November 14, 2012 | 0 Comments
Time is of the essence for the volunteers behind Saddleworth Community Hydro Industrial and Provident Society, which is working to develop a 51 kW hydroelectric plant. They have £343,000 (US$553,000) to spend before October 2013 and a turbine to install by next spring.
On their "to do" list is employing a project manager, securing planning permission, gaining permission from the Environment Agency and agreeing on a lease with landowner United Utilities. Saddleworth Community Hydro will then make agreements with contractors, with a goal to begin construction and installation in the autumn.
Saddleworth will be England's first high-head community-owned hydroelectric plant, using the 90 foot dam at the Dove Stone reservoir on Saddleworth Moor, near Oldham, Greater Manchester. A 51 kW Francis or crossflow turbine will generate some 170,000 kWh/year of electricity.
The aim is that this plant will be plugged in to the national grid next spring, generating an annual income of £15,700 ($25,300), with running costs of £9,000 ($14,500). It is estimated the scheme will save about 1,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Saddleworth Community Hydro has been supported by h2ope (Water Power Enterprises), a social enterprise that removes the risk from community energy projects by funding upfront costs such as legal fees, environmental consultants and design work. In Saddleworth's case, this has already amounted to almost £30,000 ($48,000).
Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Key Fund Yorkshire, h2ope has been instrumental in getting community energy schemes off the ground. It ran the share offer that helped Saddleworth Community Hydro raise the £120,000 ($194,000) it needed, but Saddleworth Community Hydro has now opted to pay h2ope off and manage the planning and construction phase of the scheme independently.
Tony Bywater, one of three volunteer directors spearheading the Saddleworth Hydro project, explains: "We want to be emancipated. It's a community project after all. Of course we'll be taking advice where we can. 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. On the whole, most of our shareholders aren't saying, ‘Where's our interest?' " he adds. "We're not putting ourselves into a position where we will be running into debt. That's the thing that cripples some enterprises."
But there is time pressure from another direction. Some £223,000 ($360,000) of the estimated total project cost of £343,000 ($553,000) 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 be paid by October 2013, and the European Commission procurement process means it must put all contracts out for competitive tender.
Envirolink and the Energy Saving Trust are helping the society keep this process on track. "Over the summer, we'll be doing a lot of detailed planning with a view to getting a spade in the ground in autumn," Bywater says. "One possible disadvantage is that it might be slow over the winter, but it's only a small construction job. It's something like a small underground air raid shelter."
Bywater was among a group of residents who came up with the idea for the hydro facility back in 2008, as an alternative to a proposed wind scheme.
Water is an obvious resource on Saddleworth Moor. There are more than 20 reservoirs in the area, including Dove Stone. Sitting high in the Pennine hills, at the confluence point of the Chew and Greenfield valleys, it is a popular spot for walkers, climbers and nature lovers.
Dove Stone opened in 1967 to provide compensation water to the River Tame and, via a gravitational system, to the paper mill below. Since the mill's closure in 2001, the compensation water has flowed into the river. The hydro scheme will recommission the gravitational system and install a turbine to harness its energy.
Water coming through the pipeline at the foot of the dam will be channeled through a turbine-generator roughly the size of, and about as noisy as, a car engine, which will be housed underground. The directors say the scheme will be quiet and virtually invisible.
While there are other river-powered community hydropower projects in England, this will be the first to use a reservoir. This, the directors say, will make it more efficient and reliable, as it will have a consistent supply of water, rather than being reliant on rainfall.
|Dove Stone Reservoir will supply water for the 51 kW Saddleworth Hydro facility when it begins operating next year.|
Bywater was one of the last managers at the Robert Fletcher Paper Mill. "You were always aware of the force of the compensation water and how vital it was to the paper mill," he says. "It's marvellous that we can recommission what is a very effective gravitational system and, with the installation of a simple turbine, generate green electricity for years to come."
Saddleworth's wind power proposal was eventually abandoned, but the hydro idea gathered momentum. Local activists were encouraged by the infrastructure already available on the site, including the existing pipeline and, crucially, infrastructure used to power United Utilities' equipment, which meant there was a link to the national grid.
The residents visited Talybont-on-Usk Energy, which has been running a 36 kW hydroelectric turbine since 2006. Using a decommissioned turbine house at the bottom of Talybont Reservoir, this social enterprise sells the electricity it generates via renewable energy supplier Good Energy and invests the profits in local energy saving and sustainable living projects, such as a community car club with one electric car and one fueled by recycled vegetable oil.
Inspired by the Welsh scheme, the residents enlisted the help of h2ope, formed the Saddleworth Community Hydro Industrial and Provident Society, and commissioned a feasibility report from Telford Hart Associates, who were working with Inter Hydro Technology, a high-head hydro specialist.
A committed team of volunteer directors emerged, including Bywater. Andrew Thorne, a local solicitor with 40 years' experience, now semi-retired, and Bill Edwards — a retired telecommunications engineer who chaired the Oldham Environment Forum, was active in local Friends of the Earth and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers groups and chaired the steering group of the Oldham Partnership — completed the team.
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