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Usually it’s the major infrastructure projects, headline themes and political decisions that grab the limelight in civil engineering news.
By contrast, this is the story of a small-scale community enterprise tucked away in the Peak District – but one that shows what can be achieved by working together, and how we can take little steps to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change.
Dove Stone Reservoir sits in the parish of Saddleworth, on the edge of the Peak District national park. Our team at Saddleworth Community Hydro has invested in retrofitting an existing 30m high head dam at the reservoir site. The £½ million scheme now generates 46kW of hydro-electricity continuously, distributed via the National Grid.
With a population of 25,000 scattered across eight villages, Saddleworth has a strong community spirit. In 2008, local activists arranged a showing of the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth. This sparked interest in harnessing water power in this Pennine valley. Previously, a proposed windfarm project had met opposition – so for some, hydropower was seen as a less obtrusive alternative.
We knew that United Utilities (UU), the reservoir owners, have a legal duty to release 16Ml/d to maintain the river, so we approached them for permission to use this to generate electricity. This is the first time UU has worked with a community group in this way – the project’s 25-year payback period would be far too long for many commercial enterprises.
We formed an Industrial and Provident Society with directors Bill Edwards (a retired BT engineer), Tony Bywater (a retired paper mill manager) and Andrew Thorne (a solicitor). Their determination, enthusiasm and unpaid hard work guided us through the long process of obtaining Defra funding and permissions and investments from 167 shareholders. We also had the backing of local supporters including Oldham Borough Council and our champions at Defra and UU.
Additional funding came from the European Agricultural Funding for Rural Development. Through the required EU tendering processes, we appointed Renewables First – not only because they had expertise in hydro schemes, but also because they were up front about their limitations. This is the first project of its kind in England requiring new infrastructure to divert the water through a new turbine house.
Construction started in December 2013. A mild winter thankfully enabled us to meet Defra’s completion deadline at the end of March 2014. We were very fortunate that the civil subcontractors, CT Construction, did such a thorough job and were willing to deal with site visits from us as relatively ignorant customers.
Commissioning took longer than expected. Whatever the depth of water in a reservoir, the legal requirement is to maintain a constant 185l/sec of water flowing back into the river. This proved to be an interesting challenge in designing and implementing the control system, which would normally cope with constant head and variable flow.
Generation started in earnest in August 2014. Since then we’ve had a nearly continuous output of 40-50kW and have generated a total of about 350MWh. Income will initially repay some short-term loans and thereafter will pay investors a modest annual return and provide a fund for local environmental and educational projects.
The project won the ICE North West Community Award for 2015 for its innovative design and community involvement.
This has been an interesting association between a large commercial enterprise (UU), Defra, the installation contractors and a small community group. What began as a new experience and a considerable challenge for all parties has delivered great rewards in terms of understanding and co-ordinating our different outlooks and requirements.
We hope that such co-operative efforts will become increasingly common leading to more local ownership of energy sources.
For further information on the Dove Stone hydro project, or the work of Saddleworth Community Hydro, please visit www.saddleworthhydro.co.uk or contact Alison at email@example.com.