Hydro scheme takes the plunge

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Marie-Claire Kidd meets a group of committed local volunteers looking to power their community.

Time is of the essence for the volunteers behind Saddleworth Community Hydro. They have £343,000 
to spend before the end of 
this month and a turbine to install by next spring.

On their “to do” list is employing a project manager, securing planning permission, gaining permissions from the Environment Agency and agreeing a lease with landowner United Utilities.

With all this in place, they will then make agreements with contractors, and hopefully begin construction and installation of a 51kW turbine this autumn.

This will be England’s first high head community-owned micro hydro, using the height of the 90ft dam at the Dove Stone reservoir on Saddleworth Moor. The turbine will generate 170,000kWh per year of electricity; enough to power 45 homes.

The aim is that it will be plugged in to the national grid next spring, generating about £15,700 a year, with running costs of around £9,000. It will save an estimated 1,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, and any profits will be ploughed into local environmental projects.

Until now Saddleworth Community Hydro has been supported by h2ope (Water Power Enterprises), a social enterprise which funds upfront costs like legal fees, environmental consultants and design for community energy projects. In Saddleworth’s case, this has already amounted to almost £30,000.

Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Key Fund Yorkshire, h2ope has been instrumental in getting community energy off the ground in New Mill, Settle, Bainbridge, Stockport and Cleasby.

It ran the share offer that helped raise the £120,000 needed in Saddleworth, but the co-operative has now opted to pay h2ope off and manage planning and construction independently.

Tony Bywater, one of three directors spearheading the scheme, said: “We want to be big boys. We want to be emancipated. It’s a community project after all. Of course we’ll be taking advice where we can. It’s a case of who drives the bus.

“The main thing now is we need someone with the business know-how. We need a project manager. We’ve got money in the bank but nothing to show for it yet. It’s a case of managing that money.

“We’re not putting ourselves into a position where we’ll be running into debt. That’s the thing that cripples some enterprises. If they have a bank loan, they have to service that whether they’re profitable or not.”

But there is time pressure from elsewhere. Some £223,000 of the estimated total project cost of £343,000 is coming from Defra’s Rural Carbon Challenge Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

These grants require that 
all the project bills must be paid by October, and the European Commission insists the co-op must put all contracts out for competitive tender.

Envirolink and the Energy Saving Trust are helping keep this process on track.

Mr Bywater was among a group of residents who came up with the idea for the hydro back in 2008, as an alternative to a wind power scheme.

Dove Stone provides compensation water to the River Tame and, via a gravitation system, to the Robert Fletcher Paper Mill below. Since the mill’s closure in 2001, the compensation water has flowed directly into the river. The hydro scheme will re-commission the gravitation system and install a turbine to harness its energy.

Saddleworth’s wind power proposal was eventually abandoned, but the hydro idea gathered momentum. Local activists were encouraged by the infrastructure at the site, including an electricity supply used to power United Utilities’ equipment, which meant there was a link to the national grid.

They visited Talybont-on-Usk Energy in the Brecon Beacons, a social enterprise which has been running a 36kW hydro electric turbine since 2006. It sells the electricity it generates and invests the profits in local energy saving and sustainable living projects.

Volunteers bring their skills

THE team of volunteer directors includes Mr Bywater, who was one of the last managers at the paper mill, Andrew Thorne, a semi-retired solicitor, and Bill Edwards, a retired telecommunications engineer.

The water will be channelled down the pipeline under pressure from the weight of water above, and through a generator roughly the size of, and about as noisy as, a car engine, housed underground. The directors say the scheme will be quiet and virtually invisible.

This will be the first community hydro project in England to be powered from a reservoir.