A combination of innovative technologies could generate enough low-carbon energy to power millions of homes without the need for a large-scale barrage across the Bristol Channel, according to a new report launched today.
The discussion document, by renewable energy experts Regen South West and consultancy firm Marine Energy Matters, proposes a mixture of new concepts such as tidal lagoons and tidal fences.
These, it argues, would be deployed in conjunction with tidal stream technology, wave and wind power, such as the Atlantic Array, a large offshore wind farm visible from the North Devon coast which is set to go before planners next year.
Conservationists, who have long feared the environmental effects of a barrage fitted with turbines to harness power locked within the Severn's massive tidal range, have welcomed the move towards a multi-technology approach
Mike Birkin, South West campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "We have a huge potential clean energy resource around the Bristol Channel coast and it's essential we find ways to harness it to tackle the problem of climate change.
"Our recent report from Plymouth University showed that this can be done in ways that don't just minimise the harm to nature, they can bring about positive benefits."
Mark Robins, senior policy officer for RSPB in the South West added: "We believe the publication of this document marks a good starting point for a more conscious strategy for building up renewable energy outputs that build in the high nature value of the Bristol Channel and Severn estuary."
The authors of the study, Bristol Channel Energy: A Balanced Technology Approach, say energy schemes cold be rolled out one at a time, as technologies are proven and the environmental impacts properly managed.
Ultimately, it calculates this "lower risk" strategy could provide up to 14 GW of low carbon energy capacity, more than the barrage proposals. The approach has won strong backing from industry groups including the Bristol Tidal Energy Forum, West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and South West Marine Energy Park.
Johnny Gowdy, programme director at Regen SW, said: "Large scale, low carbon energy projects are absolutely essential to tackle the issue of climate change and ocean acidification and to move us away from destructive fossil fuel extraction industries.
"However, these must be designed to protect valuable ecosystems and biodiversity which are equally important for our sustainable future."
Some fear jobs created building a barrage might be offset by losses at ports and marine companies. A Parliamentary Select Committee revisits the issue next year.