The financial merits or demerits of the tidal lagoon project can be spun either way, depending on the figures selected, as weâ€™ve seen in some of the reactions to the decision not to proceed. Whether itâ€™s assessed on the basis of the price per unit or the impact on electricity bills is one of the questions; both approaches have a degree of validity, but they lead to very different conclusions. About the only thing that does seem entirely clear is that the financial arguments have been given considerably more weight than the question of decarbonising the production of energy.
The Tory MP for Maldwyn, Glyn Davies, has unsurprisingly He says that heâ€™s â€œbeen really taken aback by the calls for the UK Govt to back the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, no matter what itâ€™s cost. I just cannot think like that. I do not think itâ€™s the way a Conservative does thinkâ€�. At first sight, it seems like a fair point â€“ although it isnâ€™t only Conservatives who might baulk at supporting something â€œno matter what itâ€™s costâ€�. But then I thought of the Rees-Moggs of this world and Brexit. Isnâ€™t that, ultimately, a very good and simple summary of what they want? A quick, clean Brexit â€œno matter what itâ€™s costâ€�? Some Conservatives, at least, clearly do think that way. the decision. His reasoning struck me as interesting however.
He also quoted part of the reportâ€™s conclusions, which said â€œThe inescapable conclusion of an extensive analysis is that however novel and appealing the proposal that has been made is, even with these factors taken into account, the costs which would be incurred by consumers and taxpayers would be so much higher than alternative sources of low carbon power that it would be irresponsible to enter into a contract with the promoterâ€�. Again, I found myself substituting â€˜remaining in the EUâ€™ for â€˜alternative sources of low carbon powerâ€™. Clearly, Glyn Davies and other Brexiteers do believe that sometimes, it is worth doing something which is far from being the lowest cost alternative because it achieves other desirable aims. The real disagreement comes over deciding what other aims might be desirable, and how much weâ€™re prepared to pay to achieve them. (And, of course, all of us suffer from the problem that our prior beliefs on the desirability of a particular outcome inevitably affect the extent to which we choose to believe a particular set of figures when they are placed in front of us, to say nothing of the method used to derive those figures.)
But that issue of â€˜desirabilityâ€™ is where political debate should take place; costs are part of the argument, but cost should never trump all debate about what is the â€˜rightâ€™ thing to do. That applies whether itâ€™s in relation to the lagoon or anything else â€“ including Brexit and, yes, even independence. Reducing everything to the bottom line â€“ especially when the method of calculation of the bottom line is itself a matter of considerable debate â€“ often looks like a way of avoiding the much more important debate about the sort of world in which we want to live and how we get there. But of course, reducing everything to the bottom line isnâ€™t really â€œthe way a Conservative does thinkâ€� at all. Itâ€™s only other peopleâ€™s ideas about whatâ€™s desirable which can be dismissed on cost grounds without further discussion. And thereâ€™s something very Conservative indeed about that approach to debate.