Places like Bainbridge next to Semerwater, New Mill and Settle are benefiting from a relationship with h2ope, a social enterprise body, and have set up mini power stations generating hydro electricity.
Now Saddleworth, high in the Pennines, is also working with h2ope to create a hydro scheme with a difference. If all goes to plan, Saddleworth will become England’s first “high head” community-owned micro hydro, exploiting power from the water in the 90ft dam at the Dove Stone reservoir on Saddleworth Moor.
The residents, through the Saddleworth Community Hydro Industrial and Provident Society, have raised over £120,000 for a 51kW turbine which will generate sufficient electricity to power 45 homes. Directors of the cooperative hope it will be up and running next autumn.
Dove Stone reservoir is a popular spot for walkers, climbers and nature lovers. It opened in 1967, to provide compensation water to the River Tame and via a gravitation system, to a paper mill below which has long since closed. Tony Bywater, a founding director of the community hydro and one of the last managers at the paper mill, says: “It’s marvellous that we can re-commission what is a very effective gravitational system and with the installation of a simple turbine generate green electricity for years to come.”
Directors are now applying for planning permission for the scheme which will be quiet and virtually invisible since the turbine will be underground and will rely on the old pipework last used 10 years ago. “I think people are increasingly aware of the negative impacts of climate change and want to do their bit to help reduce CO2 emissions,” says director Bill Edwards. “The powerhouse will be unobtrusive and there will be no environmental damage to the surrounding countryside or to the ecology of the reservoir.” Rebecca Wills, an independent adviser on environment and sustainability and author of a book on cooperative renewable energy says: “It’s a significant achievement, but it’s still very difficult. If you’ve got an electricity scheme, you have to find a way to feed that electricity into the grid.
“At the moment the infrastructure is designed to go in one direction, to take electricity from big power stations to houses and businesses. This takes power in the other direction.
“The network operators aren’t always clear about how you connect to the grid. It causes them a headache. There are lots of people doing this now and they still don’t know how to deal with them.”
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Key Fund Yorkshire support h2ope whose schemes at Bainbridge and elsewhere harness energy from moving water.
Saddleworth’s co-op will sell electricity to the national grid for a fixed price per unit and will also be paid under the Government’s Renewables Obligation Certificate scheme. Surplus funds will go to local environmental and education projects. The share offer, managed by h2ope, was for a minimum shareholding of £250 and a maximum of £20,000. The directors hope to offer interest of up to four per cent from year two.
Rebecca Willis adds: “Keeping the enthusiasm to stick at it can be challenging, as is going through the maze of requirements from different agencies and managing a construction project on this scale. Energy is very attractive for communities but it’s much harder than buying a village pub.”