Salmon river power plans step nearer as wildlife fears refuted

Mark Branagan

PLANS to harness the power of Yorkshire’s principal salmon river to produce green energy have cleared another hurdle after experts concluded the scheme was unlikely to harm the ecosystem.

Community interest company Esk Energy are seeking funding to install a hydro electric generator at Ruswarp on the River Esk, in the North York Moors National Park, near Whitby.

All formal consents for the scheme are believed to be now in place including landowner agreement, planning permission, and all the relevant consents for using the river granted by the Environment Agency.

Other interested parties along the riverbank have been consulted and their views taken into account as far as possible. Installation will be able to go ahead once funding is raised.

Michael Graham, the park’s assistant director for recreation and park management, said the project is thought to be the largest hydro electric generating scheme planned for a UK National Park in recent years.

It will bring in substantial income which will be reinvested in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in the local community.

He added: “In determining the abstraction licence the Agency has considered the possible impacts of the scheme on the ecology and hydrology of the river system and has stated that the scheme as a whole is likely to have a beneficial impact on fish passage.

“The scheme includes building an improved fish pass. The agency is carrying out a three-year monitoring programme to assess the performance of the fish pass.

“Thus, National Park Authority Officers are satisfied that the proposed development will have no detrimental impact on the ecology or hydrology of the river system.”

Safeguards were also in place through the licensing process to further protect this important habitat which features in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a haven for species such as Atlantic salmon, brown and sea trout and pearl mussels.

If private funding is found the timescale is that the contract would be let as soon as possible. It will take 12 weeks to build the equipment, which is hoped to be in place late winter or early spring and be running by April 2011.

Monitoring has already started to take place with sea trout already tagged and salmon to be tagged shortly and for three seasons of monitoring to take place once the system is in place.

The site is very different from many others as it is at the confluence of fresh and salt water. Data is lacking on how the fish are likely to react to the turbine in this situation.

The project is seen as a guiding light for other hydro power developments on salmon rivers.

Lessons learned will have a national significance in installing similar systems throughout the country.

The project dates back to 2007 when an initial feasibility study was carried out to determine suitable sites on the River.Discussions with the Environment Agency led to a proposal to install a single 55kw Archimedes screw turbine in the existing weir at Ruswarp where the local landowner was keen on a project going ahead.

The main obstacle to the scheme is now funding because of the difficulty getting grants.

The hydro installation will cost an estimated 450,000 and the fish pass improvements 30,000.

Next Tuesday, national park authority members will be urged to grant a 150,000 loan to Esk Energy to help with the installation costs. The income from the arrangement will then be ploughed back into local community projects.

It is expected Esk Energy will make 40k from the scheme, which will be invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in the community.