Author: Nicky Ison

Torrs Hydro has harnessed the natural energy at the weir where two Derbyshire rivers meet. The community-owned project has produced 291,697 kWh of electricity, as of April 2010, and has overcome several technological, environmental and legislative issues through shareholder and stakeholder support.

Project overview

Torrs Hydro, New Mills Ltd is the first community-owned hydroelectric scheme in the UK. It's a 63 kW 'low head' hydroelectric project with an Archimedes screw design, where the River Goyte and River Sett meet at New Mills in Derbyshire. The electricity it generates powers a local Co-op store in New Mills, and any excess is sold to the grid. Profits from selling the electricity fund a community grants program.

Archimedes screw design.

The 'low head' drop where the Goyte and Sett rivers meet.

The hydroelectric scheme is run by the directors and members of Torrs Hydro, New Mills Ltd, a volunteer-run Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) set up by New Mills' residents in 2007. An IPS is basically a co-operative set up to benefit the community. The project was dreamt up by Water Power Enterprises (h2oPE) in 2006, who had identified New Mills as a potential hydropower site.H2oPE is a Community Interest Company committed to developing community-scale, low-head hydroelectric schemes.

During 2006 and 2007, it took on much of the project development work, including finding grant funding and supporting the set-up of Torrs Hydro, New Mills Ltd. In November 2007, after community consultations and feasibility assessments, Torrs Hydro launched its first community share offer. Construction began in March 2008, taken on primarily by Western Renewable Energy. In September 2008, 'Archie' the Archimedes Screw hydroelectric turbine started generating electricity and Torrs Hydro took over full responsibility for the scheme's operation.

Torrs Hydro was set up in response to the opportunity presented by Water Power Enterprises. The project's aims are to:

  • raise funding for community projects
  • improve education about renewable energy
  • provide a working example of hydroelectric power generation on the doorstep
  • harness the natural energy of the river.

Project cost and funding

The project has cost £330,000 so far.

The Torrs Hydro community share offer raised approximately £125,000 from its 231 members. Grant funding from the East Midlands Development Agency, the Co-operative Fund and the Sustainable Development Fund of the Peak District National Park raised about £135,000. A 10-year loan from the Co-operative Bank provided a further £70,000.

Background

What eventually became Torrs Hydro New Mills Ltd began as a group of people inspired by H20PE's idea of a hydropower system in New Mills. The initial four directors wanted to develop the project at a more local level than H20PE proposed - and keep the benefits of the scheme in the community. Local people approached H20PE on this basis, who came back with a proposal that meant the project was developed, owned and controlled locally. It became an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) for the benefit of the community.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) defines an IPS as "an organisation conducting an industry, business or trade, either as a co-operative or for the benefit of the community, registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1965. Societies run for the benefit of the community and provide services for people other than their members.”

One of the limitations of this legal model is that it can't guarantee more than a small interest payment on shares. Profits aren't divided among members, they're used to benefit the community - in this case, to fund a community grant scheme. So people became members of Torrs Hydro out of community and / or environmental mindedness, not to make money.

Community engagement and the share offer

This project kept positive communication open with members of the local community and the media in several ways, through each phase of the project's development. Public exhibitions and town meetings, for example - even employing a media consultant during the share offer.

The first phase focused on explaining the project's intended process and its eventual benefits - answering questions and dispelling myths. This was mainly through public meetings and an exhibition at the local Heritage Centre.

The second phase involved encouraging people to invest in the project through the share offer, which ran for about three months. Prospectuses were sent to potential investors, and the opportunity soon spread by word of mouth. By offering guided tours of the site and enthusing visitors with explanations of the technology and what it's capable of achieving, the project soon became a centre of attention and prompted surprisingly high investment. On the final weekend of the share offer, the project received cheques totalling £14,000 in just one day.

The final phase has focused on general support, educating the wider community about hydropower and getting volunteers involved in operating and maintaining the system. Since the project has been operational, directors have held monthly open afternoons so people can tour the plant and have a chat with those involved. These afternoons, and the hands-on, approachable attitude of the project directors, have made the project accessible and increased community engagement.

Environmental considerations

Early on in the project, concerns arose about the potential impact on fish and fishing in the Rivers Goyte and Sett. This has been a major challenge for many hydro projects in the UK. The Environment Agency (EA) was very supportive of the Torres Hydro scheme, providing the funds to install and maintain a fish pass alongside the project. As EA's relationship grew with Torrs Hydro, it also funded interpretation boards and valuable information and support for the project.

Challenges

The first major challenge Torrs Hydro faced was the lease of the site, owned by the New Mills Town Council. While they had given planning permission, the lease negotiated was not fit-for-purpose. An adequate lease agreement was only finalised a week before Torrs Hydro’s first full AGM, at significant extra cost.

Secondly, several expenses were missed out of the working budget developed by H20PE. This meant launching a second share offer during construction to raise the funds - plus a larger loan agreement with the Co-op Bank. The Co-op loan was contingent on the fit-for-purpose lease agreement, which took a long time to secure, and led to a cash flow problem. This was resolved when the lease was signed - thanks to good relationships with contractors, including Western Renewables.

Another major challenge was with the technology. The first problem occurred early on when a major storm left much of the outlet channel filled with silt and stones, many too big to move by hand. The height of the exit channel has since been raised, thereby lowering the head and the potential energy. This means the system typically peaks in the mid 50 kW range, instead of 63 kW as originally hoped.

The second technological issue is the Archimedes Screw. It's a proven hydropower technology, but it's normally used in remote locations, and noise issues arose that hadn't been considered before. When power output is below 30 kW, the screw makes a loud high-pitched noise. One resident complained to the Council, and a noise order was placed on the project so it couldn't operate overnight. This has since been partly resolved, as the screw automatically switches off below 30 kW. However, this means less electricity is generated. Engineering students from the University of Manchester are looking at ways to solve this problem.

According to Sean Whewell, Torrs Hydro Director, the final technical challenge is: “On paper the project payback time is 10--11 years, but it depends on the river flowing and rain falling. I’m sure mechanically it will last the 40 years it specifies, but whether there will be enough rain in the river remains to be seen.”

Results

At April 2010, Torrs Hydro had generated 291,697 kWh of electricity. Figure X shows Archie's monthly generation figures since the project became fully operational. Its low output in mid-2009 is explained in the challenges section, above.

Torrs Hydro is a good example of a community-owned scheme, run by volunteers. Currently, operation and maintenance is co-ordinated by Torrs Hydro Founding Director Maggie Cole and a team of volunteers, calling on support from Water Power Enterprises, Western Renewables and Manpower when needed.

What's more, the project has had significant educational benefits and is an example to other community-owned hydro projects in the UK. Torrs Hydro Directors regularly give talks or site visits for interested groups, including other communities looking into similar projects, local organisations and educational groups.

More information

Torrs Hydro, email: richard@torrshydro.org
Western Renewable Energy

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