Professor Nicholas Day of the Guernsey Renewable Energy Forum speaks with BBC Guernsey about the publication of the Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission’s (GREC) Regional Environmental Assessment document

August 2nd, 2010 by Richard Lord

On Friday 30 July 2010, the shadow Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission published a draft of the Regional Environmental Assessment on their website The REA is a strategic technical assessment of the potential environmental impacts (positive and negative) that could result from harnessing marine renewable energy in Guernsey and Sark territorial waters.

The release of this document began a six week period of public consultation, which ends on 10 September 2010. Responses to the draft document can be emailed to enquiries (at) guernseyrenewableenergy.com

Professor Nicholas Day spoke to Kevin Stewart of BBC Guernsey on 2 August 2010 about the release of the draft REA and the period of public consultation.

Kevin Stewart: At the moment we get our electricity from either France or the local power station but by 2015 that could all change.  That’s when the first systems to generate electricity from our tides could be installed in Bailiwick Waters, and given we have some of the strongest tides in the world we are well placed to make a real go of it.  However, there are potential impacts that need to be considered and now we have a better idea of what problems to expect.   A major study has been completed.  Professor Nick Day, the Chair of Guernsey’s Renewable Energy Forum is in the studio.

Kevin Stewart: So what sort of problems are we talking about?

Professor Nicholas Day: Good Morning Kevin.  Well, when you start putting large machines into a tidal race it can have all sorts of impacts.  It is obviously going to affect people who use the waters there.  People who use it for fishing, navigation, shipping, pleasure boating and so on.

It is going to affect the wildlife.  The extent to which it is going to affect wildlife isn’t very well known because at the moment there aren’t any large arrays anywhere in the world.  The only commercial scale machine that is actually in the water and operating is the one that most people in Guernsey would know about, Marine Current Turbines, in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.  So along with identifying the potential impacts and what could be done to mitigate the effects of putting in the turbines we are also recommending that there is quite an extensive monitoring programme to see actually what happens.

Kevin Stewart: What’s the best way of avoiding problems and I know actually they have done a fair amount of experimentation up in the Western Isles in Scotland haven’t they?

Professor Nicholas Day: They have done quite a lot and they are doing a lot in the Pentland Firth between the north of Scotland and Orkney.  Before I start, actually, could I emphasise that what we have released on Friday is very much a draft document and it is open for public consultation, and it is available at Guernseyrenewableenergy.com It is a very long document.  It is about 500 pages so we have also issued a summary document about 50 pages, which basically summarises very clearly what the impacts could be – doesn’t give all the details because there’s a huge amount of detail in the overall report.

People who want to make suggestions, comments and so on – if they could do it by email to: enquiries (at) guernseyrenewableenergy.com

It is a six week period of consultation.  We would look forward to receiving as many comments as possible.  When we have got them all in by early September we will then take them into account to issue the final document towards the end of September.

Kevin Stewart: I have seen one of these things, which looks like a massive jet engine, which is lowered into the sea.   What problems can you see with tidal energy, and the impact that that may have on the environment itself?

Professor Nicholas Day: Well, to start with you have to look at the impact it might have on human activity because that’s where there is going to be the most anxiety I think, and one is thinking perhaps to start with there might be a square kilometre of the Big Russell that might be fenced off for the installation of a tidal array – commercial-size tidal array.   The impact it will have – we don’t really know because that sort of size of array hasn’t been installed anywhere in the world.  It will have some impact on sediments.  When you put something in that extracts energy you are obviously going to change the tidal flow.  This will have an impact on the sea bed life, and that’s probably where the greatest impact will be.  It will have some impact on sea mammals.  They have done a lot of work in Ireland on what impact it has on seals and other sea mammals.  It may have some effect on fish but the effect is likely to be quite positive.  If one has a fenced-off area then there’s going to be more breeding, a greater development of biodiversity of fish and shellfish in the area so long term it could have quite a beneficial effect on fishing for example.

Kevin Stewart: Of course, the other area it could impact is in our wallet.  How much is this going to cost?  Guernsey Electricity said in their annual report that there are simply not able to charge enough for our electricity at the moment.  Where’s this money going to come from?  Whose going to pay for what is fairly new technology, and with new technology there always comes problems. It always goes over budget so how do you see the bill being footed?

Professor Nicholas Day: The environmental assessment doesn’t really go into the economic aspects because that is a separate issue.  The Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission is looking at a whole range of issues.  It is looking at the legal issue.  It is looking at the commercial issues and there will be documents published on that in a few months but basically the concept is that the capital costs will be borne by the developer, not by the Island.  So the idea is to attract developers in.  They can see that there is a very powerful tidal resource that they can exploit.  There’s a population that uses electricity so we are hoping that quite a few of the large enterprises that are developing tidal turbines will be interested in coming to Guernsey waters.  And we are expecting them to provide the capital to get the thing going.  Guernsey has to then pay for the electricity.  There will be some increase in the price of electricity – almost unavoidably but one hopes it will be kept to as low increase as possible, particularly as you are saying prices are going up anyhow so it is quite possible with the increasing price of oil that one is expecting over the next few years, it is quite possible that before too long renewables will become competitive with fossil fuel sources of electricity.

Kevin Stewart: So what are the next steps?  Where do we go from here?

Professor Nicholas Day: Where we go from here, as I say, this is the environmental aspect.  There’s the legal and the commercial aspects.  The legal side of it is now pretty much sown up.  The legal framework is now pretty much in place.  It has to go through the States.  It has to go to the Ministry of Justice in the UK for approval but one expects that to go through fairly smoothly.  The commercial aspects are going to take a bit more work to decide exactly how it is going to proceed, who is going to pay for it, and how it is going to be paid for, and that is out of our hands because it is a political issue.

Kevin Stewart: And could be very pricey over the years but we all need electricity.

Professor Nicholas Day: We’re not expecting it to be all that pricey.  Most countries in the world are going for renewable electricity.  A report published in the last two weeks – in the European Union and the United States more than 50% of the new generating capacity that has been installed in the last two years is from renewable energy.  China is making enormous progress in developing wind turbines and photovoltaic cells so it is all happening, and as it is happening the prices are coming down.  All main countries in the world are accepting that they have to develop their renewable resources and it will initially cost a bit but long term it will probably provide a secure and cheaper source of electricity than would be available otherwise.

Kevin Stewart: Professor Nicholas Day from the Guernsey Renewable Energy Forum thank you very much for joining us this morning.

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