A community group in the Yorkshire Dales is constructing a hydroelectric scheme on the River Bain.
They hope the scheme will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 40 houses a year, repay the bank loan, give a financial return to its shareholders and provide income to fund a local environmental project.
The River Bain Hydro group plans to install a 45kW plant to produce electricity and save 80 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. It is a reverse Archimedean screw: instead of being used to push water uphill, water runs down the screw, forcing it to turn. It will launch in early 2011.
Image in the left is of river flow at the weir on the River bain, courtesy of h2ope
River Bain Hydro is an industrial and provident society (IPS) which will own and manage the scheme. It was set up with the help of Water Power Enterprises, a social enterprise and community interest company (CIC) which has project-managed the scheme.
Over 18 months, Water Power Enterprises obtained the permissions, finance, and contracts. This took the financial risks off of the community group during the early stages. The initial work came to around £45,000 and included technical reports, the tendering process and quantity surveying.
The full project was then funded by a combination of share offer, grants and bank loans to reach the capital costs of around £450,000.
The drive is to have a wholly community-owned hydro facility that will act as a source of income to promote environmental projects in the area and reduce the community's carbon emissions.
"This started off as a barking mad conversation," said Bill Truin, one of the founder members of River Bain Hydro. When he and about a dozen people heard an £18,000 grant was available for the area, they decided a local project needed to be much larger in scope. "The river is one of the things we should be looking after, so it seemed the obvious choice. But this isn't an end in itself, this is a means to an end that will enable long-term environmental work that will last much longer than the originally offered grant would have done."
In the hydro plant's 40-year lifespan, it is estimated that it could bring in over £100,000 for local environmental projects.
Finding the initial funding was very difficult. The group found that nobody was willing to award funding for set-up costs. Grants were only available once a project was assured. Water Power Enterprises were the only organisation they found that would fund the initial development costs of the scheme and wait until it was running before being paid back.
The planning authority was supportive of the hydro scheme as it was visually less intrusive in the landscape of a National Park than other projects such as wind turbines.
The group found that their chances of a successful application were greatly improved by working very closely with planners from the start.
During the design and construction phases of the project, frequent and regular contact with the planning authority was essential. It made sure planning requirements were met with minimal impact on the scheme.
The process, from funding to construction, is very complex and took the equivalent of a full-time job for those involved. Members of the group included two accountants, an environmental specialist and other professionals. This gave them confidence when talking to experts.
The process also takes a long time. For example, it can be time-consuming to get an abstraction license from the Environment Agency (EA).
Hydro schemes are regularly opposed by fishing groups who argue that schemes interfere with the natural habitat. This issue can be managed by working closely with the EA, because they have a statutory duty to protect fish. The EA is not fundamentally opposed to hydro schemes and can help propose solutions to impacts on the waterway such as fish ladders. Had the river been a habitat for salmon, it would have been far more sensitive.
Understand that different partners have slightly different motivations for the project. The land owner, the Environment Agency and the bank lenders will all approach the scheme from a different viewpoint and understanding this will make collaboration much clearer.
Public relations are an essential part of the project. Bill said: "If there was anything we'd want to do better next time it's PR. Having a good public profile is critically important. We didn't have the time or experience to build a good website, but in retrospect, I think that side of things is vital."
Warranties on the equipment, the civil engineering aspects of the system, and managing equity and debt need to be understood. If in doubt, take on expert help to get a good grasp of these issues.
Do not succumb to those that say hydro schemes are too small to really help the fight against climate change. They must be seen as part of the big picture - along with wind, solar panels and other measures - and contribute collectively to reducing carbon emissions.
It is hoped that the plant will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 40 houses and save 80 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This equates to 3,000 tonnes over an expected lifetime of 40 years. The electricity generated will be sold through the national grid. Any profit from the sale will fund local environmental projects.
Founder Member of River Bain Hydro