A River Runs Through It

This article first appeared in Renewable Energy Installer, in 2009, a new(ish) trade title aimed at…well, the title is explanatory. Loved meeting these people and travelling to see the projects.

Water Power Enterprises says it has conducted feasibility studies on 120 potential hydro sites throughout Britain, mostly in the north of England. If there was a typical site, says managing director Steve Welsh, it would look very much like the convergence of the rivers Sett and Goyt in New Mills.
Which is helpful because, to date, New Mills is the only one of the 120 sites with a working hydro generator. Torrs Hydro celebrated its first anniversary in September, generating a maximum rated output of 63kW and working towards a target of £20,000 in annual revenues.
Simon Clayton, member of the Torrs Hydro board of directors, says the last 12 months have provided invaluable lessons:
“This kind of project is not an Ikea flatpack. It was never going to be simple.”
These lessons will be crucial as Water Power Enterprises (H2ope) seeks to roll-out six hydro projects a year from 2011, and utility companies consider hydro projects of their own as government renewables targets start to bite.
The biggest headaches, says Clayton, have been extracting silt build-up, sound proofing, health & safety, improved automation and installing vandalism measures. The latter has already added £5,000 to the project’s £250,000 costs.
Sound-proofing may be costlier still. The project was given permission on the understanding it wouldn’t bust ambient noise levels. It has since found that running below 18kW causes water to slap noisily against the back wall of the tail pond, back into the Archimedes screw. ‘Archie’ now has to be switched off at night and at weekends if the power drops. With the river still running, and revenues being missed, this is not ideal.
Clayton is studying German schemes, and speaking to the turbine’s
German manufacturer, to look at ways of altering the control settings, switching to variable rather than fixed speeds.
The biggest gripe, though, has been the lack of clarity over available grants. Torrs Hydro produces 63kW, if it had been pegged at 50kW it would have qualified for double ROCs. Steve Welsh at H2ope describes this as “a bit of a bugger” and says it is hardly worth bothering with schemes between 50-80kW. Upcoming schemes in Settle and Stockport will run at 50kW.
“We need some stability in terms of regulations,” says Clayton. “Unfortunately, regulations seem to change every year. Maybe we’d have made the scheme smaller if we known we’d be denied grants. Long term clarity is needed, like Germany.”
This is not simply grant related, he adds, bank loans and private finance will be a lot easier to source with clearer guidelines. H2ope and Torrs
Hydro spent some time finding the right vehicle to manage the project, balancing the need to attract finance with community shareholding.
The project is classed as an Industrial Provident Society for the
Benefit of the Community, a rather wordy title but one that enabled the board to raise loans and manage a FSA-regulated share offering. H2ope reckons this alone saved it £30,000 in solicitors’ fees. And it has been a community success: around half of the 200 or so shareholders come from within the local postcode, two thirds live within 15 miles.
Since the initial feasibility studies, Welsh says H2ope has hosted 58 community groups looking at launching their own hydro scheme.
Clayton and the team at Torrs Hydro are doing their bit to spread the word: speaking at events, arranging school visits, putting on monthly open days and providing a case study for the
Department of Energy & Climate Change. Local artists have created artwork from flotsam retrieved from the river. The lessons from the last year are being compiled as a handbook for future community projects.
One hundred miles away
, a very different motivation is powering the demand for new hydro.
Severn Trent is considering four projects on its land around Lake Vyrnwy in remote Powys. Each will be economically viable, but may take as long as nine years to pay back costs; this long term view is part of Severn Trent’s ambition to double its use of renewable sources by 2013.
Having undertaken the initial feasibility studies, Bromsgrove-based Adroit is costing up the plans. Project engineer Jim Partridge says he expects a green light in the next financial year, with construction times between eight and 12 weeks.
In total, the work is likely to cost in excess of £1.5m. The Eiddew Waterfall, with a 240kW generator, is expected to cost £750,000 with an annual income of £87,500 meaning a payback schedule of 8.4 years. Quarry Pool, costing £140,000 should be paid back within five years.
Partridge says such long-term projects are becoming increasingly viable. For Adroit, with its background in the construction sector, it is the chance to prove the company is capable of fulfilling complex renewables schemes from feasibility to contract completion.
“And there is a lot of hydro potential out there,” says Partridge. “British Waterways is looking to generate 210,000mW/year and will invest £120m in the next three years, the Forestry Commission in Scotland is tendering for three run-of-river projects, and you have sites in Yorkshire and Cornwall, plus old watermills. And I’ve not yet heard of anything out of the Lake District.”
The requirements of the utilities companies should also open up opportunities further down the market. A trickle down effect, if you will. Partridge has also picked up a couple of pieces of domestic business in the Lake Vyrnwy area – after meeting in the pub. Another example of liquid power.


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