Plans for huge barrage across River Mersey progress after agreement with South Korea water company

Video report by ITV Granada Reports Merseyside correspondent Andy Bonner

Plans to build a huge barrage across the River Mersey have moved a step closer following an agreement with the operators of the world's largest tidal power scheme.

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram has signed an agreement with South Korea’s state water company to co-operate in developing the world’s largest tidal power scheme on the River Mersey.

Jeong Kyeong Yun, Vice President of Korea Water Resources Corporation, known as K-water, is in Liverpool to sign an historic Memorandum of Agreement with Mayor Rotheram.

K-water owns and operates the Sihwa Lake tidal range power scheme, which is currently the world’s largest.

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram signing an agreement with South Korea’s state water company. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

The Mersey Tidal Power Project has the potential to generate enough clean, predictable energy to power up to one million homes and create thousands of jobs in its construction and operation.

It is expected to cost billions of pounds, money which the Metro Mayor hopes will come from central government.

Over the last two years, the authority has undertaken early technical work to develop the potential scope of the scheme, which they say could be up and running within a decade.

The scheme would play a huge role in the region’s push to net zero carbon by 2040 – at least a decade ahead of national targets.

Today’s agreement paves the way for close co-operation between the two tidal power projects, through reciprocal visits and information sharing.

Speaking about the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement, Mayor Steve Rotheram said: “The River Mersey has been the lifeblood of our region’s fortunes for centuries and is central to my ambitions to build a cleaner, greener and prosperous future for our area.

“For as long as I can remember, there has been talk of building a tidal barrage on the Mersey. Thanks to devolution – we’re working to make it a reality. There are still huge technical and financial challenges to overcome but Mersey Tidal Power has the potential to provide enough clean, green, predictable energy to power up to one million homes for over a century.

“The case for tidal has never been clearer - both for our economy and our planet, especially given the importance of energy security following Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine. We’ve set ourselves an ambitious target to reach net zero by 2040 at the latest – a decade before national government – and with an abundance of natural assets and advantages on our doorstep, I believe we have the capability to smash those targets.

“We want to take inspiration from trailblazers around the world, who are already leading the way in tidal energy, and our agreement with K-water is a massive step on our journey to bringing this project to life. I am very hopeful that this partnership will flourish and, hopefully, help to position the Liverpool City Region as Britain’s Renewable Energy Coast.” 

Wind turbines already line parts of the River Mersey which is seen as an ideal location to harness tidal power too. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

One sticking point could be the environment.

The Mersey coastline and mudflats are important for migrating birds and other wildlife.

Wildlife charities have so far refused to be drawn on the implications.

Dr Amani Becker, a coastal scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, worked on a previous project looking at renewable energy options in and around Liverpool.

She told Granada Reports: "There are ways of setting up the electricity generation which would minimise the loss of that inter-tidal area, those mudflats that the birds rely on.

"Because what we're thinking about here is climate change at the end of the day. And that's no good for birds either. So we have to find our compromises."

Vice President of K-water in region to sign collaboration agreement with Mersey Tidal Power Project. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

The agreement with K-water is part of a wider strengthening of links between the Liverpool City Region and South Korea. 

As part of the UK-Republic of Korea Innovation Twins Programme, the city region is developing links with Busan, South Korea’s second largest city. 

The programme is aimed at developing long-term research and innovation links, creating a pipeline of opportunities for bilateral trade and foreign direct investment (FDI).

Jeong Kyeong Yun said: “I know that this MOA between you and us is the move for R&D cooperation to ensure the successful development of Mersey Tidal Power Project and to implement the water-energy-city nexus, and I believe that this move will help expand exchanges between the two countries to proactively respond to the global climate crisis and to sustainably realize carbon neutrality.”

The move is the latest stage of engagement between the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and K-water, which began with meetings at COP26 in Glasgow, in November last year, and continued with a visit by Mersey Tidal’s director to Sihwa Lake and Daejon in South Korea in May 2022.

K-water built and operates the Sihwa Lake tidal range power plant, which has been operational since 2011 and generates 552GWh of clean, green energy every year, replacing the equivalent of 862,000 barrels of oil a year.

K-water is the governmental agency for comprehensive water resource development and providing both public and industrial water in South Korea.

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