THE River Humber is to be used for trials of a tidal stream generator which could prove a vital tool in meeting green energy targets.
The Government gave permission yesterday for a prototype to be installed off Immingham that will be one of the first tidal power machines to supply the national grid.
The device, which is expected to be operating by the summer, will power 70 homes. If successful, it will be used to develop larger models which could be deployed in a 100-unit "renewable power station" capable of powering 70,000 homes.
The machine will extract energy from underwater currents via 11 metre-long (36ft) hydrofoils which move up and down like the tail of a dolphin.
Business Secretary John Hutton said: "Our continued support for these emerging technologies is essential if the UK is to cement its position as a world leader in marine technologies.
"I have made clear our commitments to renewable energy and to marine technologies. We will be doubling the support available for those technologies under the Renewables Obligation.
"This kind of tidal project, if proven, will go some way to helping the UK meet its ambitious targets for clean, green energy."
The Government will give 878,000 towards the project, which is being developed by Pulse Tidal.
Pulse Tidal director Howard Nimmo said: "Getting planning permission for this project is great news. We can now focus on installing a machine and generating renewable electricity and supplying it right to where it is needed.
"We estimate that the tides around our islands are sufficiently powerful and regular that they could supply up to one tenth of Britain's electricity needs.
"A large part of this tidal power resource is in places such as the Humber which are too shallow for technologies other than ours."
The site is away from existing shipping channels and has a water depth at low tide of five metres (16ft) which, although shallow, allows the company to test a 100kW generator.
Construction of the prototype follows a period of scale model testing at facilities run by Hull University at the city's aquarium, The Deep.
The university was also commissioned by the firm to carry out an environmental impact assessment on the trials.
Nick Cutts, of the university's Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, said the likely impact of the single generator on the river's delicate eco-system was "very low to negligible", although it was too early to say whether this would be the case for the size of project the company eventually hopes to run.
He said: "We all agree we want to go down the sustainable energy road and the use of renewable energy in particular, but you have to consider what if any impact this kind of thing will have on the estuarine eco-system, which is quite important.
"We have looked at the effects of the device on the currents and seabed sediment transport and its predicted effect is very low to negligible."
The trial is expected to last nine months. Mr Nimmo said preferred sites being considered for a 100-unit scheme include north Wales, the Bristol Channel and "estuaries like the Humber".