LONDON (Reuters) - The UK gave the go-ahead to three tidal energy projects on Wednesday, tiptoeing forward on efforts to boost a sector that could generate 20 percent of the country's electricity.
The Crown Estate, which administers land and offshore development rights, said the three projects could proceed further with their plans subject to final approval from regional authorities following public consultation.
Concerns about environmental impact and huge costs in 2010 persuaded the British government to block public funding for a huge tidal energy barrage in the Severn estuary, but around 50 million pounds of public money has been made available for smaller projects through the Carbon Trust.
The latest awards take the total number of UK wave and tidal sites under development or operation to 41.
"This is great news not only for the developers involved but also for the industry as a whole because it shows the level of confidence that exists around this technology," said Renewables UK, a lobby group for low carbon technologies.
Underwater turbines and dam-like barrages harness energy from waves and tides, providing a more predictable form of renewable energy than wind power, according to the British government.
Proponents say the technology generates most electricity in the winter, when waves and tides are at their strongest.
The three projects are located at Stangford Lough in Northern Ireland, Lashy Sound in Scotland's Orkney Islands and the Solent Energy Centre on the Isle of Wight off the English coast.
Although the generation potential of the projects is small compared to conventional power stations - the Northern Ireland and Scottish projects could produce just 45MW of power compared to 1000MW for an average conventional power station - the sector could generate up to 20 percent of the UK's power needs by 2050, according to government figures.
Although the technology could become key to driving down the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and cut its reliance on imported fossil fuels, wind and wave power is opposed by some local campaigners, citing possible harm to bird and marine life.
Opposition to renewable energy projects - particularly onshore wind - on environmental grounds has been growing among British lawmakers, but Britain's energy secretary last month reiterated his commitment to new turbines.
(Reporting by John McGarrity; editing by Patrick Graham)