A multi-award winning hydropower plant has been built on the River Ribble. It has only been running a year but has already been commended as an excellent example of renewable energy generation at a number of national and regional award ceremonies.
A community group has installed a 50kW Archimedean screw at Settle Weir in North Yorkshire to generate energy from the River Ribble. Settle Hydro Ltd is an industrial and provident society (IPS) set up to manage the project.
The total cost of the scheme was £415,000. Around £135,000 was raised through a share offer, and the remaining costs were covered by:
- Yorkshire Forward - £75,000
- Future Energy Yorkshire - £50,000
- Loans of £145,000
- LEADER grant for maximising learning opportunities - £26,000.
The aim was to encourage investment in the local area and bolster the economy. The community group was clear from the start that the main reason for the project was to bring more people into the area who wanted to know more about sustainable energy generation. In the words of Settle Hydro Ltd Director Ann Harding, the scheme was designed to boost "community empowerment so residents could take responsibility for their own future".
The Settle project was the first in the country to get the majority of its income from selling electricity back to the grid. This meant they had to repeatedly go into uncharted territory when dealing with banks, the Environment Agency and regulatory bodies. As Harding says:
"I often tell people thinking about doing a similar project that pioneers fought the battles so you don't have to, and I think it is a lot easier now than it was for us."
Support for the community hydro scheme came from many quarters, both local and national. This included Friends of the Earth, the Cooperative Group, MPs, and local businesses.
However, there were some concerns from local people about how the hydro would affect the area. For this reason, the group was extremely meticulous when designing the project, ensuring only the best materials were used. They also spent more money than was necessary to make sure everything was finished to a very high standard. This had the duel benefit of keeping local residents onside, but also made the area more attractive to visitors.
There was also potential opposition because the Ribble is one of the top five salmon rivers in the UK. Detailed work was done with the Environment Agency to ensure the project did not adversely affect the natural habitat.
Do not underestimate the fact that you are running a serious commercial business where there are strict rules and legal issues to deal with. Harding said: "In a sense, the product is immaterial, and we could be selling widgets instead of electricity. We are not green-warriors, and just having good intentions for the environment is not enough."
She said that each director was at one point working up to 30 hours a week on the hydro. That was on top of their 'day jobs'. "You must take it seriously. It's not like running a car boot sale and making a bit of money for the local charity. It isn't a game."
It is essential that directors and board advisors have an understanding of commerce. But just as importantly you must realise that the best way to get the job done is to buy in expertise. You cannot do everything yourselves, so be prepared to spend money bringing people in.
Visitors now flock to Settle from as far afield as Papa New Guinea and Kenya and though rewarding, this needs to be managed. Ann recommends that anyone planning a similar project should build this into their business plan from the start and work out a way of getting income from this. Charge for open days and site tours because if you do it for free, you are giving away hundreds of hours of your time that you need to spend on the business.
It is too early to have a clear idea if the project has boosted the economy, but there is anecdotal evidence. Some days there can be 40 visitors to the site, and that has a knock-on effect for pubs and bed and breakfasts in the area.
The scheme will generate approximately 165,000 kWh of electricity per year. This is enough for around 50 average houses, saving 80 tonnes of carbon per year or 3,200 tonnes of carbon over an expected lifetime of 40 years. The project will help Craven Council meet hydropower targets set by the Government Office of Yorkshire and Humber (GOYH).
The annual revenue from the scheme is expected to average out at £28,000. This figure is based on quotations received for generated electricity and from information provided by the Environment Agency.
The scheme has also won the following awards:
- Winners 2010 'Yorkshire Post' Community Environment Award
- Winners 2010 Rural Yorkshire Awards Green Business Category
- Winners 2010 British Renewable Energy Community Installer Award
- Winners 2010 Yorkshire Forward 'Creating Better Futures' Award (with I'Ansons Feed Mills)
- Winners 2010 Action For Market Towns Partnership and Community Award
- Winners 2010 Action For Market Towns Regional Overall Award.
Ann Harding, Director, Settle Hydro Ltd