Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds


  The RSPB welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry into renewable energy. The RSPB is Europe's largest wildlife charity with over one million members. We manage one of the largest conservation estates in the UK—with more than 150 nature reserves covering more than 275,000 acres.

  We are very concerned that unless there are significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions then birds, other wildlife and their habitats will be catastrophically affected by climate change. One of the main ways of cutting emissions is to bring on stream more electricity generated by renewable sources of energy.

  The RSPB therefore supports the developments and deployment of renewables. Indeed, we run our own energy scheme (RSPB Energy) with Scottish and Southern Energy which provides renewably generated electricity for our members and also supplies all RSPB premises.

  However, all forms of electricity generation can damage wildlife if generating plant is badly sited or if it is developed on inappropriate scale for a particular situation. The RSPB therefore works with the electricity industry to ensure that generating plant is sensitively sited with respect to wildlife. We also work with industry, government, statutory bodies and other environmental groups to draw up best practice guidelines for the construction of different sources of renewable energy.

  In this submission, we focus on three main aspects of the Committee's inquiry:

    —  the role that wave and tidal energy might play in the UK renewable energy strategy;

    —  the environmental aspects of wave and tidal energy; and

    —  some types of research and development that may be needed.

  In line with the scope of the Committee's inquiry, we do not consider tidal barrages, which the RSPB generally opposes because of the damage they can do to estuarine wildlife habitats.


  The RSPB considers that there is a need for a mixture of renewable generation in order to:

    —  avoid possible environmental impacts due to the sheer scale of use of any one form of renewable energy;

    —  minimise problems associated with the fact that some renewables give an intermittent or fluctuating supply (noting that tidal generation is potentially useful in this context because it can yield a predictable and constant supply);

    —  ensure security and diversity of supply.

  In principle, the RSPB therefore welcomes the use tidal and wave generation. However, because there is very little such generation at present (none in the case of some forms of tidal power), its impacts on wildlife are largely unknown.

  To determine these impacts, and to further assess the technical and commercial viability of wave and tidal technologies, we recommend that the Government funds much more research and development in this area. We would like to see pilot plant, on which meaningful evaluations could be conducted, built as a matter of urgency.


  The RSPB's view is that a wide range of different renewable generation technologies needs to be deployed in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the pace required to avoid dangerous climate change. Indeed, the UK not only needs to build much more renewable generating capacity but it also needs to construct more combined heat and power (CHP) plant, much of which would be fossil fuel (gas) fired. In addition, there will be a continued, if decreasing, place for more conventional high efficiency fossil fuel generation, such as combined cycle gas turbines, certainly in the short to medium term.

  A mix of generation technologies is necessary for a number of reasons. In particular, because the UK currently has very little renewable generation capacity, coupled with the fact that we have little or no experience of many of the more promising technologies (such as offshore wind, wave and tidal), we have very little option but to continue to use at least some high efficiency fossil fuel generation, especially CHP, for some time to come.

  A broad range of renewable generation is also desirable for at least three reasons. First, some forms of renewable generation, such as wind and solar (and, indeed, wave power) give an intermittent or fluctuating supply. Until suitable, widespread energy storage is available at low cost these technologies therefore need to be used in conjunction with energy sources which can give a predictable and constant output. In terms of renewables, this currently means sources based on burning either energy crops or waste (such as plant or animal waste, sewage, or landfill gas).

  Tidal power is a potentially useful additional form of renewable energy because of the predictability and constancy of its output.

  Second, many renewable technologies that have little impact on wildlife and their habitats when used on a small scale, are potentially damaging when widely deployed. Energy crops such as coppiced willow, for example, will need to be grown on a very large scale if they are to provide enough fuel to supply a significant proportion of the UK's electricity. To account for one per cent, one would need to plant about 1600 square kilometres, or about 0.65 per cent of the UK land area. The sheer scale of planting could thus pose problems, in addition to fuel transportation, rates of water abstract by so many trees and so on.

  A mix of technologies would minimise problems associated with scale because the extent to which any one technology was used could be limited.

  Third, ensuring security and diversity of supply has long been, and will continue to be, the cornerstone of any national energy policy. Many different forms of renewable generation are potentially viable in the UK and a mix of all of them will obviously help to ensure diversity of supply. Also, renewables are secure in the sense that they are locally based and not dependent on supplies from abroad. In addition, they are secure in the sense that most are directly or indirectly driven by the sun, and are hence unlikely to run out soon.

  For the above reason, the RSPB welcomes the increased use of tidal and wave power, in principle. We are, however, mindful of the fact that there is as yet little or no wave or tidal power in service and hence little or no information upon which to base any general assessment of possible impacts on wildlife, as is discussed below.


  In assessing the likely environmental impacts of tidal and wave generation, the overriding problem is that there are few, if any, large scale examples to draw upon. There are no tidal dam systems of the type proposed by Tidal Electric, the World's first commercial wave power station on Islay which only has a capacity of 0.5MW, and "nodding ducks" are, to the best of our knowledge, not undergoing trials at present.

  Whilst it is possible to make estimates of potential damage to wildlife based on theoretical considerations or on similar types of structures, where they exist, it would be far better to base them on practical examples because nasty, or pleasant, surprises are always possible in practice.

  We would therefore like to see the construction of pilot plant on which practical tests on wildlife impacts can be performed. Pilot schemes would also enable better technical and commercial testing.


  Wave and tidal power are not near market at present but could rapidly become so. The RSPB would support immediate investment in research and development of the technologies with a view to building pilot, demonstrator plant in the near future. Assessment of wildlife impacts should be an integral part of this research and development. We would be keen to participate in such work.

  We consider that more research and development is also urgently needed on large-scale energy storage. This will be essential if intermittent and fluctuating forms of renewables are ever to be deployed on a large scale.

February 2001

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