider alternative schemes such as tidal lagoons that would not fully cross the river.

The UK has a significant tidal energy resource which could make a major contribution to the UK’s supply of renewable energy, and a major study led by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is currently underway looking at issues related to harnessing tidal power in the UK.

The SDC study will consider a wide range of locations and technologies, including the potential of tidal power in the Severn Estuary. Announcing the White Paper on Energy back in May this year, the government originally said it would consider the SDC’s final report, expected in Autumn 2007, before indicating what it considers to be appropriate next steps.

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