- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

LONDON — Britain is looking toward a 10-mile-long barrier to harness the tides and a landscape dotted with giant wind turbines in the headlong rush to keep its industrial wheels turning and its homes warm.

“Fantastic” is the word that Business Secretary John Hutton used to describe one of the more dramatic proposals. The so-called Severn Barrage, a tidal plant that government scientists think could supply about 5 percent of the nation’s electricity, will generate 40,000 jobs and cost $28 billion.

The key to this project is the River Severn’s tidal “bore,” a range of more than 45 feet between low and high tides — second only to Canada’s Bay of Fundy.

Mr. Hutton conceded the whopping cost but insisted that “the need to take radical steps to tackle climate change is now beyond doubt.”

The British government is also examining a proposal that would place more than 200 turbines near the mouth of the Severn, stretching 10 miles from South Wales to the northern coast of southwestern England.

In addition, officials are turning to old standbys such as coal, which scientists think can be burned cleanly with technology that strips away much of the carbon, leaving a cleaner-burning gas rich in hydrogen.

Britain’s leaders think these may be the only alternatives to a future of fuel shortages and dependence on supplies from unstable regions abroad, such as the Middle East and Russia.

With increasing fears of global warming, the European Commission has ordered Britain and the other 26 nations of the European Union to cut carbon-dioxide emissions and to drastically increase its use of renewable energy.

Also on the horizon for Britain are wind turbines, which the government sees as another key to the European Commission-ordained order that the nation raise renewable sources from an estimated 2 percent of its total energy use at present to 15 percent by 2020.

Part of the cost would be a major transformation of Britain’s coastal beauty, transfixed by an estimated 7,000 wind-powered turbines, each with a rotor diameter of nearly 150 feet, dotting the countryside for hundreds of miles.

Yet another form of environment-friendly energy is being touted for coal.

Scientists have come up with a “clean” method that uses oxygen and steam to extract a gas from coal that consists primarily of hydrogen.

Britain still has an abundance of coal beneath the ground.

Although not renewable like wind and water, coal could constitute a significant source of energy with reduced carbon emissions and ease the need to import oil.

On another front, after years of watching the industry wind down, British authorities are viewing nuclear energy as a reliable, less-polluting supply of energy.

As the price of oil approached $100 a barrel late last year, the British government gave a thumbs-up to a new generation of nuclear power stations, perhaps as many as 20, the first of which could come on line by 2017.

The government can expect opposition on just about every front.

As an energy source, the atom has a checkered history.

Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace’s EU policy campaigner on nuclear issues, said the organization has not dropped its opposition.

“For climate change,” he told Agence France-Presse, “nuclear power does too little, too late against too high costs.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has attacked the Severn tidal project as a major danger to wildlife.

The estuary contains mud flats, salt marshes, rocky islands and food that support about 65,000 birds in winter, the society says, and these as well as stocks of salmon and other fish would be put at risk.

Wind turbines, which also kill birds, are described as ugly blots on the landscape that can be as noisy as jet airliners.

About 1,900 already dot the landscape, and the suggestion that another 5,000 may be on the way infuriates some environmentalists.

Government scientist Howard Dalton dismisses wind farms as “bloody eyesores” that will never supply more than a fraction of Britain’s energy needs.

Even turning coal into a hydrogen-rich gas isn’t winning many friends. Coal is still coal, say skeptics, who haven’t forgotten “those dark, satanic mills,” that poet William Blake described.

That was in the 19th century. In the 21st century, Britain seeks to become cleaner, but officials warn that it will be expensive, and it won’t be easy.

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