Saddleworth Community Hydro – A pooled resource that provides power to the people
March 29, 2012
Walking alongside Dovestones Reservoir in the spring drizzle it is easy to see that Saddleworth is is not just an area rich in natural beauty, but also rich in a natural energy resource – water.
Now the local community has joined forces to harness the power of the reservoir which is nestled in the moors above the village of Greenfield by building a hydroelectric power scheme. The idea was first floated in 2008, partly as a reaction against a proposed wind power scheme on the moors which attracted considerable local opposition and was eventually abandoned.
While many residents weren’t keen to have wind turbines on their horizon, they were enthusiastic about renewable energy and began to explore alternative ideas that local people could support. And so Saddleworth Community Hydro was born. A community-owned micro-power scheme, it is designed to generate and promote sustainable electricity, generating an income for its investors and a surplus which can be reinvested into community projects.
Bill Edwards is a founding director of the group, which has around 20 active members. He said: “We began to look for a better alternative to the wind farm. “In Saddleworth, water is much more significant than wind. There are more than 20 reservoirs in the area. “Even though water moves more slowly than wind, it can generate much more energy – around 1,000 times more for the same amount of volume. “So if you want to do your bit for the environment, this is a very cost effective way of doing it.”
Dovestones Reservoir, which is owned and operated by United Utilities, was created in 1967 to supply water to the local area, and is also a popular tourist attraction. Fellow director Tony Bywater was familiar with the site, having been a manager at the former paper mill close by, which drew all its water from the reservoir. Mr Bywater knew that there was anexisting pipeline leading water from the reservoir into the River Thame where he speculated a turbine could be installed.
Better still, there was already some electrical infastructure to power United Utilities’ equipment, so there was a link to the National Grid. While there are other river-powered community hydro power projects in England, this will be the first to be powered from a reservoir. The total cost of the project is estimated at £343,000, of which the steering group has already secured £223,000 as a grant from the Regional Carbon Challenge Fund, a scheme designed to promote low-carbon technologies which has seen £2m investment from the North West Regional Development Agency.
That leaves £120,000 to be raised via a share placing with investors, which was launched in December. Investors can buy a maximum of 20,000 shares or a minimum of 250, and there is one vote per shareholder, however large or small their stake is. The shares are non transferable and there is no dividend, though the scheme does pay interest, which is anticipated to be around 4% a year from the second year of the scheme.
Any profit beyond that will go to community projects that also promote sustainable energy, such as solar panels for community buildings or educational projects at local schools. Enterprise Investment Scheme status has also been granted, so anyone investing more than £500 can apply for 30 per cent tax relief. Already 30,000 £1 shares have been bought, with the average investor buying around 1,000, and the offer closes in April.
Edwards said: “There isn’t really a typical investor. We have had a few people from London who are purely looking for a financial return, but we also have local residents who have £250 and support what we are doing. “Most people are getting involved because they want to contribute to the environment, not because they are motivated by profit. “The scheme will pay for itself in 20 years, and should show a healthy profit over its 40 year lifespan.”
Water is channeled through a pipeline and through a generator roughly the size, and about as noisy, as a lorry engine, which will be housed underground. Most hydro-electric developments are located on rivers, but Saddleworth should be more efficient and reliable as it has a consistent supply of water from the reservoir and is not reliant on rainfall.
The water coming through the pipeline at the foot of the dam wall is also under pressure from the weight of water above it, so it has more energy to power the turbine. If everything goes to plan, it should be plugged in to the National Grid next spring, when it will begin to generate enough energy to power aroun 40 homes. That will generate an annual income of around £15,700 a year, with running costs generously estimated at around £9,000.
Bywater said: “Once we have the first one up and running, I anticiptae that there will be an appetite for more schemes in Saddleworth. “The price of electricity looks set to keep going up, but I think the kinds of grants and subsidies available for projects like this are likely to go down, so it will be down to future generations to decide if it is still viable and worth expanding.” A similar scheme is already underway close to Marple in Stockport.
That £550,000 project attracted £250,000 of public investment. Both schemes have been supported by h20pe, a Todmorden-based social enterprise that specialises in developing hydro power schemes to help combat global warming. Founded in 2007, it has so far helped develop four schemes, with two more in development, and is partly funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
H2ope’s Steve Welsh said: “We help take the risk out of developing schemes like this by funding the upfront costs needed to get permission, like legal fees, environmental consultants and design work, which can cost up to £40,000. “We can also help secure finance, help organise share offers and project manage the construction phase. “Investors can make a good return for as long as they keep their money in, but the real icing on the cake is the community benefit. “In Stockport, at today’s energy prices we estimate the scheme will inject £250,000 into the community over its 40 year lifespan. “It also gives the local community control over what will become an increasingly rare resource – energy.
“Who knows how important that might prove to be in the future?” To find out more about the Saddleworth or Stockport schemes, both of which are still appealing for investors, visit http://www.h2ope.co.uk
Source: Men Media (http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/business/s/1489489_saddleworth-community-hydro—a-pooled-resource-that-provides-power-to-the-people)