Friday, August 12, 2011

Community hydroelectric scheme share issue opportunity shows how to do it!

Te weir on the River Esk at Ruswarp, near Whitby, Yorkshire, where the turbine will go
A community renewable energy scheme is offering the chance for investors to get 5% dividend as well as helping a rural area become more energy efficient.

The share issue is being launched by a community co-operative, Esk Energy, to raise £320,000 to install a 50kw hydroelectric turbine, using an Archimedes screw, on the River Esk at Ruswarp, near Whitby, that will generate 200,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough for about 60 houses.

The story of the scheme illustrates how hard it has been to get a community energy scheme like this off the ground, but shows that it is getting easier,

It also offers encouragement and hope for others wishing to do the same, since the rewards for the whole community will be greater than either individuals pursuing their own schemes, or outside companies undertaking fully commercial projects.

The project also illustrates the particular difficulties faced by hydroelectric schemes I highlighted recently, despite there being up to 4,190 eligible hydro sites in England and Wales alone.

Uphill struggle

“The Esk project began 6 years ago, and 2 years later we set up the Esk Valley Community Energy, following it up by creating an Industrial Provident Society, Esk Energy Yorkshire Ltd.," says Colin Mather, a technical director on the project.

“We originally had the help of the North Yorkshire National Park and the parish council. We began by encouraging energy efficiency in homes, and then did a survey of sites for the best renewable energy. We did look at wind power, but being in a national park, large turbines were not an option.

“Within surveyed a few potential hydroelectric sites before finally settling on this one."

The story of how the project gained approval illustrates the changing attitude that has happened in the last few years at the Environment Agency.

Initially, the organisation found it almost impossible to deal with the Agency. "They were against the scheme to start with," says Colin. “They had no staff who knew anything about hydroelectric power - all they knew about was fish.

“Then, between 2 and 3 years ago, they were getting so many enquiries about water power they realised they had a problem. So they organised a conference. We were among about 40 different groups invited.

“The Agency listened to their feedback and changed their attitude. They reorganised themselves and now deal in a more constructive manner with hydroelectric power," he says.

"At a more local level," Colin continues, "the Environment Agency people again were not cooperative. But when we reminded them that, in fact, it is part of the brief of the Agency to support hydropower they changed their tune too, especially since we were able to reassure the that we were not harming fish."

The turbine is situated next to the fish pass because fish swimming upstream automatically look for the fastest flow, and this is also where one wants to situate the turbine.

“We also had to negotiate hard to extract as much water as we could. We will be using 4m³ per second. The Environment Agency wanted to use less water, but we said 'you have more than the minimum amount of flow you need for the fish, why not let us have more?' and eventually they saw sense in our argument."

The turning of the screw

An Archimedes screw generator works by using the weight of water entering it at the top to turn it at a much lower rotation speed - under 100rpm - than other water turbines such as the Pelton wheel. The generator itself is situated at the top of the screw.

It is the preferred water turbine of the Environment Agency, because it is extremely fish friendly. This was an important consideration in obtaining approval from the Agency. Colin says that the River Esk is an important one for salmon and trout, being in the North Yorkshire National Park.

Since the device is 2.9 m wide, and a body of water entering the top of the screw is taken down without rotating itself, any fish entering it emerges unscathed at the bottom.

This particular type of device is also ideal for low heads; the head at the weir where it will be installed is only two metres.

The screw will have to be fabricated specially in Germany or Holland, since no one in the UK has the ability to make one. It will take 5 months, and so the group expects construction to begin next March and the project to be operational by the summer.

The share offer

The scheme will benefit from a rate of about 20p per kilowatt-hour from the Feed-in-Tariff, yielding a projected income of £40,000 per year.

Details of the share issue are on the Whitby Esk Energy website. The minimum share purchase is £250 (up to a maximum of £20,000).

Investors will receive a dividend from year three, rising to 5% by year five and shares are withdrawable from year five. Shares can be purchased through to Sept 2011.

A loan obtained from the Yorkshire National Park will be repaid in 12 years.

A surplus from the income will be retained by the co-op to run more energy saving projects such as solid wall insulation in the community's hard-to-heat solid walled properties.

In the past the group has benefited from a £40,000 grant from the National Park's sustainable development fund and £50,000 from the N. Yorkshire county council community fund.

A £20,000 grant from Yorkshire Forward had to be repaid when they found they could not spend the money soon enough to satisfy the grant conditions.

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