Cameron: We must lead the way in tidal energy

Conservatives to put 'rocket boosters' behind research into wave power

Britain will put "rocket boosters" behind developing tide and wave energy under a future Conservative government, David Cameron is to promise tomorrow. He will also undertake to force a debate in the House of Commons to get the Government to explain "why so little has been done for so long" to exploit the energy pounding the country's shores.

The Tory leader's commitment to Britain's new form of sea power promises to finally bring it in from the cold, after more than three decades of being ignored by the main political parties. His speech, in London, almost immediately follows the connection of Britain's first ever tidal turbine to the grid.

The turbine, the first of its kind in the world, has been installed in Northern Ireland's Strangford Lough and will shortly start generating enough electricity to power 1,140 homes directly.

The development by a small West Country firm of the 122ft-long, 1,000 ton device – which looks like a giant inverted windmill – has partially inspired David Cameron to pledge "to make Britain the force for clean, green, marine energy".

He has also been impressed that later this year the world's first ocean-going wave-power machine – a series of tubes that bob up and down with the swells – developed by an Edinburgh- based company, will shortly start working off Portugal.

Mr Cameron will say: "Britain's coastline is over 1,000 miles long and has some of the highest tidal ranges in the world. Tapping into this free, continually renewed energy source could, according to some research, provide us with up to 20 per cent of our electricity supplies.

"We're already world leaders in marine renewables technology. Now is the time to hammer home this advantage."

He will pour scorn on the Government's instrument for encouraging sea power, the £50m Marine Renewables Deployment Fund, which – nearly four years after it was established – has yet to disburse a single penny, even though Britain has more businesses developing tide and wave power technologies than any other country in the world.

Companies say that the qualifying conditions for the funding – administered by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – are unrealistically restrictive.

Mr Cameron will add: "I am today committing a Conservative government to making this research and development a priority for Britain. The next Conservative government will put rocket boosters behind this area of research."

He will also pledge to use opposition parliamentary time to hold a special debate on marine energy immediately and "force the Government to come to the House of Commons and explain why little has been done for so long".

Gordon Brown did break with more than 30 years of neglect of marine energy and announce a feasibility study into the Severn barrage at last year's Labour Party conference, but the giant tidal power scheme is highly controversial, with conservationists warning it will devastate the estuary's wildlife. Mr Cameron will neither endorse nor condemn it while he awaits the results of the study.