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Share offer for UK’s first ‘reservoir power’ community turbine

Pennine villages plan to harness regular water releases from United Utilies dam at Dove Stone on the edge of the Peak District national park

While battles continue in many parts of the north against wind turbines, with David Hockney doing his bit for protesters in the Wolds, a quieter form of energy is making progress.

The UK’s first community-owned ‘high head’ power system is getting closer to becoming a reality in the Pennine villages which make up Saddleworth, an area rich in historic exploitation of hillside rivers through dams.

It is one of these, Dove Stone reservoir, which will power around 45 local homes if Saddleworth Community Hydro can raise £120,000 for a turbine through a newly-launched share subscription. The mechanics are simple: United Utilities regularly lets water out of the reservoir into the river Tame – the ‘high head’ – and it is this controlled flow which will drive the turbine.

It is the first time that a water company has teamed up with a community group to harness ‘reservoir power’ in this way, although controlled run-offs are used for other micro purposes including the creation of temporary white-water canoe runs. Although less often in the headlines than windmills, hydro schemes provide roughly half of the UK’s alternative energy generation.

The Saddleworth system is akin to Archimedes screw turbines which are appearing increasingly in northern upland villages. Whenever I take the A65 up through Settle, I stop to watch the one by the bridge to Giggleswick in fascination. The Guardian Northerner has also previously reported on share-raising like Saddleworth’s for Archimedes schemes on the Goyt above Stockport and in Wensleydale.

Surplus power from Dove Stones is expected to raise money for other local green causes in a community renowned for its initiative. Bill Edwards, who is leading the project, is enticing anyone to invest, even if Saddleworth is merely a distant name on a map. He says:

It’s taken a good few years to get the project this far, and there’s been real interest from all over the country. I’ve invested and it feels really good to say that I own part of a hydro electricity plant that’s producing green electricity. Even better to know that as well as getting a return on my investment, I’ll be helping fund local environmental projects with any surplus monies.

The minimum investment is £250 and the maximum £20,000 and directors hope to be able to offer 4% interest from the project’s second year. In addition, shareholders with more than £500 worth of shares can apply for EIS tax relief at 30%, so anyone buying £1000 worth of shares will be spending only £700.

The project was welcomed by United Utilities when the details were first put to the firm. Chris Matthews, head of sustainability, said:

It’s a terrific idea, and one we are very keen to support. We’ve been extremely impressed by the professionalism of the local residents, who came to us with a well- researched and thought-out plan. We’re now looking forward to helping them make the scheme a reality.

Saddleworth Community Hydro is an Industrial and Provident Society and will be run on a one-member, one-vote basis. A share prospectus can be downloaded here, from the website of the excellent group h2ope – Water Power Enterprises. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds