With the availability of improved technology and new financial incentives, it is likely that a large proportion of previously rejected schemes could now be economically viable. The British Hydro Power Association has estimated that the potential for small-scale hydro power ranges between 130 – 185MW of capacity in England with around 32 – 37.7MW at 284 sites in the North West.(1)
The “Post 2013: a sustainable future for Cumbria” report says Cumbria contains many of the UK’s fastest flowing waterways, and more than half of the North West’s potential for small-scale hydropower generation – so probably about 16MW in Cumbria. Careful planning of design and location means small-scale turbines can be installed with minimum impact to the natural environment.
According to the Britain’s Energy Coast website, Cumbria could become a national hub for small-scale Hydro power generation, yet the West Cumbria Economic Blueprint doesn’t mention small hydro once . The single page on the website entitled “Hydro- Cumbria Potential for a National Hub” says there are 15 operational plants in Cumbria generating 2.4MW. Studies have identified around 400 weirs and 70 dams which could be harnessed for small-scale hydro schemes – large developments being “inconceivable” as many of the prospective sites are found in environmentally protected areas. Developing a reasonable number of these sites could see a capacity of 6MW by 2020, rising to 10MW by 2050.
The employment potential of hydro is significant, and could support an additional 270 jobs by 2020. Cumbrian companies are well placed to deliver hydro schemes and include Gilkes & Gordon and Inter Hydro Technology, of Kendal; Ellergreen Hyrdo, Burneside; Lakeland Marine Construction, Levens; Agrilek, Barrow; Grant Ltd, Penrith; and Turbines Services of Lorton, near Cockermouth. Lancaster-based Askam Construction also specialises in hydro engineering and is capable of managing several installations a year. Given the relative short timescale of two to three years from concept and planning to construction, hydro could stimulate a burst of activity in the coming years. The Environment Agency has issued guidance for would-be hydro developers.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale has campaigned for the Government provide financial support and grants for small hydro schemes as well as allowing them to be installed under permitted development, with certain caveats attached for wildlife and biodiversity. He says despite the fact that Cumbria has Britain’s fastest flowing water ways, there are only a few working hydro schemes in our county. He wants to see the Government, public and private sectors to work together to build a hydro-power industry to help create well paid jobs in Cumbria.(2)
Cumbria County Council and local MPs could work together to establish a “Cumbrian Small Hydro Commission” made up of representatives of industry and politicians, which would aim to promote Cumbria as a national hub for small hydro.
- In 2010, Blencathra Field Studies Council was awarded a grant from the Rural Carbon Challenge Fund and match funding from FSC & Lake District National Park Authority to install a 35kW hydro scheme, a 300kW biomass heating scheme and improvements to the building infrastructure. The project commenced in early 2012 and has now been completed.
- England and Wales Hydropower Assessment, Funded by DECC and Welsh Assembly Government, British Hydro Power Association, & IT Power, October 2010.
- Edwin Thompson (Chartered Surveyors) Blog 13th December 2012 and Scope for Renewable Energy in Cumbria, Cumbria Vision 2009